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Putin: His Life and Times

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Vladimir Putin is a pariah to the West. Alone among world leaders, he has the power to reduce the United States and Europe to ashes in a nuclear firestorm and has threatened to do so. He invades his neighbours, most recently Ukraine, meddles in western elections and orders assassinations inside and outside Russia. The regime he heads is autocratic and corrupt. Yet many Russi Vladimir Putin is a pariah to the West. Alone among world leaders, he has the power to reduce the United States and Europe to ashes in a nuclear firestorm and has threatened to do so. He invades his neighbours, most recently Ukraine, meddles in western elections and orders assassinations inside and outside Russia. The regime he heads is autocratic and corrupt. Yet many Russians continue to support him. Despite western sanctions, the majority have been living better than at any time in the past. By fair means or foul, under Putin's leadership, Russia has once again become a force to be reckoned with. Philip Short's magisterial biography explores in unprecedented depth the personality of its enigmatic and ruthless leader and demolishes many of our preconceptions about Putin's Russia. Since becoming President in 2000, his obsession has been to restore Russia's status as a great power, unbound by western rules. What forces and experiences shaped him? What led him to challenge the American-led world order that has kept the peace since the end of the Cold War? To explain is not to justify. Putin's regime is dark. He pursues his goals relentlessly by whatever means he thinks fit. But on closer examination, much of what we think we know about him turns out to rest on half-truths. This book is as close as we will come to understanding Russia's ruler. It also makes us revise long-held assumptions about the course of global politics since the end of the Cold War.


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Vladimir Putin is a pariah to the West. Alone among world leaders, he has the power to reduce the United States and Europe to ashes in a nuclear firestorm and has threatened to do so. He invades his neighbours, most recently Ukraine, meddles in western elections and orders assassinations inside and outside Russia. The regime he heads is autocratic and corrupt. Yet many Russi Vladimir Putin is a pariah to the West. Alone among world leaders, he has the power to reduce the United States and Europe to ashes in a nuclear firestorm and has threatened to do so. He invades his neighbours, most recently Ukraine, meddles in western elections and orders assassinations inside and outside Russia. The regime he heads is autocratic and corrupt. Yet many Russians continue to support him. Despite western sanctions, the majority have been living better than at any time in the past. By fair means or foul, under Putin's leadership, Russia has once again become a force to be reckoned with. Philip Short's magisterial biography explores in unprecedented depth the personality of its enigmatic and ruthless leader and demolishes many of our preconceptions about Putin's Russia. Since becoming President in 2000, his obsession has been to restore Russia's status as a great power, unbound by western rules. What forces and experiences shaped him? What led him to challenge the American-led world order that has kept the peace since the end of the Cold War? To explain is not to justify. Putin's regime is dark. He pursues his goals relentlessly by whatever means he thinks fit. But on closer examination, much of what we think we know about him turns out to rest on half-truths. This book is as close as we will come to understanding Russia's ruler. It also makes us revise long-held assumptions about the course of global politics since the end of the Cold War.

