RUSSIA'S SECRET RULERS by Lev Timofeyev

RUSSIA'S SECRET RULERS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An informative but confused look at the perpetuation in power of Russia's previous rulers, by one of the last dissidents to be jailed by the Gorbachev regime. Timofeyev is clearly right in certain important respects. As he notes, a high proportion of the politicians and bureaucrats still in power in the former Soviet Union are Communists or former Communists. Clearly, too, the degree of corruption required to work within the Soviet system during its final days was immense. Timofeyev argues, in fact, that ``the entire Soviet economy, from top to bottom, is permeated by black market relationships,'' and that ``the Communists suffered defeat primarily because they could not destroy the market.'' He contends, plausibly, that the ruling apparat itself became a market commodity, with numerous jobs having a more or less defined market value. As the Party, committed heavily in so many parts of the world, could no longer afford to unleash a reign of terror, it was compelled to resort to corruption to make its system work. Timofeyev goes too far, however, not only in making unprovable assertions (``It is known that half of all profits made in the criminal sphere are spent in bribing officials'') but in arguing that a criminal mafia is, in effect, the secret ruler of Russia. He attempts to strengthen this argument with ``witness testimony''--interviews he has conducted with figures such as Eduard Shevardnadze, Moscow mayor Gavrill Popov, retired KGB general Oleg Kalugin, and former Washington Post correspondent David Remnick. But little of this testimony supports Timofeyev's mafia-rule thesis: Popov says that he hasn't noticed any significant political activity among the criminal mafia itself, and Remnick points out that what we in the West understand as the mafia is completely different from the Russian variety. Not wholly persuasive, then--though Timofeyev's not alone in seeing Russia's criminal classes in the ascendant: This is also the premise, for instance, of Martin Cruz Smith's most recent novel, Red Square (p. 1085).

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1992
ISBN: 0-394-58639-5
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1992