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Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? by…

Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (original 2014; edition 2015)

by Karen Dawisha (Author)

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Title:Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?
Authors:Karen Dawisha (Author)
Info:Simon & Schuster (2015), Edition: Reprint, 464 pages
Collections:Your library

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Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? by Karen Dawisha (2014)



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Disclaimer: I can't review this book without touching on politics. My purpose, however, is not to advance a political position but to share my view of a book I consider important.

Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, by Karen Dawisha (2014)

I read Putin's Kleptocracy between November 20 and December 8 of 2017. After only 66 pages I wrote in my notebook: "If Trump were following Putin's playbook, what would he be doing differently from what he's doing now, on Nov. 25, 2017?"

The hardest thing about it for me, reading it in the last months of 2017, was to avoid seeing a subtext commenting on the current U.S. presidential administration and the bizarre, malignant conduct of our president. However, it was published in 2014, well before the effects of the 2016 election were seen or even imagined. So in spite of myself I had to try to read it in its own terms and not as an ominous parallel to the present horror of American politics.

Turns out it's worse than I thought it was. A lot worse.

Not that I ever thought I knew very much about Russia; but I'm old enough to remember Khrushchev, and the Cuban missile crisis, and Gorbachev and glasnost and perestroika, and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, not to mention Sputnik and Laika and Francis Gary Powers. And I've read a few books, including Colton's political and social history of Russia, Russia: What Everyone Needs to Know.

Probably it's not possible for an ordinary person to know much about Russia, no matter how much we read. I see it as vastly unknowable. Sometimes I've pulled up a map of Russia and its neighbors, including countries that used to be part of the USSR, and gazed and gazed at it, zooming in and out, panning, studying, noting place names and topographical features and proximities, just trying to gain the smallest grasp of the meaning of that space.

And I always come away wondering why anyone would even want to try to govern that unimaginable immensity.

(Sometimes I wonder the same thing about the United States, and it's only about 53% the size of Russia.)

But if there can be people who know a lot about Russia, Karen Dawisha has to be one of them. Her list of academic credits and publications is one set of credentials; her meticulously sourced and annotated present document is another. Backmatter, including bibliography, notes, and index, runs to nearly 100 pages.

Delivered in an appropriately dispassionate tone, without exclamation points, Dawisha's scholarly narrative offers very little in the way of concession to the lay reader. It painstakingly traces Putin's rise from KGB agent in St. Petersburg to multiterm president of Russia, delivering documented facts, analysis, and supportable inference within a historical, social, political, and especially economic context.

Rather than writing my customary critical commentary, with reasons and examples, I'm going to confine my further remarks to a selection of quotations (in quotes) and brief notes (mine, not in quotes) that point to the kind of dark light this book shed on my understanding of Russia's place in the present world order. Page references that precede the excerpts refer to the paperback edition.

1, "110 billionaires control 35 percent of the country's wealth"

3, "restoring Russian greatness"--the pretext for giving total license to the elites

My note, 7: Entire introduction is stunning and revealing--a summation of what Putin is and what corruption means in Russian government. And it also strikingly suggests--without intent, because Trump was not on the horizon in 2014--exactly how Putin knew how to own and manage Trump (and why Trump favors him).

11, IKEA CEO was told it would cost $5-$10 million to have a meeting with Putin

38, Putin installed in the Kremlin "people who were connected to him personally...they promote their friends and do not forget to punish their enemies."

53, few Russians knew how to run a business--hence problems with capitalism in 1980s-1990s

66, Putin decided to "reveal his KGB past so he couldn't be blackmailed for it"

80, "Putin's story is not just the story of cowboy capitalism. It is the story of how an extremely adept political figure was able to gather around himself a group of varied individuals who were devoted to Russia, to be sure, but also, and indeed even more so, to their personal survival and prosperity. It is the story of law enforcement's continuous efforts to stop the accruing of wealth by this group, and its ultimate failure."

100, Putin is seen as the monarch--the sovereign--and his people "the new nobility"

124, Putin's "ability to deflect criticism, to admit that something happened but that he was on the sidelines, or even himself a victim of others' venal or politically motivated actions"

164, Putin specialized not in developing business but in controlling it. "Putin demonstrated that it was he who would select those who would become and remain wealthy."