30 review for Putin: His Life and Times

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    Philip Short demonstrates his integrity by starting with the demolition of a conspiracy theory about Putin. He then gives us a sensitive and intelligent account of the personality of Russia's leader based on in-depth research of his early years and his time in St. Petersburg. A good chunk of the rest of the book is a little less impressive because, once Putin enters the Presidency, it becomes quite clear that the author does not have, perhaps cannot have, the access to close sources that he needs Philip Short demonstrates his integrity by starting with the demolition of a conspiracy theory about Putin. He then gives us a sensitive and intelligent account of the personality of Russia's leader based on in-depth research of his early years and his time in St. Petersburg. A good chunk of the rest of the book is a little less impressive because, once Putin enters the Presidency, it becomes quite clear that the author does not have, perhaps cannot have, the access to close sources that he needs. Still, with caveats about his later sources (which often are, as he notes, witnesses for the prosecution), the account of Putin's Presidency, if somewhat too close to the standard Western narrative, is still valuable and (as far as the sources allow) factual. It may not be the last word on Putin but it largely displaces all previous words on the man and his times. It should be the first point of call for someone coming to the subject for the first time. The notes are also excellent and revealing. So where does the book take us? Short has already upset a lot of people by bothering to understand where Putin is coming from and the role of the West in driving him to decisions that may be good or bad but are logical and almost inevitable. In fact, what comes out of the book are the unsurprising conclusions that the current crisis is very much the creation of confused, narcissistic and often inept policy-making in the West and that Putin has an analytical mind often much superior to that of his opponents. What may surprise people more is the evidence that Putin was very much a pro-Western politician for much of his career although always placing Russia first (he saw no necessary incompatibility between those two positions until quite recently). Russians I know have told me that he was often regarded as both excessively pragmatic and rather weak in defending Russia's interests for many years. In some respects we might see Putin as a man who feels badly let down by the West and who is now hitting back hard in frustration. The warts of Putin are demonstrated (as one would expect in a largely Western narrative by an honest journalist) although perhaps there is a lack of full explanation and understanding of the political economy that he is trying to manage. Russia is dysfunctional but it is dysfunctional because Western management of the fall of the Soviet Union was destructive and negative. It was always going to be a slow process getting a busted nation back to a creditable status as a workable economy and society. Almost every action taken by the regime (albeit frequently crossing Western 'red lines') is only a reflection of behaviours undertaken by the West itself. What the West cannot forgive is the inability to revolutionise the State into a non-corrupt, legalistic liberal democracy. Russia is more interested in recovery and survival where economic recovery and survival competes with concerns about national security. Russian fears about the latter are often justifiable even if we find it tragic that smaller Ukraine has become the pawn in a greater game. To Western politicians, severe provocation is no justification but there is an air of the small boy picking on a smaller boy under the protection of the playground bully. Severe provocation is what it was and the Western bully, merely throwing a cosh to the smaller lad, must take some of the blame. Putin himself is a very interesting man. If he has had an analytical fault, it has probably been one of ignorance of Western arrogance and of American ignorance of Russia and so a rather naive belief in the possibility of Russia being treated as an equal by the hegemon. The analytical skills are those of an intelligent boy from the wrong side of the tracks, an outsider, who is trained under the old regime and learns life by doing, avoiding mistakes and learning from the mistakes when he cannot avoid them. Do we like Putin? Well, oddly, one finds oneself in some sympathy for him despite his faults. He learns fast and seems to have an inner ethical core often overwhelmed by the balance of interest involved in surviving what he rules. What we do see is consummate political skill in holding together the potential for chaos that was post-Soviet Russia and building sufficient prosperity and national security to feel able to claim once again something like great power status. This delusion may be a delusion shared by two other nations on the winning side of the Second World War - France and Britain - to the effect that the hegemon would ever truly treat them as equals. They would all be favoured 'free' satrapies with pre-set 'values' or nothing. Russian pride and exceptionalism, the sacrifices of industrialisation and war, the realisation that the old regime they once believed in was an inept, corrupt lie have conspired to create the noble but existentially dangerous view that it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees. It is all a matter of timing. Russia has got trapped. Whereas China can afford to wait and let the hegemon slowly decline, Russia has had either to live on its knees like Britain or find that its nemesis would drive it to die on its feet. That is why the current war is existential. Although Washington back-tracked from regime change as a proxy war aim, there is little doubt that it wants a Russia run from the centre by liberal Muscovites prepared to impose Western values on the smaller towns and rural areas in a modernisation that would unravel a culture. Putin evidently believed both in the efficacy of the market and in the cultural importance of Russia. At a certain point a Russian leader was going to have to choose between the two. Putin's gamble is a low key version of the German gamble in the 1930s - can a targeted culture, good or evil, survive? At the time of writing, it is hard to see who will win in Ukraine. The West has the money and is sending substantial military support to Ukraine but it is also finding it difficult to cope with the consequences of its economic war on Russia. Ukraine is technically bust already. Russia has achieved a temporary victory for the ideology of national self-determination in taking the bulk of the Donbas and Kherson (as well as holding Crimea) but at considerable cost. If it dies on its feet, it will also have opened up space for a resentful global anti-colonialist ideology. The US is not going to lose entirely because it is too rich to lose and, for China and for the US, techniques and ideas are being tested for a very different end-game - will the Chinese elite bend the knee to the world order or structure itself to be resilient for a new existential struggle? The posturing and sabre-rattling over Taiwan are really about trying to work out which path China will choose - the early Putin strategy of accommodation and de facto submission or the late Putin strategy of defiance and potential isolation from the core of the global economy. Europe, meanwhile, has been turned into even more of an unstable satrapy, its energy dependence on Russia merely exchanged for one on the US and its Gulf allies and dodgy African states. Europe is being forced into global imperialism despite itself and to spend billions on guns to boot. The next few months (August 2022) are going to be very interesting. Although the cards are stacked against Russia, its recent resilience is part of that story as well as the fact that it still sits on vast natural resources and last resort nuclear weaponry. Vladimir Putin, a frustrated and angry if pragmatic man in his late sixties, backed largely by his own people, is key to what happens next and what happens next could be a global disaster if the West continues to push and prod as it has done since the 1990s. But there is another factor in all this. The US President has an approval rating around 38%, the hawkish British Prime Minister has been ousted, the Italian Government is in disarray and the German Government is talking about energy rationing. The economic war unleashed by the West may present serious medium to long term issues for Russia requiring it to be more authoritarian to survive as a culture but that same economic war has delivered high inflation, disruption and possible recession in sensitive democracies. Personally, I think both Russia and the West will survive this but both will be much weakened in the long run to the benefit of the growing network of non-Western nations prepared neither to be re-colonised not dragged into a new Cold War. That is a worse result for the West than Russia since the latter can turn in on itself but the raison d'etre of the West is expansion and hegemony. There is a real possibility of a period of implosive politics within the West starting with the US Mid-Terms in November. The key question left by this book is that of succession. Russian liberals have been knocked sideways. They are as secondary to the big picture as more rational populists like Orban are to the big picture in the West. Lone voices with an alternative vision have been shunted aside by history. There is almost certainly no leading candidate for the Presidency after Putin who is not going to be approved by Putin and share the view that existential survival of Russian political culture is prior even to participation in the global system. Medvedev speaks like a Russian hawk nowadays. Wise counsel in the West would have long since negotiated with Putin on sphere of influence lines but there is no wise counsel left. Raw emotion on both sides has taken over. Men, money and material are going to be poured into Ukraine until one side or the other breaks. Whatever the outcome, this book is a highly recommended account of at least part of how we got into the mess we are in and why no one deep in the hole is going to stop digging - in Washington, London, Berlin, Ky'iv/Kiev, Donetsk, Warsaw or Moscow. Whatever the slight faults of taking some sources at face value, relying too much on Western sources after 2000 and perhaps failing to explain some of the less contentious aspects of Kremlin administration, Short provides a sad but fair account which should be more widely circulated. It should certainly make Westerners stop and think about their own moral compass, about their geo-political narcissism and their arrogance before throwing so many (often rightly thrown) stones at Putin's glass house. His regime is partly dysfunctional, still too inefficient, undoubtedly corrupt and increasingly authoritarian but it is also hard done by, bullied and trying to save some things worth saving. Neither side comes out of this book smelling of roses. As to poor battered Ukraine, it has become both target of an attack by an older brother on a younger and the battle ground of a far more serious (potentially) proxy war between competing system. It is hitting back hard but it is just a pawn in a bigger game. Much resides on the outcome of this war and, having been defeated in Afghanistan, having left the Middle East in a two decade mess and desperate to deter its real enemy China, the US is playing this to win over the bones of Ukrainians and bank accounts of Europeans alike. Putin too is not going to give way - based on this book, he will do what it takes to hold 'Novorossiya' at the least and has got used to long brutal wars of attrition which he mostly wins simply by pragmatically accepting least worst outcomes. So, read this book, despair at humanity, watch the horror unfold and ask why we should place our trust in the people who got us to this point. As to Russians, they must make up their own mind about Putin and it seems the bulk of them have.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Casaubon

    Short, a British journalist and former foreign correspondent for the BBC, is one of the many authors who wrote biographies of Putin, to chronicle or decipher his life. To list only three examples, Karen Dawisha, who asserts that Putin's entire tenure since the 2000s was directed to form a regime where he and his closest associates could maintain personal power and profit - emphasis on the profit. Or, in Steven Lee Myers's account, historical grievances and a sense of indignation at Russia's weak Short, a British journalist and former foreign correspondent for the BBC, is one of the many authors who wrote biographies of Putin, to chronicle or decipher his life. To list only three examples, Karen Dawisha, who asserts that Putin's entire tenure since the 2000s was directed to form a regime where he and his closest associates could maintain personal power and profit - emphasis on the profit. Or, in Steven Lee Myers's account, historical grievances and a sense of indignation at Russia's weakness in the 1990s motivated Putin, projecting strength and fearing chaos. Or, in Masha Gessen's account, Putin is not immoral but amoral - he is a figure who believes in power, the violence of the world, and nothing else. Short, having written one book on Russia before, had turned to biographies: Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and Francois Mitterrand. This most recent book, the result of eight years of research and dozens of interviews, starts with the authorial motives - attempts to understands Putin's reasoning and motivations. In the beginning, there is curious editorial decision to focus on a negative history - that Putin was not responsible for the bombings in Moscow in 1999, where rumors continued to circulate about their role in his consolidation of power. Then the early stages in life, the hardscrabble existence in post-war Leningrad. "Putin was already Putin before he joined the KGB," Short says, as if time spent in that intelligence agency left no impact on him. There is a consistent thread of playing down or casting doubt on the worst stories - that Putin was not directly responsible for the assassinations of Boris Nemtsov, that he was not responsible for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal - but that he was responsible for the deaths of Alexander Litvinenko and the attempted poisoning of Alexei Navalny. In terms of foreign policy, Short is in the business of repeating deflections or self-justifications, or second-guessing without citing all the sources. There are some inline citations but nearly enough - out of a need to not be "too academic" not everything is cited. He repeats the previous assertion that Russian foreign policy was predicated as a response to NATO expansion - never mind Putin's own statements denouncing Lenin for daring to permit the Ukrainians to have their own Soviet Socialist Republic. It is a listing of the "what-about-this", and finding an excuse for every action or transgression. There is nothing on the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, guaranteeing Ukrainian territorial integrity. And for Putin's own personal wealth and corruption? The Panama Papers only discussed in a few short pages, which revealed the vast fortunes of Putin's inner circle, but not Putin himself. And where did all this largesse come from? As if we are supposed to believe he lives like a monk. He is asking us to give the benefit of the doubt, at a time where a reading audience is probably least likely to do so. The book closes with a few short pages about the current stage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and on the future - "[Putin] believes America and Russia will eventually settle into a less contentious relationship." Maybe so, if authoritarian hacks or other useful idiots worm their way into office. This biography does have its strengths, particularly on Putin's early life and time in Dresden - those interviews and memoirs could not have been easy to come by. But it retains wide gaps; and that its publication only comes not long after the start of the great crime. Writing biographies of the living is a risky business: they can always betray your expectations. Can a serious biography can only be written after the obituary?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Randall Wallace

