A veteran journalist and former editor-in-chief of Russia’s only independent TV news station paints a revealing group portrait of the entourage influencing Vladimir Putin.
With the likely exception of Dmitry Medvedev, the hand-picked successor whose 2008-2012 reign allowed President Putin to skip over the constitution’s annoying bar to a third consecutive term, few of the names Zygar highlights will resonate with a Western audience. Yet these bureaucrats, politicians, and businessmen, each with his own ego, ambition, and agenda, each attempting to divine the will of the leader, each reacting to events, account for Putin’s decision-making. Based on his own research and close observation of the Russian scene for the past 15 years and a large number of personal interviews, Zygar pieces together the depressing story of Putin’s declension. It’s a regression exposed by the president’s choice of best friends among the world’s leaders: from Bush and Blair to Schroeder and Chirac, Berlusconi and al-Assad. It’s a downward slope from necessary economic and military reforms and a commitment to combating Islamic terrorism to the effort to manipulate public opinion, discipline the oligarchs, suppress internal opposition, and steel the government against the “color revolutions” springing up in the post-Soviet and Arab states. Finally, there are the military interventions in Georgia and Ukraine, the seizure of Crimea, a shrinking economy, and a forthright anti-West foreign policy. Zygar touches on all the headline-making events familiar to Western readers—the Kursk submarine tragedy, the Chechen terrorist attack in a Moscow theater, the army hazing scandals, the Pussy Riot arrests, the Sochi Olympics, and the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya—but this time we see these events through the eyes of Putin’s inner circle, courtiers intent on retaining power and propping up their man.
Certainly for Kremlinologists but also for readers wishing to better understand how Putin’s Russia has come to look so much like the old Soviet Union.