165, "loyalty, a trait that Putin values above all"

183, as head of FSB, Putin eliminated the two directorates responsible for "investigation of high-level economic crimes, such as those surrounding the oligarchs and the Family...replaced with six new ones filled with Putin loyalists from Petersburg"

193, bombings of Russian civilians committed as political acts by security services, intended to destabilize the country

196, Putin expects to be destroyed as soon as he steps aside, so he has to win--"you'll put us to the wall and execute us" was the way his PR chief quoted him

202, Putin's priority right out of the gate was authority--and elections required "calm and order"

220, the apartment bombings "were regarded at the time [1999] as absolutely critical in promoting Putin's candidacy." ... "merciless extermination of the adversary," no matter the cost

222, "Putin's objective, and the objective of those who came to power with him and helped bring him to power, was to restore the idea of Russia as a Great Power..." (cf. p. 257)

224, "It is the contrast between Putin's open statements supporting democracy and his covert promotion of an authoritarian blueprint that is the key to his presidency and provides the core reason it is possible to see the shape and direction of his entire rule from this early period."

243, election irregularities and fraud in 2000 Russian election

250, Moscow Times reported "'Putin would not have won outright on March 26 without cheating'"

256, Putin targeted the media from day 1

257, Putin's idea of patriotism is the KGB's: "'the country is as great as the fear it inspires, and the media should be loyal'"--is this what "make Russia great again" is code for? great = feared? (cf. p. 222)

267, his inauguration, with the management of media coverage, staged and controlled--"the founding event of Putin's spectacle-driven presidency"

273, plan to "control the political process" and silence the opposition media by "driving them to financial crisis"...274, "tax police" swarming the media offices with masks and guns

275, Putin's view of dictatorship and authoritarianism: a "strong state" is necessary for the protection of civil, political, and economic freedoms.

293, Putin's "vertical of power": "suppress opposition, control the mass media, diminish federalism, and remove the legislature as a source of independent activity"

306, the cultural and intellectual leaders in 1999-2000 did not accept the "change of regime type" from more to less freedom--but Putin had already taken control, corrupt from the beginning

310, at his inauguration, Putin wanted opponents in Moscow population to understand implicitly: "This is my country and my city, and I can rule without you."

312, Putin's accomplishments in seizing control in his first 100 days "should be registered as a singular achievement in the annals of authoritarian rule."

318, the Kremlin's propaganda message in the anti-American "information war" at the time of annexation of Crimea in 2014: collapse of Soviet Union was imposed by the West, which was blamed for Ukraine invasion

325, billions in Western pension funds are invested in 16 Russian companies

330, "In any Western country, this [corruption] would be called criminal malfeasance. In Russia it is called government."

331, key passage: "Putin alone decides who and what will be profitable. There is no more important rule in today's Russia."

340, Russia's money laundering and scamming relies on partnering with Western banks and institutions.

348, Putin thinks Russia likes totalitarianism

348, the "public lie" is standard for Putin's Russia

349, Putin's hold on total control and his belief that everything is a zero-sum game

349, "In an effort to live his life beyond the control of others, he has forced a whole people to submit."

In April I read Karen Dawisha's obituary in the New York Times. It says she died of lung cancer at the age of 68. I suppose I should believe that.

Putin's inauguration on May 7th for a fourth term took place in the gilded hall where Nicholas II was crowned. If Trump was watching, it could only have been with envy as Putin came through those lofty golden doors and advanced on a red carpet to take the podium.

Today, on the eve of President Trump's meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, I wonder if Trump knows even one-tenth of what little I know about Putin. And how much we're going to pay now for his unconscionable ignorance. ( )
10 vote Meredy | Jul 9, 2018 |
...she [the author] has compiled an extraordinary dossier of malfeasance and political corruption on an epic scale. Much of her analysis is so incendiary that the original intended publisher, Cambridge University Press, decided not to take it on (probably wisely in the light of Britain’s libel laws, even though recently amended) and the book is not available for sale in the UK. The story of the Party’s gold has gained the stature of a myth, but Dawisha is the first Western author to have pieced together all the relevant material and convincingly argues that this shift of resources to banks and other institutions outside and within the Soviet Union really did take place.

...for all its strengths, Putin’s Kleptocracy is one of many books that contribute to a misleading paradigm of how Russia actually works. The Putin system comprises many layers and competing networks. Policy is not usually made by one faction across all the policy areas, in which case there would be greater consistency and coherence than we actually see.
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The raging question in the world today is who is the real Vladimir Putin and what are his intentions. Karen Dawisha's brilliant work provides an answer, describing how Putin got to power, the cabal he brought with him, the billions they have looted, and his plan to restore the Greater Russia.… (more)

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