Further to Once Upon a Time in Russia and its portrayal of three of the original oligarchs, my new recommendation is All the Kremlin’s Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin by Mikhail Zygar, former editor of Dozhd or TV Rain, at that time the only independent TV station in Russia. Published in 2016, it’s a good primer for those of us trying to understand the two decades long Machiavellian prelude to the vicious, crazy war that Putin and Russia unleashed on Ukraine.
The over-arching idea in the book is that Putin’s public persona was a creation of his entourage over the years, that he/it was a collective mind with a memory structured to prove itself right in all instances, as it implacably fought back against imagined enemies. An introductory twelve page ‘list of characters’ is useful in navigating the machinations of this entourage, which are explained in detail.
Influential with Putin, FSB (KGB successor organisation) chief Nikolai Patrushev claimed that Zbigniew Brzezinski and the CIA plotted to cause the collapse of the Soviet Union, dismember it by provoking war in Chechnya, and laying the groundwork for the Ukraine crisis and Orange Revolution of 2014 by sowing seeds of hatred for Russia and encouraging a flowering of ‘Western’ values.
Patrushev also accused the US of creating ISIS and the revival of Nazism in the Baltic states and Ukraine. According to Zygar the Russian leadership basically believed its own propaganda, and anti-Americanism played well to the broad masses, who love conspiracy theories.
Fast forward to today, it seems the collective Putin is now greatly reduced in number, and he has hunkered down in his residence in Valdai (between St Petersburg and Moscow) with old pal Yuri Kovalchuk as inseparable company and supporter of the same paranoid and delusional world view.
Meantime late February this year Zygar hastily left Moscow for Berlin as the first Russian invasion forces crossed the Ukraine border and his public protest letter would have landed him in jail. But since then he’s been working his old journalistic networks for news about Putin, and speaking out publicly.
Zygar’s recent op-ed in the New York Times (below) and a subsequent interview in Vanity Fair, give an update on Putin and the grim prospects of a possible isolationist future for Russia. Apparently half a million independent-thinking Russians have fled the country since the war began and Putin is glad to be rid of them. Zygar reckons that he would even be happy for Russia to emulate North Korea!
So, no happy ending in sight and apparently little chance of Putin’s slimmed down entourage of sycophants and ideologues doing anything to be rid of him.
(*French exclamation often translated as FUCK!, although it literally means whore, and the two words, Putin and Putain, are pronounced the same In French)