Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, Karen Dawisha

Reviewed by Kimberly Marten



Karen Dawisha has compiled the most comprehensive catalog imaginable of criminal allegations against Russian president Vladimir Putin: his purported embezzlement of state funds, use of violence against political enemies, and links to organized crime. She cites sources in English, Russian, Spanish, and German (including Russian material that disappeared from the Internet, now reposted on her Web site at Miami University of Ohio), as well as archival documents and her own personal interviews. Its comprehensiveness alone makes the book an invaluable resource for scholars, journalists, and the general public.

Her narrative also provides potential answers to some nagging puzzles about Putin’s rise to power. How did Putin gain a key position in reformist St. Petersburg mayor Anatoliy Sobchak’s office in 1990, when his work as a midlevel KGB officer in East Germany ended following German reunification? We read in a footnote (p. 178) that Sobchak’s assistant at the time, Yuriy Shutov, “alleged that Putin had used kompromat [compromising personal information] against Sobchak” to accomplish this.

Dawisha similarly sheds light on another conundrum: how did the demoralized KGB of 1991—whose leaders spearheaded a failed putsch against Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and then faced such fragmentation and underfunding

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