Engagingly grim, frequently absurdist portrait of Vladimir Putin and the popular protests against him, which are gaining steam.
Moscow-based British journalist Bennetts (Football Dynamo: Modern Russia and the People's Game, 2009, etc.) maintains a cool, even tone throughout these portraits of the Putin oligarchs, who are determined to keep power, and the leaders of the dissident movements aiming to oust them. Putin, the former security services chief anointed by outgoing Boris Yeltsin to succeed him as president in 2000, was received as a breath of fresh air by his Russian constituents when the country was reeling from the “shock therapy” of capitalism suddenly imposed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Poverty and lawlessness plagued the nation, and Putin set about restoring order with strong-arm tactics like quelling the independent media, sabotaging the courts, siphoning oil dollars, appointing regional governors rather than holding elections and stifling breakaway republics. Gradually, Russians began to grow weary of his “sausages in exchange for freedom” approach to ruling the country. Heartened by the so-called Colour Revolutions that had prevailed in ex-Soviet republics from 2003 to 2005, the “Orange threat” challenged the pro-Putin right-wing youth movement, while Other Russia leader Eduard Limonov galvanized punks and skinheads into the street-wise NatsBol. However, with the election of heir apparent Dmitry Medvedev in 2008, the “scent of change” encouraged wider protest against authority—e.g., a local mother-turned-activist who saved the Khimki forest from highway construction and lawyer Alexei Navalny’s grass-roots anti-corruption campaign. The clincher was Putin’s naked comeback to the presidency, a wicked “trick” engineered with Medvedev and played on the Russian people, whose mood had darkened with the rigged 2012 presidential elections, making way for huge street demonstrations in a rare show of unity, from the New Left to more vociferous groups like Pussy Riot.
Bennetts insightfully portrays a Russia on the cusp of popular revolt.