A British journalist offers a searching account of contemporary Russia, a nation bent on recapturing a more glorious past.
People crave meaning and security in their lives. Both vanished for citizens of the Soviet Union when that storied country dissolved, replaced by a much weaker Russia and a ring of former satellites and conquered states. As Guardian Moscow correspondent Walker chronicles, much of the last quarter-century has been an exercise, among Russians from Vladimir Putin to ordinary citizens on the street, of recapturing past glories; says one anti-Ukrainian Russian nationalist, “we need to rebuild the country. The Soviet Union, the Russian Empire, it doesn’t matter what you call it.” the author documents the rise of Putin from middle-management KGB type to supreme ruler, abetted by a Boris Yeltsin who had abandoned the democratic experiment, ruing his former belief that “we would leap from the gray, stagnating totalitarian past into a bright, prosperous and civilized future.” Much of Walker’s solid reporting is from trouble spots that have been much in the news lately, including Crimea, where he looks at the fate of Crimean Tatars, who have essentially been stripped of citizenship on Russia’s reclamation of contested territory, and eastern Ukraine, where Russian rebels shot down a Malaysian Airlines flight, thinking it an aircraft of the Ukrainian air force—an event that Putin’s government hotly denied. “The downing of MH17 and the subsequent brazen lying was probably the Kremlin’s lowest point in all my years covering Russia,” writes Walker. Using techniques from the old Soviet propaganda machine, the Putin regime has successfully branded the enemies along its borders as Nazis, evoking memories that only the oldest Russians have while also recapturing some of the old sense of exceptionalist nationhood, “using fear of political unrest to quash opposition, equating ‘patriotism’ with support for Putin, and using a simplified narrative of the Second World War to imply Russia must unite once again against a foreign threat.”
Essential reading for Russia watchers.