Russia Research

I was chatting to a friend recently, and the conversation gradually migrated to Russia and the state of the world. His view was that Putin had given back pride to Russia, that he had made the country strong again, and though he deplored Putin’s methods, Putin had succeeded in making Russians feel a sense of self-respect.

Putin, to my mind, has been shown to be possibly the worst leader since Stalin. My reasons? Here are the main ones which have led to my own thoughts. This is the first of a series of books I’ll be recommending.

PUTIN’S RUSSIA by Anna Politkovskaya, published by the Harvill Press, ISBN 978 1 843 43050 6

This is a searing account of Putin’s rise, seen through the eyes of a woman who had already reported on the decline of the Russian state over some years. Politkovskaya was one of those journalists who was a thorn in the side of Putin until she was murdered – almost certainly by the Kremlin.

The book is divided into chapters which work logically as she expounds her theories. She begins with the army. First she points out that there is no system for soldiers to be protected. Their officers are in command, and even if a soldier is killed, the army officer class will close ranks. One little fact here astonished me: in 2002 the Russian army lost a battalion of men, five hundred, to punishment beatings. No officer lost his job over these extra-judicial murders. After the army itself, Politkovskaya moved on to a series of atrocities and the “War Criminals of All the Russias”. She had witnessed some of these during her time reporting on the war in Chechnya, and goes into some detail with the cases against murderers such as Colonel Budanov. 

Leaving the army itself, she goes on to talk about some of her own friends and what has happened to them, before tackling graft and corruption, how thieves and the Mafia steal property and companies “with the connivance of the government”. She talks of the appalling attack on the theatre at Dubrovka, in which hostages and captives were all treated to a nerve-agent attack by Russian special forces, and describes her interviews with the victims who will receive no compensation or assistance. The book ends with a short commentary on the attack on the school at Beslan.

It is not a cheerful read. This is a fiercely vituperative commentary on a system and government which Politkovskaya loathed, and with good reason. She could see the seeds of a new totalitarian regime being created under Putin. A system in which the courts had no authority, but must follow the Stalin-like dictates of the regime. The people have no say, and have no faith in the courts. Politkovskaya was a relentless seeker after the truth and justice, but it is clear in these pages that she had given up on seeing justice. 

Many have called Russia a kleptocracy in which ruling elites steal from public coffers. The thesis in this book is that it is much, much worse. Putin is a “power-hungry product of his own history”. He is “unable to prevent himself from stifling civil liberties at every turn.” She tells of the Mafia dealings, scandals in the provinces, military and judicial corruption, and the conspiracy of the West in supporting Putin under Bush and Brown. It is a savage account, and made all the more essential since Politkovskaya was assassinated for this and her other writings.

A well-written book and indispensible if you want to understand modern Russia.

Comments
One Response to “Russia Research”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Thanks to Michael Jecks for this article…

    Like

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