A damning account of Vladimir Putin’s rise to power and of the vast dimensions of the corruption—political and economic—that both reigns and rots in Russia.
Dawisha (Political Science/Miami Univ.; The Consolidation of Democracy in East Central Europe, 1997, etc.) begins with the recent crisis in Crimea, then swiftly moves to unsnarl “the tangled web of relationships” that enabled Putin to thrive, that keep him in power, and that direct enormous fortunes into the hands of Putin and his cronies—we’re talking billions. Dawisha’s research is extremely impressive. Drawing on leaked documents, interviews and old-fashioned excavation, she describes the intricate complications of the power relationships in Russia (naming many names) and eventually shows how they continue to damage the country. With so much wealth concentrated in so few hands, public services have faltered, infrastructure has aged and cracked, and technological research and progress stutter and stumble. Dawisha includes numerous detailed footnotes and some clear diagrams that chart the egregious greed in the country, but mostly this is a powerful story about the return to authoritarianism in a country that had begun to breathe a bit of free air. In his first 100 days, Putin clamped down on the media, surrounded himself with loyalists, shoved out opponents, changed the symbolism of the country (returning to prominence a version of the old Soviet national anthem), embraced international organized crime, enriched those who supported him, impoverished and even imprisoned those who didn’t, avoided prosecutions on earlier corruption charges, and forced the media to portray him as “the undisputed Leader of his People.” He continues to misinform and deceive the public about international events, and the author demonstrates how all this corruption greatly diminishes the profitability of Russia’s sizable energy reserves.
The light of Dawisha’s research penetrates a deep moral darkness, revealing something ugly—and dangerous.