    In 1917, “a few thousand Bolsheviks had overthrown the Kerensky government, installing a dictatorship which lasted for 70 years.” The Leningrad blockade alone had 35x the death toll of the London Blitz and a higher death toll than all Americans who died in a foreign war since US independence. As famed historian Richard Hofstadter once wrote in Harpers, the American tendency is to view any enemy as “a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman – sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel.” Tod In 1917, “a few thousand Bolsheviks had overthrown the Kerensky government, installing a dictatorship which lasted for 70 years.” The Leningrad blockade alone had 35x the death toll of the London Blitz and a higher death toll than all Americans who died in a foreign war since US independence. As famed historian Richard Hofstadter once wrote in Harpers, the American tendency is to view any enemy as “a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman – sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel.” Today, both the US and Russia view themselves as exceptional – a recipe for “mutual incomprehension, if not animosity.” As a child, Putin once cornered a rat which fought back and he learned the lesson, “no one should be cornered. No one should be put in a situation where they have no way out.” Telephones were rarities in 60’s Russia. During the Khrushchev Thaw, criticism became allowed as long as “it did not call into question the existing political order”. Putin learned that he needed to be physically fit to develop the kind of leadership he wished. He started with Sambo and moved on to Judo. In the USSR at this time, meat was considered a luxury and one lived on bread, potatoes, cabbage and dairy. A rule in the KGB was “one cable, one topic” – if a cable was intercepted and deciphered you then only compromised one topic. Trainees lived under constant surveillance. Putin had a trait the KGB highly valued, he didn’t show his emotions. The Berlin Wall (near where Putin was stationed) fell when border guards were vastly outnumbered and unwilling to use their weapons. Gorbachev’s career was over when he could neither placate both sides, neither left nor right. Under Yeltsin, “between 50 and 80 per cent of the population was living below the poverty line.” And everything was for sale. All businessmen who became big, without exception, had started out by trading illegally. Protection rackets took off. In St. Peterburg, all businesses paid for protection. The Chechen mafia was especially feared. The Russian per capita murder rate in 1995 was 2>4 times higher than in the US. 80% said it was dangerous to walk in the streets. This was a time of US induced neoliberal privatization. “Americans were the largest investors in St. Peterburg.” This led to asset stripping, surging inequality and emerging billionaires. At this time Putin said, “I don’t want to be a puppet.” Russia’s move from “democratic norms” happened first under Yeltsin. Some of the big names who thought NATO expansion would be a short-sighted provocation was George Kennan, Richard Pipes, Jack Matlock, William Perry, Strobe Talbott, the CIA, and the US commander in Europe. Strobe Talbott confirmed that James Baker had made an unconditional pledge to Russia and Clinton had gone back on it. To do so, Clinton outflanked the Republican Party from the Right. Putin was first deputy head of a Presidential Administration and already an influential name, when he is asked by Yeltsin to become FSB chief. Yeltsin had him fire a lot of people in a purge. Putin refuses the rank of general preferring to be FSB’s first civilian director. Russia was on the verge of a financial meltdown. Yeltsin thought since Putin had basically been running St. Petersburg, he could be President, and so it happened. US machinations in Kosovo added US/Russia tensions as Russia (and Greece and Spain) sympathized with the Serbs. Strobe wrote “the US was acting as though it had the right to impose its view on the world.” With Chechnya Putin has to either play a tough hand or let Chechnya secede as a nasty radical Islamic Caliphate. Putin’s choice to fight tough endears him to the Russian people. Putin said, “Russia has the right to defend itself.” Putin would say what Russians wanted to hear, they were tired of incompetent ill Yeltsin and loved vigorous athletic Putin. Putin called communism a blind alley. He wanted to orient towards Europe and be a partner of the US and not a lackey where Russia was excluded from decision making. Putin is elected President and gets 53.4% of the vote with a 70% turnout. Putin then tells leading business magnates their game is over; they can keep their privatization gains but must stay out of politics. The Kursk Submarine incident paints Putin in a bad light but he didn’t cause the sailors death and the military had lied to him. The incident marks the end of Boris Berezovsky. Totalitarian regimes totally control what you say, that is not Putin’s Russia. A leading editor said Putin could close him down with his little finger, and experts believed Putin recognizes the importance of safety valves showing some democratic tendencies. Putin said on TV, “Russia cannot be brought to its knees.” Then 96% of Chechnya votes to stay with Russia. The Chechnyan conflict dies after the Beslan massacre of children where the rebels lose parental hearts and minds. At this time Khodorkovsky the workaholic was the richest man in Russia with $15 billion. Clinton and Blair thought well of Putin. Putin is understandably upset when the US withdrawals from the ABM treaty and tell China’s Jiang Zemin, the reasons of the US were groundless and done because the US was “striving for unilateral superiority in the military field.” “The US never produced a single credible reason for abrogating the ABM Treaty.” Russia could not believe Americans sat quietly during their own Judicial Coup D’Etat of 2020 watching Al Gore bend over in the shower for Bush after the illegal decision. “The American system was a fraud.” Putin said, if NATO “was a political organization, then why did it bomb Yugoslavia?” Back then, Biden said, “I don’t trust Mr. Putin, this is a man trained to lie.” Putin wears a cross and was baptized by his mother. Putin called Bush II immediately on 9/11 which was appreciated. Putin had been warning the US for two years before 9/11 that US funded Jihad manufacturing facilities in Pakistan also funded by Saudi Arabia would cause major blowback for the US. Putin felt the US wanted Russia to never forget that it lost the Cold War. Putin had better intel on Iraq than the CIA had; he knew Iraq had no way to get nuclear weapons. In 2003, the U.S Congress renamed French fries sold in their cafeterias to “freedom fries” after France expressed opposition to the US led invasion of Iraq. Putin asks why, if the US were serious in fighting terrorism, did it not support Russia in its fight in Chechnya? Russia provided intel and overflight rights to the US after 9/11 yet felt its efforts were unappreciated. Turkmenistan is all about the huge gas and oil deposits. The Ukraine Orange Revolution “had developed into a trial of strength by proxy, political rather than military between Russia and the United States.” Putin knew that the US played a “prominent role” with NGO’s financing the Georgian Rose Revolution. “That money has a bad smell. We do not want (our NGO’s) to be run by puppet masters from abroad.” In Georgia, Shevardnadze was a US puppet and now Saakashvili was an even bigger puppet. “The Kremlin was much more concerned about the United States democracy promotion initiatives and support for human rights groups through congressionally funded organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy.” The US wanted independence for Kosovo yet ignored Latvia when it clearly denied human rights to half a million Russian residents. Ukraine turning against Russia meant it was willing to lose gas at $50 per thousand cubic meters and would have to pay the EU rate of more than $200. There was no reason not to pay the $200 going rate if Ukraine insisted on walking but Western Media needed to vilify Russia so gas price coverage was all negative. Russia had paid off its foreign debts so foreigners had little leverage, and Putin’s approval rating rose to 70%. Putin noticed that the US had invaded Russia’s “economy, politics and humanitarian affairs.” Putin pointed out that the US desire for a unipolar order itself was undemocratic and anyone could see that soon China & India together would have a larger economy than the US and “a multipolar system would develop.” Putin said that “there will always be some pretext for attacking Russia.” He added, “America does not need friends. It needs vassals it can command.” Things Western media don’t want you to know: Ukraine is 1/3 Russian, and Crimea is 90% Russian. Nor will it tell you that the US decided to “base American missile defense units in Eastern Europe and install NATO forward bases in Bulgaria and Romania.” Nor will it tell you that the US/Russia tension is basically two snotty exceptionalist nations squaring off each other. Vanity on BOTH sides. Or, that the US thinks ONLY it deserves to be revoltingly exceptionalist. Russia looks towards Europe, it doesn’t send its best students to China or India for education, but instead looks to the West. Or that Ambassador Burns said he couldn’t find anyone “who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct attack on Ukraine’s interests.” The author intelligently believes Russian forces, not US forces, won WWII. Unsurprisingly, Russia doesn’t