Putin's kleptocracy Who owns Russia?

Karen Dawisha

Book - 2014

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.

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New York : Simon & Schuster 2014.
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
Physical Description
vii, 445 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Karen Dawisha (-)
  • The USSR at the moment of collapse
  • The making of money and power : the establishment of Putin's Circle, from the KGB to St. Petersburg, 1985-1996
  • Putin in St. Petersburg, 1990-1996: accusations of illicit activities
  • Putin in Moscow, 1996-1999
  • Putin prepares to take over: from Prime Minister to Acting President, December 1999-May 2000
  • The founding of the Putin System: his first hundred days and their consequences, May-August 2000
  • Russia, Putin, and the future of kleptocratic authoritarianism.
Review by Choice Review

Dawisha (Miami Univ., Ohio) has published a rare book--one that attracts a wide readership and at the same time makes a substantial contribution to the academic literature. Dawisha notes that though most Western academics have framed their analyses in terms of Russia's flawed quest for democracy, the question they should have been asking is how a small group of corrupt officials was able to hijack an entire country and enrich themselves in the process. She painstaking assembles evidence to document the corrupt circle of insiders around Putin that emerged from the ranks of the Communist Party and the KGB. It is a damning picture, though Dawisha does not try to analyze the relationship between "Putin's cabal" and Russian society at large. The first half of the book, which may be a little hard for students to follow, consists of a detailed recounting of complex financial transactions among unsavory Putin associates in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s. The second half details the insider politics of Putin's ascent to the presidency in 2000 and his first few months in office. The focus on 1985-2000 may disappoint readers who expect a profile of the current political and economic elite in Russia. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers, upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and research faculty. --Peter Rutland, Wesleyan University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission. Review by New York Times Review

NOW IN HIS third (nonconsecutive) presidential term, Vladimir Putin presents himself as the strong and virtuous leader who rescued Russia from the chaos, corruption, penury and weakness of the 1990s. State-controlled news media and Kremlin spin doctors disseminate this message diligently - and to good effect, judging from Putin's 80 percent approval rating. But with "Putin's Kleptocracy," Karen Dawisha, a respected scholar of Soviet and Russian politics at Miami University in Ohio, seeks to shred this carefully constructed narrative. Her verdict is not merely that Putin's boast of having built a potent, efficient state that fights for the little guy and against the venality of the powerful is bunk. Her bedrock claims are that the essential character of Putin's system is colossal corruption and that he is a prime beneficiary. The thievery, she says, has made him fabulously rich, along with a coterie of trusted friends dating back to his days as a K.G.B. officer in Communist East Germany, then as first deputy mayor in 1990s St. Petersburg, then as head of the Federal Security Service. In explaining the system's workings, Dawisha enumerates the standard shenanigans of crooked regimes: bribetaking from domestic and foreign companies seeking business permits; kickbacks from inflated no-bid contracts for state projects; privatization deals rigged to enrich cronies who will later be cash cows for the Kremlin; illicit exports of raw materials purchased at state-subsidized prices and sold for a killing; "donations" from oligarchs eager to keep feeding at the government's trough; real estate scams yielding mega-profits and palatial homes; money laundering; election-fixing; labyrinthine offshore accounts; lucrative partnerships with the mob; and the intimidation, even elimination, of would-be whistle-blowers. To prosper, Russia's superrich must demonstrate absolute loyalty to the president. As Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other tycoons have discovered, the punishment for defiance is severe. Dawisha won't disappoint readers seeking examples of industrial-size sleaze. She reckons Putin's private wealth at $40 billion and lists among his prized possessions yachts, planes and palaces - along with a $700,000 wristwatch collection for good measure. As for the Friends of Vladimir, Dawisha writes that "more than half of the $50 billion spent on the Sochi Olympics simply disappeared into the pockets of Putin's cronies." The Rotenberg brothers, Putin's childhood chums, alone garnered $2.5 billion of the outlay for the games. Russia's roster of 110 billionaires remains remarkably static, even as the wealthy in other countries rise and fall. What these plutocrats share are longstanding, close connections to Putin. And not a few are former K.G.B. operatives themselves. Dawisha's charges are not entirely new: Her copiously researched account relies on books, news reports, official documents, memoirs, WikiLeaks and witness testimonies collected by Russian and foreign journalists. The torrent of detail, some of it well known and peripheral to her kleptocracy theme, can drown readers who are untutored in Soviet and Russian politics. Still, "Putin's Kleptocracy" is the most persuasive account we have of corruption in contemporary Russia. Dawisha won't be getting a Russian visa anytime soon. Her indictment - even if it wouldn't stand up in a court of law - hits Putin where it really hurts. He may cop to being an authoritarian (he boasts of building a strong state), a nationalist (he wears a cross, preaches patriotism and praises the Orthodox Church) and an empire builder (he brags about retaking Crimea and is unapologetic about seeking a sphere of influence). But the accusation that he's a common crook, or even an uncommon one, is different - and a charge he doesn't treat lightly. That's why Russian reporters avoid it, especially as political controls have tightened, and why Dawisha's original publisher, Cambridge University Press, declined to print the book on the advice of its lawyers worried about the possibility of legal action. The true tragedy is that corruption, state-sponsored, energy-driven and totaling hundreds of billions annually, has mortgaged Russia's future. Freedom has withered. Money for the investments urgently needed to make Russia innovative and prosperous has been diverted to enrich a few. Alas, that's what kleptocracies do. RAJAN MENON is a professor of political science at the City College of New York and a senior research scholar at Columbia's Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. His book "Conflict in Ukraine," written with Eugene Rumer, will be published in January.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [November 9, 2014] Review by Library Journal Review

