Vladimir Putin is the West’s bête noire. Alone among world leaders, he has the power to reduce the United States and Europe to ashes in a nuclear firestorm and has threatened to do so. He invades his neighbours, most recently Ukraine, meddles in western elections and orders assassinations inside and outside Russia. The regime he heads is autocratic and corrupt.
Yet politics aside, for most of the past 20 years the majority of Russia’s people have lived better and enjoyed more freedom than at any time in their country’s history.
Philip Short’s magisterial biography demolishes many of our preconceptions about Putin’s Russia and explores in unprecedented depth the personality of its enigmatic and ruthless leader. Since becoming president in 2000, his obsession has been to restore Russia’s status as a great power, unbound by western rules. Where did he come from? What forces and experiences shaped him? What led him to challenge the American-led world order that has kept the peace since the end of the Cold War?
To explain is not to justify. Putin’s regime is dark. He pursues his goals relentlessly by whatever means he thinks fit. But on closer examination, much of what we think we know about him turns out to rest on half-truths.
To anyone who wants to understand what is happening in Ukraine today, this book is essential reading. It is as close as we will come to understanding Russia’s ruler and makes us revise long-held assumptions about the course of global politics since the end of the Cold War.