Home > other > Rare book on Putin reviewed in NYRB

Rare book on Putin reviewed in NYRB

It has barely anything to do with this blog but I happen to be quite interested in what’s happening in Russia for various reasons (Russian friends visit us regularly during the summer, my wife used to live and work in Russia, I used to prepare a “news from the East” bulletin for a certain foundation, and there’s also Nabokov, though there’s not much connecting him to the country as it is today :roll:).

The latest issue of “The New York Review of Books” has a very lengthy article on Putin and his country. I actually find some of the assumptions expressed by the author (Amy Knight) benevolently naive. She may think she’s describing a terrifying police state – but she’s not doing it accurately enough. For instance, she seems completely unaware of the fact that when Putin becomes prime minister he will actually gain even greater power: the moment he is sworn in, which will happen in a couple of days, it will become quite reasonable to speak of modern Russian “absolutism”, with Putin as the absolute monarch – holding in his grasp both presidency (Medvedev is clearly just a stand in for Putin) and the Duma (Putin is now the leader of United Russia – the party which holds a 70% majority there). Even the author’s view of Russian ”independent” press is inaccurate: calling “Kommersant” an “independent” newspaper is certainly a bit of an overstatement… And I really don’t see in what way today’s Germany does stand up to Russia? Merkel may criticize human rights’ abuse but that’s about it. After all, Germany was one of the countries which blocked the acceptance of Ukraine and Georgia into the NATO MAP earlier this month! The suggestion that people in today’s Russia live well is quite preposterous. Except for Moscow and Petersburg, the country makes a really depressing impression.

But these are minor qualms. In the end, the article does give a pretty good idea of what Russia looks like these days, and does it in a very balanced way. And anyway, it is a long read so I’m not adding any more of my rant to it. 😉

Categories: other
  1. Jezetha
    1 May 2008 at 0:25

    Interesting. I wonder whether Russia’s ideas of imperial grandeur are returning and if the situation Russia is in is comparable to that of Germany after the First World War (loving the strong man, wanting to ‘stand tall again’, taking revenge for being humiliated…)

  2. maciek
    9 May 2008 at 23:21

    That’s a creepy thought. Especially since you may very well be right – the situation with NATO, Ukraine and Georgia is a telling example. (In fact, I don’t think Russia’s “ideas of imperial grandeur” were ever really gone… 🙄 )

    As far as Polish politics are concerned, Russia remains, as always, a sort of (sometimes dormant) threat – there are many Russians who still think of former Soviet republics in terms of “parts of Russia” and who believe countries such as Poland, itself never a Soviet republic, would have enjoyed infinitely greater prosperity if only they were incorporated into Russia – not for Russia’s benefit, she would be doing it out of pure charity, but for the benefit that would befall all such countries. It’s in Poland’s best interest for countries like Ukraine to be strong and independent, since they act as a sort of buffer, dividing Poland from Russia. This may sound a bit paranoid but is there really such a thing as paranoia in international affairs? 😈 Personally, I don’t think Russia is a serious threat currently, at least not in terms of territory (Germany might turn out to be more of a problem there) but…

    But there’s also the problem of energy resources (gas!), since Poland depends on supplies coming from Russia. A couple of months ago I copy edited an interesting interview with an expert on matters of energy who said Poland’s main mistake was that instead of quietly diversifying energy sources, the country was constantly bragging about it: there’s no way Russia wouldn’t react to such statements, since it is in Russia’s interest to keep Poland dependent. Most of the EU relies on energy from Russia too – but those countries are diversifying their sources quietly, and nobody complains. There’s also the problem of some EU countries (Germany) trying to get Russian natural gas separately…

    Ah, it’s all a long, deep subject, let’s not get into it. 😉

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