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Putin: The explosive and extraordinary new biography of Russia’s leader

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In 2023, the shortlisted books include a slow-burn mystery set in colonial Australia and a thrilling new novel from the author of Fatherland. My passion for writing historical fiction set mainly in Poland, or including Polish protagonists is born from my own familial history. In “First Person,” a collection of interviews with Putin and various relatives and associates, he brags that he received top grades in high school, except for one subject.

Democracies tend not to go to war as much as dictatorships because the people are likely to be the ones who are killed on the battlefield. Yes, I chose it because it takes on a fiendishly difficult subject – the businessman and oligarch Boris Berezovsky and his role in creating Putin. Who is this man who suddenly- overnight and without warning- was handed the reigns of power to one of the most complex, formidable, and volatile countries in the world? He set up Hermitage Capital Management, with the help of the Monaco-based billionaire Edmond Safra (later to die in a fire started by one of his servants). These books are all very relevant to Putin’s Russia, though some extend back slightly into Yeltsin’s Russia.He likewise absolves Putin of notorious political attacks against the likes of Sergei Skripal, Anna Politkovskaya and Boris Nemtsov, while allowing that he probably was responsible for the gruesome poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London. But I think things are also better, because you have a new generation of Russians who don’t remember the Soviet Union, except possibly for childhood memories, are living lives largely unclouded by fear and official propaganda, and are integrated into the world in a way in which Russians haven’t been for 100 years.

If you think – and I do – that there has been a re-balancing of the state and private capital in Russia, what the re-balancing has been about is oil and gas resources. But will a younger generation who have grown up feeding on internet social media, able to travel freely and getting information how and when they like, really admire an authoritarian regime that is rotten to its core?So much has happened since, but I found this book to be full of fascinating insights into Putin himself, but also how he views Russian (political) culture, and also those around him that he has continued to rely on ever since. Namely, that this country – which has such a big history of revolt and a workers’ movement going back even long before the revolution to peasant revolts and rebellions – has been extremely quiet both during the 90s, when it suffered an enormous slump, a catastrophe in terms of their living standards, and also in the 2000s when living standards have been improving but not equally. Overall, however, they let him escape true responsibility, not for individual crimes, but for failing to transform Russia, instead reaching back to an arthritic mythical past, not forward to a different future. He complained that NATO and the European Union sought to supplant the United Nations (where, conveniently, Russia enjoys a Security Council veto) and that Western lectures on freedom were hypocritical cover for self-serving security policies: “Russia — we — are constantly being taught about democracy,” he said.

I think anybody who has come to be interested in Russia during the Putin period thinks of Berezovsky as someone who has fallen out with Putin, is in exile in London, showing his skill at manipulating the media.

Now with its massive gas and oil reserves Russia has not only paid off its debts but amassed huge cash reserves which it is investing in easily accessible European businesses.

He equates Putin’s forcible annexation of Crimea to Western support for Kosovo’s independence, dismissing differences between the two as “nuances. The late Karen Dawisha offers the best account so far of Putin's early career and the connections and corruption that paved his path to power. If you are already a registered user of TheHindu Businessline and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. The regime sits at the top and sucks money up from both of those and then squanders some of it on high living in Moscow but pumps a lot of it into the West, where it’s laundered in places like Vienna and even London and New York. For a heady moment, it seemed as if the planet’s two dominant nuclear powers would rekindle the World War II alliance that led Russian and American troops to meet at Germany’s Elbe River in 1945.Which is not to say that every Russian should feel personally guilty for it, but everything you see is built on the bones of millions of innocent people and that should be a really big deal in Russia. And if you want to understand Vladimir Putin— whose childhood was shaped by family traumas in wartime Leningrad— this is a good place to start.

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