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Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?
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message 1: by Nik (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nik Krasno | 13804 comments My review:
The first part of the book of Karen Dawisha follows the rise of Putin from anonymous KGB agent, stationed in Germany, in Soviet times till his ascend as the Russian president with distinct authoritarian and hands-on rule of the country. To showcase that Putin basically promoted to the positions of power his close associates from early days as a student, KGB officer and Saint-Petersburg deputy mayor, Karen allocates a lot of effort to follow their path within Putin's orbit. Mrs. Dawisha also elaborates on the criminal cases, directly or indirectly involving Putin, that were sabotaged, backtracked and ultimately closed after his rise to power.
Although Karen mentions that she didn't find direct evidence proving that Putin took bribes, she brings up enough material that in a less authoritarian state with real rather than declared separation of powers should've been properly investigated and either confirmed or denied Putin's implication in corruption affairs. And there are definitely some serious question marks regarding some goings Karen mentions, inter alia about the alleged connections with the organized crime. Few of the alleged wrongdoings though, in my opinion, should have more political evaluation rather than criminal.
To demonstrate what I mean I can use Yulia Timoshenko, a former Prime-Minister of Ukraine, example, who was accused and indicted of abuse of powers and sent to imprisonment as a result of a clearly politically motivated court process. Many in the West claimed that she shouldn't has been prosecuted for taking the responsibility to resolve the gas conflict with Russia and signing unfavorable gas contracts to save her countrymen from freezing during the winter.. And I totally agree with this approach. Some of the described Putin's dealings may also fall into a political sphere rather than criminal.
The second part, which I enjoyed more, offers a more general study of distinctive features of Putin's governance, goals, modus operandi as the President of Russian Federation. I like Karen's observations, examples and conclusions, and particularly how the freedom of media and thinking was oppressed, oligarchs subdued, opposition 'choked' and dispersed. Karen attributes paramount importance to the document leaked sometime in 2000, encompassing a strategy how to change the President's administration to rule Russia and tries to prove that it is authentic and is being implemented. Her conclusion is that Putin's motivation is only enrichment and protection from possible prosecution.
I personally think that these motives may be true and I wouldn't be surprised, if Vladimir Vladimirovich would turn out as one of the richest persons on the planet, but I think they are incomplete and may also be outdated. I think at first these may have been the initial incentives, but over the years they evolved into a wider range of objectives. I think one of the 'newer' objectives is to return Russia's 'greatness', to bring back some territories and in a broader sense to reverse the Big Bang of the USSR. After so many years in power, Putin, in my opinion, strives now to enter history books as the leader who managed to bring in territories and with them some glory. I should mention here though, that I object any use of military means for achieving these goals, if they indeed exist, and belligerence towards Russian neighbor countries.
As opposed to Ukraine for example, where 'personal money-making' was unfortunately almost always the only agenda for any politician or functionary, Russia was clearly different having always some ideology - that of 'empire', 'greatness' and pride.
I think Karen deserves credit for such a detailed research.
Few general notes:
Although I never knew the details to this extent, the world she describes, its intricacies, personal connections and manus manum lavat of the close to the boss circle, pretty much coincide with my own observations and I'm sure those in Russia and neighboring countries that preserved independent thinking over TV propaganda know more or less what's going on.
I would also prefer a more balanced approach, i.e. not only the justified criticism of Putin, but also mentioning of the positive sides. Many, even though oppose the methods how it was done, view positively the subordination of the oligarchs to the state, instead of chaotic and unrestrained rule of oligarchic clans and their influence on the governance, preceding his access to power. Also the notion of a 'strong leader' was always important to a big segment of Russian population even at the expense of personal freedoms, to which many are not that accustomed anyway. So Putin for many symbolizes such a strong leader, who can mock Obama and exert authority on others. That's why he's still very popular in Russia (and among many abroad), despite distinct decline in economical wellbeing of Russian population.
There are some inaccuracies in the book. For example, Sevastopol is mentioned as the capital of Crimea peninsula, while it's Simferopol.
On a more personal note, this is a rather cold study from someone, who doesn't have any feelings towards Russia, while for me having at least some sentimentality towards this country and its people, it's a bit too cold and one-sided -:)
To draw the line - it's a well-researched and informative book for all those who want to know Putin's background and that of his close circle. Its conclusions should be viewed as a substantiated theory for a debate rather than axiom.
3.5 out of 5 stars


message 2: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 9782 comments An interesting review, Nik. The one criticism I have is you should have mentioned her sources, and commented on how reliable they are. It is one thing to say Putin did . . . but how do you know?


message 3: by Nik (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nik Krasno | 13804 comments I'd need to write a much longer report on the sources -:)
Really, in this book's case the sources, both mentioned within the text and about 100 pages after it, and footnotes make half of the book and, if I'm exaggerating, it's only a little.
Looks like Karen has done pretty scrupulous work, summarizing them all and trying to weave them into her work. Some of the sources may raise doubts as of their impartiality, like Illarionov -former Putin's adviser who left Russia or some GRU or KGB resident in NY, who defected, or Browder, who had to leave Russia and wrote a bestseller about it, while others are on the opposite side of the scale - like Putin's own book or scarce testimonies of his cronies.
Dawisha comes through with pretty solid research, but unsurprisingly has hardships to bring the 'smoking gun'.


message 4: by Nik (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nik Krasno | 13804 comments Just wanted to remind that whoever wants to share his/her reviews is welcome to do so -:)


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