enjoy being forced to defer to Washington all the time, and would prefer to deal with an independent EU instead. Putin then brings the murder rate in Russia from scary to below that of most American cities. However bad officials still ended up moving sideways rather than being removed. Russia was thus between Cambodia and Egypt on TI’s Corruption Index. Putin exercised 1 ½ to 2 hours daily, and loved swimming. He arrived at the Kremlin after 9AM and left at 10 or 11PM and sometimes at 1AM. Compare that to Biden’s and Trump’s work hours. His favorite composers are Liszt and Tchaikovsky. Yeltsin despised disagreement or pushback. Putin welcomed and respected it. In 2004, Putin is re-elected with 72% of the vote. The same year, Bush II gets 286 electoral votes to Kerry’s 251. Putin was more popular than either with his voters. The author doubts Putin has great wealth because it would risk him losing control. Fancy homes attributed to Putin (the Putin Palace) are owned by others. Madeleine Albright pompously stated Siberia was too big for Russia and should be placed under US management. Putin noted that the US had a history of supporting proxy wars to destabilize its adversaries. At the end of his second term, Putin had an approval rating of 80%. Imagine ANY US politician with an 80% approval rating. The West pretended Kosovo was a special case but Cyprus, Greece and Spain (all facing separatist movements) disagreed. By 2008, Russia really only had 50,000 trained soldiers. The Kremlin prefers Republicans to Democrats because Democrats are afraid of looking soft to Republican voters. Centrist tool and Russia hawk Hillary Clinton went to Russia with a box for Lavrov with a red button that was supposed to say “Reset” but instead translated as “overload.” Putin was Prime Minister then when Medvedev was President (tandemocracy). The Constitution is amended to make Russian Presidential terms six years instead of four. To piss off Putin, the US Ambassador is changed to known Russia hater McFaul. The West loved its proxy war with the Arab Spring and Libya, but Putin thought it would destabilize Europe and increase extremism. The US said their mission in Libya was restore peace and protect Libyan civilians but it soon became clear it was just a NATO operation to overthrow Gaddafi’s regime with UN cover. Putin was pissed that Medvedev didn’t use Russia’s veto at the UN. Medvedev was seen by US ambassador John Beyrle, as “Robin to Putin’s Batman.” Garry Kasparov the ex-chess player ran against Putin and lost big time. In 2011, Russia had more internet users (51,000,000) than any other European country. China had an internet firewall but Russia didn’t get one per Putin’s conscious decision for internet freedom. Putin gets 63% of the vote in his next election. But Putin stops unauthorized demonstrations with a community service punishment for offenders. Orthodox believers then had trouble with Pussy Riot getting up in front of the high altar in one of their churches shouting “shit, shit, holy shit, shit, shit, holy shit.” Could either Byron or Shelley have ever hoped to achieve such wordsmithery? Anyway, church pressure made Putin arrest this poetic tour de force while many western liberal rock stars were aghast. But, “The jailing of Pussy Riot had gained him support among orthodox believers.” Russia is conservative: 75% of the people think homosexuality is wrong and 40% think homosexuals need “treatment”. After Libya, Putin makes sure Medvedev vetoes on Syria. Russia had invested $20 billion in Syria and had a support base at Tartus. Putin thought it was short-sighted for the US to finance extreme Islam when the US financed mujahidin morphed into the Taliban. In this book, Philip Short is reluctant to say anything negative about the CIA on these topics as F. William Engdahl and others do. “The US AID was accused of giving grants to NGO’s to try and influence Russia’s domestic politics and ordered to cease operations” (BBC 2012). Under Putin, the US tried to give Russia verbal reassurances, but Putin knew from the old shameful broken NATO verbal promise by Baker that all future US verbal promises were just lies. Putin asks, can you imagine if Russia (and not the US) did the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo? “They would have eaten us alive.” “They are up to their ears in shitty stuff, they are drowning in it, and they still insist on criticizing us.” Everyone higher up at Abu Ghraib kept their job or got promoted. No one who approved the torture memos were held responsible. Putin saw that after killing off the native population and instituting racial capitalism (slavery) the US happily supported Latin American dictators that disappeared its own citizens. When the US repeatedly points its finger at Russia, the danger is Russia seeing first not a finger but seeing first hypocrisy. Here’s a cute joke: Snowden in Russia could not be extradited to the US because the US alone wouldn’t sign the Treaty Russia proposed for that subject. Putin said, “the foundation of the American identity is individualist. The basis of the Russian identity is collective.” Putin thought America couldn’t treat other countries as equals because that would denote weakness. Washington’s goal with Ukraine in 2014 was not helping the people but was to pluck the “biggest prize” from “Russia’s grasp.” “It (helping the US led coup of 2014) was not the EU’s finest hour.” Among the Maidan protestors were “nationalists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and Russophobes.” After the coup, 22,000 Ukrainian troops in Crimea didn’t resist and Crimea (90% Russian already) then went to Russia. In a referendum, 96% of Crimeans vote to go with Russia. Crimea had done exactly what Kosovo did in separating and yet the US chose to ignore the legal analogy. Putin’s ratings then shot up to above 80%. If it was legal for Kosovo, then it was legal for Crimea. “Geography condemns Ukraine and Russia to be neighbors” and neighbors must learn to co-exist. How much condemnation did Turkey get for occupying northern Cyprus since 1974? A Putin mistake rightfully condemned by the West, seems to be his cover-up of what happened to Malaysian flight MH17, apparently shot down by Russians. Implementing the Minsk II agreement of 2015 (signed by Russia, Ukraine and the separatists) would have kept Putin from invading Ukraine in 2022, however Ukraine alone wouldn’t allow it. Imagine shortsightedly preferring war and invasion to a negotiated peace. On page 588, Short says the US did nothing to help jihadist groups from fighting Assad, which totally contradicts F. William Engdahl’s reporting. Putin said that the US and its allies had no problem with destroying the governments of Iraq and Libya yet no thought towards what to put in their place. He said, “Instead of (the US) bringing democracy and progress, there is violence, poverty, social disasters and total disregard for human rights.” Putin noted that Israel never gets criticized by the US with its never backing down from illegal fights. ISIS at the time got most of its revenue from “smuggling oil across the Turkish border.” Russia saw Turkey’s leader as “a corrupt autocrat (Erdogan) with dreams of restoring the glory of the Ottoman Empire.” Putin noticed that US ally Pakistan also provided refuge for Bin Laden while supporting the Taliban. Putin believed that although Assad’s regime was cruel and violent like Saddam Hussein, “if Assad had been removed, Syria would have become a seeding ground for terrorism.” In 2018, Putin got 77% of the vote. Putin accused the Bolsheviks of having practiced “total deception” giving Russians not a brave new world, but “mass graves.” Russian Presidents got immunity from prosecution from even after they were in office. Moscow alone by then had 200,000 video cameras and facial recognition software and even single picket protests were banned. Still, “Russia was a far cry from the Soviet Union, let alone China” where “the penalty for political protest was life imprisonment.” But, “the non-system opposition had virtually ceased to exist.” Biden calls Putin “a killer” while Trump in a rare moment of lucidity says, “There are a lot of killers… You think our country is so innocent?” “Short writes, “In Kabul, as in Saigon 50 years earlier, the Americans had cut and run, leaving their one-time allies to their fate.” What looked like “overtones of megalomania” by Putin at a Security Council meeting, ended up being an exercise in Putin personally trying Nixon’s Madman theory to counter the US mantra of “must weaken and isolate Russia”. The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine started with “miles-long Russian armored columns halted at traffic lights to let Ukrainian motorists pass” but soon, due to lack of rations, devolved into pillaging and looting (not winning hearts and minds). Still, Short says “the atrocities that marked the opening months of the war were not on the same scale as in Yugoslavia, where, thirty years earlier, 150,000 people had been killed, many of them dying in spasms of ethnic cleansing that bore the hallmarks of genocide.” The US was the only country of the world’s ten largest, that rushed to support Ukraine. The world saw the lack of sympathy shown to Ukrainian refugees who weren’t blond and blue eyed. “If you were white and Christian, you were welcomed with open arms. If not, the West’s borders were closed.” Sanctions on Russia sadly meant the Russian rich now went to Dubai instead of the Cote d’Azur while Russia’s poor had their “income protected by state subsidies.” Review continues in comment section below:

