Intellektualnaya literatura, Russia
Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Germany
Pistorius & Olsanska, Czech Republic
China University of Political Science and Law Press, China
Európa Publishers, Hungary
Public Affairs, USA
le cherche midi, France
Mamdouh Adwan Publishing House, Syria
"This is the first consistent description of everything that has happened over the last 20 years that I have read. it is a very serious study and an opportunity to learn from first hand reports."
How could Vladimir Putin become a pariah of the world community? Why is the Russian president destabilizing Ukraine, Europe and his own country? Mikhail Zygar, an expert of the Kremlin and its power elites, has written a brilliant book in which he depicts and explains Putin’s transformation from a reformer to a figure feared by the whole world. When Putin was unexpectedly elected president in 2000, he leaned to the West and wanted to be accepted into the club of influential political leaders like Tony Blair, George W. Bush and Gerhard Schröder. Soon he felt betrayed by developments such as the NATO expansion to the East and by the Western sponsoring of the “orange revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine. He fiercely pushed political rivals like Mikhail Khodorkovski aside and controlled domestic politics with an iron hand. Then came a phase during which he behaved like a powerful oligarch. He learned to enjoy the “good life” of the extremely affluent. During Medvedev’s presidency he was omnipresent in the media, performing PR stunts like riding horses half naked and flying with white cranes.
At the beginning of his third term of office, the people of the big cities turned their backs on Putin, so he looked for new supporters among simple people, sharing their hate for America. The Maidan Revolution intensified his paranoia, convincing him that the USA was aiming to destroy him. The results are well known, but it is unclear what effects they will have, also on Putin’s own (political) survival.
The new book by Mikhail Zygar is not just another biography of Putin. It is the story of the sophisticated political struggle in the ‘court’ of Vladimir Putin, a story of games of intrigue and conspiracies in bleak times which almost resemble a historical crime novel or novel of the Middle Ages. It is the story of the love-hate relationship between the Russian head of state and his foreign partners and opponents: the already mentioned Gerhard Schröder, Tony Blair, and George W. Bush, but also Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Silvio Berlusconi, Muammar al-Gaddafi, Viktor Yanukovich and others. The book shows how and why Vladimir Putin transformed from a hedonistic follower of the West and liberal reforms into an oversensitive and secluded pariah.
The sources for the book are numerous interviews held with people from Putin’s inner circle (see below), as well as with the former American ambassador Michael McFaul, and other key politicians and diplomats. In each chapter, one of these protagonists lifts up the curtain of the secret of Vladimir Putin’s “transformation”.
Mikhail Zygar highlights four manifestations, four stages in the transformation of Vladimir Putin:
Putin the First, the Lionheart
This part of the book begins with the world premiere of the new Russian president in the year 2000, when he literally swept Tony Blair and George Bush off their feet. Quite sincerely, he wanted to become “one of them”, he wanted his western colleagues to like him, and in a certain sense he also wanted to “recruit” them like an agent.
In Russia, liberals and reformers gathered around the young Putin, because they wanted to prevent a backlash and the rebirth of the USSR. The repressions against all those who stood in the way of his coming to power, the restriction on freedom of the press and the forced emigration of Putin’s “godfather” Boris Berezovsky to London were seen by the liberals as harsh measures that were necessary to bring about the liberal reforms that were vital for Russia.
But no friendship came from this: Putin increasingly had the impression that he was being betrayed. He saw the eastern expansion of NATO as a personal betrayal, and the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine (the orange revolutions) strengthened his opinion that the Americans were conspiring against him. He had the richest man in Russia arrested: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had supposedly devised a plot with the USA. Subsequently, the liberals who had helped Putin come to power fell in disgrace.
Putin the Second, the Magnificent
Putin’s second term in office is the high point of the “glamorous 2000s”. Political apathy in Russia reaches its highest level. Putin no longer wants to be a politician of the western stamp. He resents the demands that Europeans and Americans made of Russia, who are not without guilt themselves. He wants the good life, he wants to be a mighty oligarch, and own a yacht and a plane, like Roman Abramovich and Silvio Berlusconi. He is increasingly disappointed by liberal values the closer he gets to the “Cynics’ club”: Gerhard Schröder and Sylvio Berlusconi. The more Putin wants the good life, the more distrustful he becomes. This is exploited by his inner circle: to obtain benefits, his assistants report on the successful battle against Putin’s enemies in his inner circle. Russia increasingly turns into a besieged fortress, which is now under the command of the “grey eminence” Vladislav Surkov, the new Kremlin ideologist.
Foreign policy must now above all demonstrate to the West that “we are no worse than they are”. In 2007, Putin succeeds in securing the Winter Olympic Games for Sochi by means of an intricate corruption scheme. He is triumphant – and believes that he can stand up to anyone. He can even enjoy some time out – to sample some of the glamorous life that he has dreamed of all these years.
