This book catalogues the rise of Putin, after first detailing the general history of Russian democratic politics of the 1990s. Putin was more or less installed in 2000 with the retirement and soon thereafter death of Boris Yeltsyn. Putin had styled himself as a lawful state bureaucrat who could be trusted to shepherd the Russian government in the time of great transition. Some five or so years later, his personal wealth completely appropriated either from state means or through state means from private citizens would be somewhere around 40 billion estimated, and he would already have foreseen the highly public extrajudicial deaths of terrorists holding Russian citizens hostages, often with many or most of the hostages as well. Like many authoritarians, the seeds of his own downfall seem present at the beginning and facing democratic disaster at the end of the book, he seems poised to fall soon. That was in 2010, but a 2012 update, and of course the subsequent 10 years after, have proven that this was a too hasty prediction based on decent analysis, but not knowing yet the ways in which Putin would weaponize anti-LGBTQ propagranda and border wars to cement his power, as well as his beomcing an international player in election disruption in the US, UK, and Europe. This book is written with a passionate intensity and a glimmer of hope, which is considerably crushed by the end and by the present tense.
I obviously should have read this book before I read Masha Gessen’s other book The Future is History, as that one ends up being a kind of sequel to this one, but alas. Having also read Timothy Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom also acts as a kind of accidental primer for this one, but in reverse.