Starred Review. Among Dawisha's (Walter E. Havighurst Professor of Political Science, Miami Univ.; coauthor, Russia and the New States of Eurasia) many contributions to our understanding of post-Soviet politics, this book may be the most significant, as the author combines an analysis of such politics and a biography of Russian president Vladimir Putin in unrivaled detail. Putin's story begins with his work in the KGB, and, in the early 1990s, as deputy to St. Petersburg's mayor. Soviet collapse occasioned Putin with remarkable opportunities for the accumulation of wealth and power independently of the "oligarchs," who dominated state privatization. The result depicts a corrupted and inchoate system under the domination of President Boris Yeltsin and the "family" in 1999 replaced by an administration vastly more skilled in "elite predation" through creating "overlapping networks" of loyal minions. Extensive supporting documentation, such as the leaked 2000 "Reform of the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation" offers an excellent basis for the book's assertion that Putin's "Teflon ability" defeated encounters with political oversight at any level until he became able to eliminate all opposition. The notes in this volume represent one of the finest and most imaginative uses of published source materials that this reviewer has ever seen in a book on post-Soviet politics. VERDICT A rich and exhaustive account of Putin and his regime that supports a forecast of its "hard authoritarian" drift and dependence on "European public goods" for survival. Zachary Irwin, Behrend Coll., Pennsylvania State Erie (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

A damning account of Vladimir Putin's rise to power and of the vast dimensions of the corruptionpolitical and economicthat both reigns and rots in Russia.Dawisha (Political Science/Miami Univ.; The Consolidation of Democracy in East Central Europe, 1997, etc.) begins with the recent crisis in Crimea, then swiftly moves to unsnarl "the tangled web of relationships" that enabled Putin to thrive, that keep him in power, and that direct enormous fortunes into the hands of Putin and his cronieswe're talking billions. Dawisha's research is extremely impressive. Drawing on leaked documents, interviews and old-fashioned excavation, she describes the intricate complications of the power relationships in Russia (naming many names) and eventually shows how they continue to damage the country. With so much wealth concentrated in so few hands, public services have faltered, infrastructure has aged and cracked, and technological research and progress stutter and stumble. Dawisha includes numerous detailed footnotes and some clear diagrams that chart the egregious greed in the country, but mostly this is a powerful story about the return to authoritarianism in a country that had begun to breathe a bit of free air. In his first 100 days, Putin clamped down on the media, surrounded himself with loyalists, shoved out opponents, changed the symbolism of the country (returning to prominence a version of the old Soviet national anthem), embraced international organized crime, enriched those who supported him, impoverished and even imprisoned those who didn't, avoided prosecutions on earlier corruption charges, and forced the media to portray him as "the undisputed Leader of his People." He continues to misinform and deceive the public about international events, and the author demonstrates how all this corruption greatly diminishes the profitability of Russia's sizable energy reserves. The light of Dawisha's research penetrates a deep moral darkness, revealing something uglyand dangerous. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.