  4. 5 out of 5

    Scott Martin

    (Audiobook) I always felt that Putin was a man in the same vein as Andropov, given their KGB backgrounds, how they were paranoid about the West and how they could outmaneuver their rivals. Yet, in reading this work, Putin has a bit of Stalin in him, given their rough childhoods and how they were versed in being street fighters and crass as needed. Short beings that aspect put, and will offer insight about Putin that many Westerners would not know. The strength of this work is how it looks at the (Audiobook) I always felt that Putin was a man in the same vein as Andropov, given their KGB backgrounds, how they were paranoid about the West and how they could outmaneuver their rivals. Yet, in reading this work, Putin has a bit of Stalin in him, given their rough childhoods and how they were versed in being street fighters and crass as needed. Short beings that aspect put, and will offer insight about Putin that many Westerners would not know. The strength of this work is how it looks at the rise of Putin and how his younger years did much to define the man of today. He was and is a powerful politician, but was not always the Bond villain he is portrayed. The author tries to keep a neutral view of the man, which is hard in the current environment, but it helps to see how he leads and makes decisions. The audiobook is solid, but the rating is the same regardless of version. Worth a read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    The preparation and writing of biography are truly an art form which Philip Short the author of works on Pol Pot and Mao Zedong has mastered. In his latest effort, PUTIN he has written another important biography of his subject based on intensive research drawing on almost two hundred interviews conducted over eight years in Russia, the United States and Europe and on source material in over a dozen languages. The publication of PUTIN comes at a propitious moment in history with the events that The preparation and writing of biography are truly an art form which Philip Short the author of works on Pol Pot and Mao Zedong has mastered. In his latest effort, PUTIN he has written another important biography of his subject based on intensive research drawing on almost two hundred interviews conducted over eight years in Russia, the United States and Europe and on source material in over a dozen languages. The publication of PUTIN comes at a propitious moment in history with the events that are transpiring in Ukraine as the Russian autocrat has placed the world on edge with his illegal invasion that has played havoc with the world price of energy and supply of grain and other foodstuffs, in addition to the destruction and casualties inflicted on Ukraine. At the present moment this war of attrition does not appear to be anywhere near a conclusion as Putin is adamant that Ukraine is not a country and is part of what he hopes to be a reconstituted Russian Empire. Short has done a service for anyone trying to understand Putin’s actions as he delves deeply into his personal life, career, how he rose to power, why he pursues the policies that affect the Russian people in addition to those living outside of Russia and evaluating what the reign of this autocrat will be like in the future. Short’s work builds on Steven Lee Myers THE NEW TSAR: THE RISE AND REIGN OF VLADIMIR PUTIN published in 2015 in addition to the works of Masha Gessen, Fiona Hill, Robert Service, Catherine Belton, among others. Short’s work is the most important biography of the Russian autocrat written to this point and presents a comprehensive picture of Russia during Putin’s life in addition to integrating the roles of prominent figures such as Boris Yeltsin, Anatoly Sobchak, Alexei Navalny, a host of Russian oligarchs, and Russian politicians and military personalities. As the narrative gains steam it is clear that Short believes that the United States is in large part responsible for what Russia has become and how Putin has evolved into an autocrat who controls all the levers of power in the Kremlin. The biography begins with a discussion of the political situation in Russia in 1999. Boris Yeltsin who has survived two heart attacks and surgery was under attack for corruption and a myriad of other fraudulent actions. With the presidential election set for March 2000, Short speculates whether the FSB launched a series of false flag terrorist attacks in Russia which were blamed on Chechen terrorists to deflect criticism away from Yeltsin. After careful analysis, Short concludes it was Chechens and not the FSB. The prologue that Short sets forth has implications later as Putin is a candidate for the presidency and attacks continue with Putin’s opponents questioning a possible role for the FSB. In addition, once Putin is in office, the tactics used by the FSB will be questioned in Chechen terrorist attacks at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow that killed 125 Russians, and the Breslan School massacre that resulted in 335 dead hostages, 186 of which were children. These attacks and the FSB response received great media coverage which Putin disdained leading to a crackdown on the media and eventual state control of television and newspapers in Russia shortly thereafter. What separates Short’s work from others is that he tackles many of the myths associated with Putin – as it is hard to discern myth from reality. He mentions alternatives, then what appears to be the truth. For example, the death of Putin’s brother during infancy in Leningrad during World War II, the role of possible FSB attacks in 1999 to create support for Boris Yeltsin, Putin’s enormous wealth, reasons behind Russian aggression against Ukraine etc. Short’s presentation of Putin’s childhood is important as he does so without the psychobabble that a number of writer’s conjecture. Putin had attention issues in school and was a very aggressive child who would never back off from a fight. Putin was home schooled for his early education and had difficulty adapting to formal schooling once enrolled. It is important to remember that Putin was raised in Leningrad, a city that suffered over 750,000 deaths at the hands of the Nazis who starved the city resulting in extreme cannibalism as the city was blockaded for over two and a half years. You do not have to be a practitioner of psychology to understand the impact of growing up in an environment that was still in recovery in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This approach is part of Short’s attempt to place Putin’s life story in the context of Russian history. Putin’s early teen years witnessed the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the deposing of Nikita Khrushchev, replaced by Leonid Brezhnev and the impact on his life should not be discounted. As a boy Putin always wanted to be different and when not behaving as a hooligan he seemed to be an introvert, keeping his distance and thoughts to himself. These traits come to the fore later when he assumes certain roles in Russian politics, governmental positions, head of the FSB, and then President of Russia. He would learn to be social when needed, but this was not his forte. Putin was always enamored with the life of a spy as he was a risk taker by nature and would try to volunteer for the KGB as a teenager. His path was clear as KGB minders had their eye on him and he was offered a position in 1975 as a Junior Lieutenant. At the time Yuri Andropov was the head of the KGB and believed in “stamping out dissent,” who wanted to derail the west’s ability to weaken the Soviet Union – a mantra Putin would follow his entire career. Short’s description of how Putin was recruited, trained, and integrated into Russian counterintelligence was indicative of the author’s point of view and how he had unearthed essential details that contributed to his narrative. Short raises an important question – did the KGB create Putin or were his character traits already in place before he was recruited? His character fit the kind of work the KGB did. He liked to stay in the background and observe others, and not attract attention to himself. He was disciplined and pragmatic and was able to concentrate on whatever the priority was at the moment, and never let his emotions dictate his behavior or thought pattern. The watershed moment for Putin as he has stated many times was his KGB posting in Dresden and watching helplessly as the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989 with no guidance from Moscow. This would create a formative memory that proved to Putin the overriding importance of maintaining a strong state and the dangers that an angry population could pose to a previously entrenched regime. The most important figure in Putin’s rise to power was Anatoly Sobchak, a former law Professor at Leningrad State University, a liberal reformer in parliament, who became mayor of the second largest city in Russia. In 1990, Putin was assigned by the KGB assigned to surveil Sobchak as an assistant vice-rector at the university. As Putin gained Sobach’s trust he was placed in charge of trade negotiations which were highlighted by barter deals that allowed him to enrich his KGB colleagues and set a pattern as to how Putin would operate in the future. Most importantly, Putin’s relationship with the KGB and organized crime in the city was a training ground and a source of compatriots when he himself assumed power later on. During this time period the 1991 coup against Mikhail Gorbachev that saw Boris Yeltsin emerge as a hero, according to Short, saw Putin’s as playing a “none role” in these events. But Putin had learned how to make himself indispensable which is a major reason for his success. A key chapter that Short offers is entitled, “The Gray Cardinal” which delineates the corruption and crime