The false Dmitri or Pseudo-Putin
Putin plans some time out and leaves the Kremlin to the care of his most unambitious assistant – Dmitry Medvedev. He is absolutely sure that this person is completely harmless. But his thwarted successors who he has neglected constantly denounce Medvedev in his presence, and claim that he is hungry for power. In the end, Putin finds it impossible to relinquish his political activities – on the contrary: More than ever he is concerned with preserving his image. He is constantly in the field of vision of Russian citizens, and is constantly pulling off PR stunts, as if he were permanently campaigning for election. Meanwhile, the world financial crisis strikes. The glamorous years of plenty come to an end for Putin – and the Russian middle class gets fed up with Putin’s intrusive PR. When Putin announces his return, thousands of people hold protest marches in Moscow. For the distrustful Putin, it is clear that his fickle citizens in big cities have turned away from him – evidently they have been befuddled by the West. His real support base is the patriarchal Russia, the simple and uneducated workers, the people who miss the Soviet empire, and who hate America, just like he does.
Putin the Third, the Terrible
Putin begins his third term in office by changing Kremlin ideologists again: Vladislav Surkov, the former PR man who flirted with the intelligentsia, is replaced by Vyacheslav Volodin – a man who knows provincial Russia like the back of his hand, and who lived through the gangster wars of the 1990s. Volodin tries to shift Russia towards “traditional values” and against “traditional enemies”. A show trial of Pussy Riot is held, then a law is passed against propagating homosexuality. Volodin’s coarse and bleak PR has an effect, and the world is increasingly perceived in a blinkered way – among the people, the idea of a renewal of the “Cold War” gains great popularity. The new revolution in Ukraine puts Putin into a rage. He believes that the USA has attempted to strike out at him personally, as it did ten years earlier, and so he decides on the strongest of all possible reactions. The West will just swallow it, Putin is sure. Russia is gripped by patriotic hysteria.
Many government members find Putin’s behavior to be suicidal, but do not dare to tell him. Putin’s circle loses enormous sums from the Crimean adventure – but this is better than standing up to Putin.
The End. Putin the Fourth, Lackland
The entire Russian elite is extremely pessimistic about politics and economy. It expects that sooner or later, the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine will return home, furious and bloodthirsty – and then civil war will break out in Russia.
The book is made up of 18 chapters. It is based on conversations with key players in Russian politics, including the following:
Alexander Voloshin, Kremlin chief of staff during the Yeltsin years; chairman of the board of Norilsk Nickel, advisor to Putin.
Boris Berezovski, oligarch (his companies were, among others: automobile dealer LogoVAS, the television station ORTV, the TV station TV-6, the daily newspapers Nezavissimaya gazeta and Kommersant), Vice President of the National Security Council under Boris Yeltsin. He was a supporter of Putin, then turned against him and emigrated to London, where he died in 2013.
Mikhail Khodorkovski, former oligarch and chairman of the board of the oil concern Yukos. Incarcerated for alleged tax evasion from October 2003 till December 20, 2013. Now he is an activist in his foundation “Open Russia”, which supports civil society.
Dmitri Medvedev, former President and current Prime Minister of Russia.
Vladislav Surkov, ideologist and grey eminence of Putin’s ‘royal court’. Vice Premier until 2013, now Putin’s personal advisor.
Sergei Ivanov, former Minister of Defense, now presidential chief of staff. Considered by some to be Putin’s crown prince.
Yuri Luzhkov, for many years mayor of Moscow and Putin rival
Tatyana Yumasheva, Boris Yeltsin’s daughter and his most important advisor. In the mean time she has become a citizen of Austria.
Mikhail Prokhorov, oligarch and former chairman of the party “The Just Cause”, which he left after coming to the conclusion that it was a “puppet of the Kremlin”.
Matthias Warnig, former Stasi officer. Worked for finance minister Christa Luft in the government of GDR prime minister Hans Modrow. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he was the chairman of the supervisory board of Dresdner Kleinwort, an investment bank owned by Dresdner Bank. Proprietor of the real estate and asset management company MW Invest Ltd; today he is the head of the German-Russian gas pipeline firm Nord Stream, member of the board of Rossiya Bank and Transneft, the Russian oil pipeline firm.
Alexei Kudrin, vice-chief of staff of president Boris Yeltsin, former vice-chairman of the energy firm EES Rossii and minister of finance of the Russian Federation until 2011.
Igor Sechin, close advisor of Putin until 2008 as vice-chief of staff. Vice-Premier since 2008 and chairman of the board of Rosneft.
Vyacheslav Volodin, first vice-chief of staff of Putin’s presidential administration, former vice-premier.
Mikhail Saakashvili, 2004 – 2013 president of Georgia, now governor of Odessa (Ukraine)
Alexei Navalny, leading Russian opposition politician and blogger, dedicated to fighting corruption. As a candidate for mayor of Moscow he got 27% of the votes.
Sergei Shoygu, Russian army general and currently minister of defense.