“Or, he is a cunning, even diabolical strongman atop a scrum of bandit cliques. As a career officer in the KGB, an organization its members never leave, he is fundamentally anti-Western and undemocratic, and comfortable with conflict, crime, and the company of beasts. Moreover, he is nostalgic for empire and covetous of power, and he has surrendered only a title. Instead, he has manipulated Russia's loose political rules and obedient political class to install a puppet successor and transfer the levers to his new post as Russia's premier, where he continues to abuse office and direct the spoils of oil-state excess to his coterie. His talk of public stewardship and personal liberties is farce. The Kremlin has rejected democracy while pretending to embrace it, hardening into a kleptocracy with nuclear weapons and state-controlled television stations purring that all is well.”
The Wrath of Putin
Masha Gessen • Vanity Fair • August 2012
Putin’s long war with the richest man in Russia.
“Almost a decade ago, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then the owner of the Yukos Oil Company and Russia’s richest man, completely miscalculated the consequences of standing up to Vladimir Putin, then Russia’s president. Putin had Khodorkovsky arrested, completely miscalculating the consequences of putting him in prison. During his eight years in confinement, Khodorkovsky has become Russia’s most trusted public figure and Putin’s biggest political liability. As long as Putin rules Russia and Khodorkovsky continues to act like Khodorkovsky, Khodorkovsky will remain in prison—and Putin will remain terrified of him.”
Pussy Riot v. Putin: A Front Row Seat at a Russian Dark Comedy
Julia Ioffe • New Republic • August 2012
Inside the puppet trial of the decade.
“The one thing that the authorities had determined was not negotiable was the verdict. That had been determined months ago: Shortly after the punk prayer became a viral hit, Putin spoke at a Church event, apologizing to the faithful for the harm done to them by the Pussy Riot performance. The court had received its signal from the Kremlin; now the only question was whether the girls would get the full seven-year sentence.”
The Civil Archipelago
David Remnick • The New Yorker • December 2011
A rundown of Russian prisoners, dissidents and civil society, 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and just before Putin's reelection.
“This month, Russians will commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union with almost universal silence. Ukrainians, Balts, Georgians, Armenians, Azeris, and even the citizens of the most repressive of the Central Asian republics will mark their emergence from the Soviet yoke. They will re-tell their narratives of oppression and independence. But in Russia, where nationalists, Communists, liberals, and other citizens cannot agree on a narrative of national founding or purpose, and where most see 1991 as a loss, there will be no holiday, no parades, no speeches. Only the most unruly outlets of the Russian media will rehearse the myriad economic, political, ideological, and social factors that led to the erosion and fall of the Soviet Union. As a state, modern Russia began with no commonly held values; it was founded in a charged atmosphere of collapse, rebellion, and almost unimaginable improvisation and contingency.”