The Economist Reviews ‘Putin’s Kleptocracy’

Yes, I know I promised not to blog about Russian politics anymore… but this article in The Economist is too interesting to pass up. An academic at Miami University in Ohio has written what sounds like an interesting book about modern Russia. The book is called Putin’s Kleptocracy by Karen Dawisha. Hopefully, my library will order the book soon so I can read it.

I do have one bone to pick with the review and it is this sentence.

The buccaneering oligarchs who em-erged [sic] in the 1990s were bright, self-made men who ruthlessly exploited every opportunity offered by the transition economy.

That is not true. Most of them were little better than thugs who had either KGB connections, mafia connections from the days of the Soviet black market, or, most likely, both.

Ever since the fall of the monarchy, the secret police forces have wielded considerable power in Russia. (One could argue they did before the fall of the monarchy as well. I’m not well-educated enough on this point to argue it one way or the other.) This did not stop with the fall of the Soviet Union and the splintering of the KGB into the FSB and the SVR. (Rumor has it the two organizations today hate each other.)

Of course, this does not mean the FSB has not done good things, too. The organization has thwarted multiple Chechen terrorist attacks—including one planned for the G8 Summit in 2006, which was held in St. Petersburg. Were it not for the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), the eight leaders of the G8, including the president of the United States, would very likely have been blown to smithereens in a terrorist attack. Countless others would have died, too, as so-called “collateral damage.” (There is a full account of this in Yossef Bodansky’s excellent Chechen Jihad: Al Qaeda’s Training Ground and the Next Wave of Terror.)

I have strayed from my original point, which is: behind every great fortune lies a great crime. This quote may be misattributed to Balzac, but I like it anyway because it describes what happened in Russia in the 1990s so well.