that was endemic in St. Petersburg in the 1990s. The borderline between the criminal world and legitimate business was tenuous at best. To conduct business bribery was a standard practice and it was a situation that benefited Putin greatly based on his position, though in an ode to objectivity Short argues that many anecdotes of Putin accepting bribes are fabricated. In this, among many other cases Short gives Putin the benefit of the doubt. Putin learned a great deal from Sobchak, and it provided him with an education for him to apply later. The concept of “Near Abroad” was key for Putin’s foreign policy ideology developed while being in charge of foreign affairs under Sobchak. He began thinking about the former Soviet republics, particularly Ukraine, the key to “Near Abroad” which he felt precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union when it declared its independence. He could not accept that Crimea, the home of the Black Sea fleet, was gone, 1.8 million Russians lived in Crimea, in addition to the massive debt that Ukraine owed Moscow gnawed at him. These beliefs would stay with Putin, and we can see the results today with the current war of attrition. While serving in St. Petersburg Putin’s ideas about NATO, relations with the west, Russia as a bridge between Europe and Asia, the need for a strong centralized government which would unify the country were all reinforced. By the time he assumed the presidency in 2000 his mantra was set. Putin’s assumption of the presidency is spelled out by luck, skill, and the ability to ingratiate himself after Sobchak’s political career ended with Boris Yeltsin. Short dives deeply into this process and in the end Putin provided a need that Yeltsin craved, loyalty to Yeltsin as well as his family. Putin would rise in importance in Yeltsin’s eyes over a five year period culminating in his appointment as the head of the FSB and shortly thereafter as Prime Minister. Once he was head of the FSB in 1998 he would purge the organization and bring in his cronies from St. Petersburg. When Yeltsin decided not to run for president in 2000 he chose Putin as the candidate to replace him. Yeltsin decided not to run because the war in Chechnya was not going well, charges of corruption abounded, and he knew Putin would protect him. What Short does not discuss was how the Yeltsin family was caught up in the corruption and how Putin’s perceived loyalty would protect them. Once in power Putin had to deal with Chechnya which he did in a way we have come accustomed to as we watch events in Ukraine. He would botch the Kursk submarine disaster as well as terrorist attacks within Russia. He would learn that public information needed to be regulated leading to state seizure of media and television. Putin would learn from his errors to a point but his overriding beliefs that anything that made Russia look weak was a boon for the west. In presenting Putin, Short tries in most cases to see events from Putin’s viewpoint. He is correct that the arrival of the Bush administration in Washington presented an excellent opportunity to improve post-Cold War relations with the United States. It is clear that Short believes that Bush blew an important opportunity particularly after 9/11 with the policies he chose. Short is very careful to juxtapose Putin’s points of view on a myriad of topics relating to the Bush’s foreign policy between 2000-2004. At first Putin offered a number of fig leaves to the Bush administration and in return Bush made his “look into his soul” remark that many thought went overboard. After 9/11 Putin threw his support behind the United States by sharing intelligence, military over flights, and bases in Central Asia. Putin saw the US as an ally in the war on terror but felt his overtures were not being reciprocated as Bush canceled the ABM treaty which Putin abhorred; the US invaded Iraq when Russian intelligence which had a decades long relationship with Saddam knew better than the CIA that WMD no longer existed in Iraq. Issues of NATO expansion, anger that the US and the west did not see the war on terror extending to Chechnya, and hawks in Washington carrying on as if the Cold War was total victory. Further the US insisted on military bases in Poland and the Czech Republic and in 2008 the west recognized the independence of Kosovo. By Bush’s second administration relations deteriorated even further as Gazeprom cut energy deliveries to Ukraine, the 2006 assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in London, and the Bush Doctrine which states that America can treat all countries that support terrorists against the U.S. as enemies. It also asserted the right that the U.S. can take preemptive action against nations that it felt might pose terrorist threats. Russia’s response was clear in Putin’s message at the Munich Security Conference as he railed against American unilateralism and the pursuit of global domination. Russia’s position economically improved as oil prices had increased markedly allowing Moscow to pay off its foreign debt depriving the west of leverage resulting in Putin’s popularity rising to 70% - it is no wonder that from this point on Putin felt the US was his enemy and became increasingly aggressive leading to the 2008 invasion of Georgia. Putin admitted Russia lost the Cold War and resented the Americans lording it over them. Events in Ukraine, particularly the Orange Revolution where Putin believed the west prevented Kremlin-backed candidate Viktor Yanukovych from stealing the Ukrainian presidency and made possible the election of his reformist rival, Viktor Yushchenko angered the Russian autocrat. Further, Putin was exorcised over American interference in Gazprom’s attempt to take over Yuganskneftegaz, the main production complex for the Yukos oil company which he believed showed how far American tentacles could reach. What was clear was that by 2008 the rift between Russia and the US was too deep to heal. Short is clear that Putin’s mindset is fraught with errors and lies, but it is important for him to criticize Putin further and not blame the US and the west for many of the choices Putin made. Short does present the American viewpoint surrounding violations of human rights and support for anti-democratic regimes abroad as well as in Moscow, the clampdown on the Russian media, the failure to curb corruption, and atrocities in Chechnya, and the American defeat of the Taliban, a gain for Russian security. However, one gets the feeling that no matter what course of action Putin pursued it was the fault of the West for the deterioration of relations with Russia. At times Short goes overboard in trying to attain objectivity. He argues that “Russia was no longer trying to export its ideology and value system. Instead, America was.” Perhaps, but Short should examine Russian actions toward Georgia, Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Ukraine as a whole before he makes such statements. According to Short, the expansion of NATO by the west is responsible for Putin’s aggressive foreign policy in large part because of broken promises in the first Bush administration. However, it is clear from Putin’s own words that the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century was the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and his goal is to restore the Russian imperial system – this is Putin’s ideology and that has led to the invasions chronicled above. Even in discussing the source and amount of Putin’s wealth, Short takes his objectivity a bit too far as he cannot accept any evidence like the Panama Papers or Paradise Papers that document the scale of multibillion dollar corruption that exists in Russia. Despite the fact that Putin oversees a system whereby Russian oligarchs hold large sums of money with strong connections to Putin, in addition to billions in offshore accounts reserved for the Russian autocrat, Short refuses to believe any evidence that is contrary to his own mindset. Short commentary on Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is not as well developed as his narrative was completed as the war was beginning. I agree with Angela Stent’s comments in her Washington Post review that “Short correctly identifies two of Putin’s major mistakes when he invaded Ukraine. First was his failure to understand that Ukrainians and Russians are distinct Slavic nations, both with a powerful sense of national identity, and that people defending their homeland have an advantage over those seeking to conquer it. His second mistake was to overestimate the capabilities of the Russian military, which was unable to take Kyiv in the first days of the war. Perhaps because he concluded this book before the full scope of Russian atrocities was known, he implies that Russia is acting differently in Ukraine than it did in Chechnya or Syria, where it destroyed Grozny and Aleppo. So far Russia has leveled Mariupol, Severodonetsk and parts of other cities, turning them to rubble, and has indiscriminately targeted civilians.”* Despite Short’s approach to historical objectivity which seems to lean against the West and the United States and accepting Putin’s rationale for certain actions he has authored an important book that should be read carefully and dissected by the reader. But we should remember what New York Times reporter Peter Baker states that Short absolves Putin of several crimes especially, his explanation for his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.** I wonder whether he is watching the same war that plays out on the news each evening as I am. *Angela Stent, “A Biography that Gives Vladimir Putin the Benefit of the Doubt,” Washington Post, July 22, 2022. ** Peter Baker, “Who is Vladimir Putin,” New York Times, August 1, 2022.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lillian

