Putin has convinced many Russians that he has raised their country from its knees. But for how much longer, ask these two books, by Mark Galeotti and by Samuel A Greene and Graeme B Robertson

One of the silver linings running through the dark clouds of their history is that Russians have developed a strong line in subversive political humour. In one joke that has recently been doing the rounds, Putin asks Stalin: “Why is everything here so bad? What should I do?” “Execute the entire government and paint the Kremlin blue,” says Stalin. “Why blue?” asks a perplexed Putin. “I had a feeling you would only want to discuss the second part,” Stalin says.

The truth is that Putin does not have the powers of a real dictator; he cannot execute the government or even manage without the myriad officials, oligarchs and fake opposition parties on which his authority and ability to govern depend. And yet far too much western commentary on Putin invokes parallels with the Soviet era when highlighting his suffocation of independent media, his demonisation of internal enemies, his crackdown on protest movements and his hostility towards the west. These two books both offer nuanced and persuasive accounts that demolish this vision of Putin’s dictatorship as the latest incarnation of totalitarianism in Russia.

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Read More We Need to Talk About Putin and Putin v the People review – a gut-level patriot

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