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The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia Hardcover – February 28, 2012
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*The considerable value of this book lies in his painstaking and empathetic effort to understand how Mr.. Putin came to power, why many Russians still support him today, and how the West's approach to Russia has helped to shape his rule.* – The Wall Street Journal
*A serious book that portrays a Russian administration at sea in a world most of its officials did not comprehend. Putin himself emerges as a more complex character than the epithet *strongman* would suggest…Every chapter of this book is worth reading.” – The Independent (UK)
*As a former adviser to the Kremlin in 2006-09, working for the Brussels based consultancy GPlus, Roxburgh had an excellent vantage point, and here he offers a stellar cast of sources, drawn from those closest to Putin and Western leaders. Their accounts make this is a valuable book.* - European Voice
*Roxburgh is a talented journalist and writer...a useful history of the Putin era....with views from Russian politicians, and some of the key players from the world of international politics, it is a book firmly rooted in fact and analysis. This means that Roxburgh’s approach is refreshingly free from some of the usual polemic, and he is to be congratulated for giving credit where credit is due and for underlining Putin’s role in stabilising Russia after the free-fall of the Yeltsin years.* - Good Book Guide
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Roxburgh is good at demonstrating the Western "forked tongue" over NATO expansion eastward, which is ultimately behind most of the post-Soviet angst. But he shies short from connecting the dots. The Latvian president's tear-jerking ode to her country's freedom from Russian domination at the Prague summit of 2002 (p. 97) left many Russian eyes dry, as they recalled the two Latvian SS divisions that served Nazi occupiers in the Third Reich's thrust toward Moscow. The Kremlin cries today of "Ukrainian fascists" who have taken over Kiev hearken to the same bloody memories, still willfully ignored by the West as it seemingly patronizes groups precisely for their anti-Moscow militance.
Roxburgh is also, I feel, being disingenuous when he wonders why post-communist Russia has not "turned itself into a thriving manufacturing country like China or many other developing economies" (p. 283). He seems unaware that Russia is not a developing country, but an old developed economy whose industries were of the same rust-belt generation as the mills, mines, and factories of Youngstown or Pittsburgh. The thrust of "economic reform" was thus to dump old industrial investment for new finance-driven capitalism, exactly as in the old-money West - with the added inducement that Russia's modernization was further hamstrung by bans on new-technology sales to Moscow. This policy is far from dead, as the quashing of Russia's bid to acquire GM asset Opal attested: to keep Russia from acquiring the very technology required to make it competitive.
I disagree with Roxburgh's take that Russian reform has always "come from above." The Tzar's granting of a Duma in 1906, and initiating land reforms, was inspired solely to quell the revolutionary movement of the streets and villages. Similarly, the Russian revolution re-erupting in February, 1917, was a perfect parallel to Egypt's Arab Spring as a groundswell of street activism, bringing down two governments within a year. But it's true that Putin has rolled back the glasnost era, when Russian liberty seemed to have arrived into its own at last. Two points here: Yeltsin was not the "democrat" the West made him out to be, as Roxburgh accurately recalls, but an authoritarian predecessor for all that it now objects to in Putin. Secondly, Yeltsin's entourage was composed not only of Democratic Russia liberals, but entrenched apparatchiks who hated Gorbachev, who abandoned the old CP because it was no longer theirs - like Yeltsin himself. Mouthing democratic phrases was a small price to pay for access to Western loot. The rise of Putin in 2000 demonstrated the final eclipse of the liberal DemRossiya wing of Yeltsin's movement. It has been a downhill slide since, but with equal responsibility from a self-serving West.
Putin's role, as he sees it, is to reconstruct the Russian, not the Soviet empire. His vision is the old mantra of "Great Russia, One and Indivisible." Western fuming over the return of the USSR shows an ignorance as mutual as the Russian belief that 9/11 was a Zionist-CIA plot. He highly resembles another "strongman", the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. Yet the West will not be able to bomb Putin to the negotiating table. It will have no other option but diplomacy and recognizing Russian interests. Russia - like GM - is simply "too big to fail."
That being said, the flaw of this book is that Mr. Roxburgh does not challenge the double standards of his western colleagues regarding their views on Russia.He even goes concurs with some of their myths. For example, he passes off Chechen terrorism as the result of centuries of Russian oppression. There is some truth to this view but why is such a sentiment expressed only in relation to Russia. AS the citizen of the greatest imperial power in the world , Mr Roxburgh must be familiar with the fact that the same thing could be said about the British experience with the Mau Mau and the Irish. I have personally spoken to a lot of Irish people who whilst being very devout have a burning hatred of the British and sympathize with the IRA. It must also be said that AL-qaeda uses the suffering of Muslims under tyrannical , pro-American regimes and under Israel to justify its use of terrorism. That being said, I find it ironic that Mr. Roxburgh says that Beslan was payback for the suffering that the chechens experienced at the hands of the Russians.
Mr Roxburgh also describes the bias against Putin and Russia indirectly but he does not come out and condemn it.Thus , he explains that Putin could not understand that a lot of the Western reaction towards him was due to his corrupt,undemocratic behavior at home , omitting that many of the west's allies throughout the world (Egypt under Mubarak, Saudi Arabia today, Yemen, Chile under Pinochet and Spain under Franco ). Angus really means to say that there is a strong Russophobic element in the west, otherwise how else can you explain the fact that many of the countries courted in the former USSR: Kazakhstan, Georgia and Ukraine also have problems with democracy, corruption and oligarchy , as he demonstrates in his book. I can't understand what is his reservation about using the word Russophobia. Similarly, Angus does not share the view of his western colleagues that Khodorkovsky is some kind of Russian Mandela. He notes that Khodorkovsky had a crooked start in gaining control of Yukos , that he sponsored a campaign of bribery of duma deputies, that he is not a saint, he notes the Kremlin's fear that he was trying to take power and his use of the word "politically ambitious" suggests that he agrees with them.Why he does not criticize his colleagues for their stupidity in lionizing this crook has left me pulling out my hair, especially as this is influencing Russian cooperation with regard to Libya and Syria (the Kremlin is not going to cooperate with regime change when it sees it as a pattern of behavior, especially since it looks at the Yukos affair as regime change) ! Again, whether he does this out of cowardice in not wanting to offend his colleagues or out of wisdom as a way to get his views across is a mystery to me.
In reading this book , I also have to say that it is a perfect illustration of how the neocons in the Bush administration "screwed up" over the last decade.If you look at all the episodes that lead to the breakdown between relations between Russia and the West (NATO expansion, Missile defence, the Iraq war,the Georgian war, asylum to Chechen separatists such as Ilyas AKhmadov who was an aide to Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev), it is not hard to find the influence of people like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Nicholas Burns and Richard Perle. It is indeed a tragedy and comedy of the first order, that a genuine chance to secure a lasting partnership between the two biggest nuclear powers was thrown away by these people (remember that Putin was very pro- American in his early years). Such an alliance could have guaranteed the security of the western world against threats such as a rising China, radical islam and Iran.It would be truly unfortunate if the west is defeated by any of these threats and if such a tragedy befalls us, this book may explain one of the reasons why.
If you want to understand, what is actually happening today in Russian politics in the shadows of the Ukrainian crisis, this book is a must read. You will understand, why Putin is not backing out from the crisis, why the Russian people support this controversial quest, why the West doesn't really understand his moves. The author's view is very balanced, most of the hypotheses are on solid ground and also very useful how the motivations of Putin are shown - you can even predict some moves and steps if you read carefully. Not heavy, a fun to read, but worth to do it at least twice (or make a lot of notes) or you can get easily lost in the web of oligarchs, business ties and networks.