    Clearly insightful and knowledgeable regarding international political affairs, the author paints a more balanced, less judgemental portrait of Putin in relation to the rest of the world and to Russia. The only drawback to this meticulously researched account is that it may be a bit premature in light of current events.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Shrike58

    While there is no denying that this is now the standard accounting of Vladimir Putin's life, up to his decision to launch a "final solution" to his Ukrainian problem, the reality is that the continuing war leaves this work in indeterminate place. I would say that Short's coverage of the man's early life, up to the fall of the Soviet Union, is probably a must read. However, Short's efforts to depict Putin as a rational statesman, playing for rational gains, are now unconvincing to me. Perhaps Mos While there is no denying that this is now the standard accounting of Vladimir Putin's life, up to his decision to launch a "final solution" to his Ukrainian problem, the reality is that the continuing war leaves this work in indeterminate place. I would say that Short's coverage of the man's early life, up to the fall of the Soviet Union, is probably a must read. However, Short's efforts to depict Putin as a rational statesman, playing for rational gains, are now unconvincing to me. Perhaps Moscow does sustain a stalemate in regards to the current lines of battle. Perhaps Moscow does thread the needle in regards to the economic situation they now face. Perhaps, and this is the point that Short ends on, Putin does achieve his ambition of breaking the "New World Order" that came to be in the 1990s; whether Moscow is a beneficiary is the live question.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andrey

    this is, uhm, highly enlightening

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ronan

    8 years in the making🤓and it shows📚 Short builds a credible outline of Putin's character 🕵‍♂️thru a v.detailed account from '52🪆to 2022🇷🇺⚔️🇺🇦 While there is much debate over some of Short's conclusions - Nemstov, Skripal, Navalny 🧪it's a v.enjoyable and informative read📖 8 years in the making🤓and it shows📚 Short builds a credible outline of Putin's character 🕵‍♂️thru a v.detailed account from '52🪆to 2022🇷🇺⚔️🇺🇦 While there is much debate over some of Short's conclusions - Nemstov, Skripal, Navalny 🧪it's a v.enjoyable and informative read📖

  10. 5 out of 5

    Neil McGee

    Wow !!!! 👏 30 hour audiobook. The first half take us through the 60's as a teenager and the second half get very interesting 2000+ and the cooperation with 9/11 that I feel many do not appreciate. What a incredible turnaround of Russia until 2021 🤔😔 Wow !!!! 👏 30 hour audiobook. The first half take us through the 60's as a teenager and the second half get very interesting 2000+ and the cooperation with 9/11 that I feel many do not appreciate. What a incredible turnaround of Russia until 2021 🤔😔

  11. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is an exceptional critical biography of Putin that is up to date even including the first months of the new war with Ukraine. The book is detailed and well documented. The author is not a fan of Putin but also does not give much credence to stereotypes about him, including the easy explanations that have proliferated since the invasion of Ukraine. In reading the book, there are numerous points where one is tempted to blame Putin - harshly - for various events, especially those that befall hi This is an exceptional critical biography of Putin that is up to date even including the first months of the new war with Ukraine. The book is detailed and well documented. The author is not a fan of Putin but also does not give much credence to stereotypes about him, including the easy explanations that have proliferated since the invasion of Ukraine. In reading the book, there are numerous points where one is tempted to blame Putin - harshly - for various events, especially those that befall his enemies. Mr. Short does not let Putin off the hook, but he frequently surprises by showing how what is commonly thought about some event in the US turns out not to be the case or else is not supported by the evidence. What is especially impressive is how Mr. Short puts Putin’s behavior into the broader context of life at the top of the Russian elite structure, with the result that behavior that is odd to us seems much more plausible in the context of life in the Moscow power structure. Is this a matter of justifying Putin’s autocracy - hardly. What it is, however, is an attempt to be fairer - or at least less ideological- regarding Putin’s long reign. What is especially impressive about this biography is how Mr. Short can place his subject within the broader span of history, both in terms of politics - keeping in power and keeping control, especially with his fish and powerful backers. The book also is excellent in Putin’s policies, especially his foreign policy, in the context of broader world affairs. From this, a number of points arise or become clearer. First, the move to autocracy and control over the Russian apparatus is placed in such a context that it at least appears understandable if not actually agreeable. Second, the West, and especially the US, have much to answer for in how US-Russian relations developed under Putin. Did the US overplay its hand? Did the US try to push Russian around too much? Was NATO expansion really neutral regarding Russia. The actual policy issues are too complex to sort out here, but if the roles were reversed, someone might not see Putin as irrational. The presentation and discussion of military advantures in Georgia and towards the end in Ukraine, are troublesome. Military adventures are adventures, irrespective of who does them. Short goes through considerable effort to investigate Russian aims in these conflicts. Again, the role of the US in its adventures looms large here. That is not an excuse but certainly requires some additional processing, especially for example how the Russian positions in Georgia and Crimea were tied to the US and NATO behaviors towards Serbia. Again, this is not to agree with Putin, but the dyadic focus of Short’s discussions of military/diplomatic affairs is strong and thought provoking. The story on the Ukraine invasion does not get settled here and requires much processing, especially since the war is still going on. While the invasion was not justified or justifiable, and the invasion is critically seen as an epic mistake by Putin, it does fit into a broader arc of Russian history and is not as inconsistent with Putin’s prior policies as it may seem at first. The book ends with Putin’s constitutional reform, which set the groundwork for him to remain in office as long as he want. The technique of how this is all managed is impressive and well presented. There is no excuse for aggressive imperial war and with all the is continuing regarding the war, the story is not over by a long shot. Mr. Short’s book, however, has made that story easier to follow and even make comprehend a little. In any event, this is a wonderful book that I highlyy recommend.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Hamilton

    Many Putin biographies are now in print. How this one compares I do not know but the author in his foreword tactfully points out the foibles of several of them. Its easy to understand why American neoconservatives reviewed this book unfavorably for major newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post: The author devotes much of the foreword to dispelling the media-propagated idea that Putin and Russian security services were behind the 1999 series of Russian city apartment bombings. Many Putin biographies are now in print. How this one compares I do not know but the author in his foreword tactfully points out the foibles of several of them. Its easy to understand why American neoconservatives reviewed this book unfavorably for major newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post: The author devotes much of the foreword to dispelling the media-propagated idea that Putin and Russian security services were behind the 1999 series of Russian city apartment bombings. At the appropriate point in the story he does the same for Putin’s alleged purloining of Western food purchases for St. Petersburg’s hungry masses in the days of perestroika. Fortunately for the author and publisher this book had not gone to press at the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This event is covered in the last thirteen pages before the afterword. (The invasion began on February 24 and the book was first published on June 30, enough time for the author to avoid making erroneous conclusions about it.) The author takes what you might call a stoic or agnostic view of Putin’s personal responsibility for the worsening relations between Russia and the West, the illiberal tightening of domestic freedom and the endemic corruption throughout the Russian economy. Overall he seems to believe without coming right out and saying it that Putin and the Western leaders he has dealt with are more or less constrained by Russian cultural history and the legacy of post-1917 policy decisions. It all comes off as a sort of unfolding Greek tragedy. Putin will be seventy on October 7, 2022. When he returned to the presidency in 2018 he seemed to have lost his tenacity for hands-on micromanagement of all aspects of government and he let things devolve to how they worked in tsarist times. Of the well known assassinations and assassination attempts on the lives of Russian dissidents, turncoats and rivals, the author gives him an equivocal free pass on all but one, that of Aleksandr Litvinenko. On a more close reading note, I have the following observations: The author lives in the south of France which may be why he used two French words, coup de foudre (p.82), fronde (p.580), illumine (p.513) and bon enfant (p.533). Words that I hadn’t seen in a while: ruction (pp.113, 510), vertiginous (p.125), malversation (p.133), edulcorate (p.361), enantiomorph (p.397), pleiad (p.433), perdure (pp.461, 670), philippic (p.462), duumvir (p.514), candidature (p.545), and sententious (p.601). Words used in everyday life or at least when discussing politics in chess-loving Russia: rokirovka (castling) (p.529) and zugzwang (p.585). English expressions that have not carried over to American English: on a hiding to nothing (p.670) Possible proofreading omissions: p.620, last sentence of second paragraph; p.664, last sentence of last full paragraph,

  13. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    A fairly comprehensive, modern narration of the political life of the current Russian leader - need I specify dictator. Short has provided what I believe may be the first draft of the history of the Russian nation and done so with extensive interviews and documentation. It includes some elements of the early stages of the Russian invasion (Putin insists on special military operations) of Ukraine which I believe may be calling to a close Putin's reign. I did sense just a bit of Short performing t A fairly comprehensive, modern narration of the political life of the current Russian leader - need I specify dictator. Short has provided what I believe may be the first draft of the history of the Russian nation and done so with extensive interviews and documentation. It includes some elements of the early stages of the Russian invasion (Putin insists on special military operations) of Ukraine which I believe may be calling to a close Putin's reign. I did sense just a bit of Short performing the role of apologist for the regime, but it seem only small endorsement and did not detract from the story in any significant way.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bill Herod

    Fascinating, highly detailed, very timely!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ivar Dale

    Top score when this “definite” biography also includes Putin’s trial, sentencing and death.

  16. 5 out of 5

    P M Fallowfield

  17. 5 out of 5

    Marnix

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Dugan

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  20. 4 out of 5

    Linh Le

  21. 5 out of 5

    Judy

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Boyd

  23. 4 out of 5

    Justin Guidry

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ted Hollingsworth

  25. 5 out of 5

    Perry

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joe

  27. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Frank gish

  28. 5 out of 5

    szymborskalyte

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ilia

  30. 5 out of 5

    Steven Mchugh

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