Book Review: Putin’s Kleptocracy

Book Review: Putin’s Kleptocracy

Anyone interested in the development of capitalism in post-Soviet Russia, Putin’s rise to power, and the nexus between Russian oligarchic business and foreign policy will find this book to be an invaluable resource.   

Since Vladimir Putin has assumed the office of Russia’s President in 2012, there have been a number of books published focusing on the former KGB officer who has led Russia for a decade and a half.

Karen Dawisha, a professor of Political Science at Miami University and specialist on Russian politics, has written the best study available of the rise of Vladimir Putin and his inner circle of political and economic elites, who she argues have sought to “create an authoritarian regime ruled by a close-knit cabal with embedded interests, plans, and capabilities, who used democracy for decoration rather than direction.”

Dawisha begins her study by focusing on Vladimir Putin’s days as a KGB officer in East Germany and traces the evolution of his cadre through the chaotic transition to capitalism into Putin’s rise to the office of President on New Year’s Eve, 1999 and on into the annexation of Crimea. The introduction of a market economy provided Putin and other entrepreneurial individuals with plenty of opportunity for wealth creation of questionable legality.

As can be gathered from the title, Dawisha devotes much focus to Putin and his inner circle’s involvement in shadowy or illegal activity, and provides detail drawn from a huge range of sources on the Russian President’s involvement in international money laundering schemes, and his relations with Russian organized crime, in particular the Tambov group.

As head of St. Peterburg’s Committee for External Relations between 1991 and 1994, Putin was able to grant trade licenses for the vast amount of raw materials shipped out of the port city, providing a prime opportunity for corrupt transactions.

Putin’s involvement with a corrupt oil for food scheme, for example, in which millions of dollars’ worth of raw materials were exported but no food arrived, led to recommendations that he be removed from the post, but he remained in office and only increased his involvement in illicit activities.

In her study of Putin’s time as President and Prime Minister, she argues that Putin established a foundation for authoritarian rule very early on, while allowing his inner circle even greater access to the country’s wealth. The creation of business empires by Putin’s confidants, often through state intervention, and the use of Russian state enterprises in the energy and arms manufacturing sectors as tools of foreign policy are also closely examined.

The author distinguishes herself by locating sources that members of Russia’s ruling elite have taken pains to have destroyed and purged from public record, a result of 8 years of painstaking research.

The book was originally slated to be published in the United Kingdom, but publication was delayed for fear of lawsuits resulting from the revelations contained in the author’s research.

Eventually, the book managed to find publication in the United States.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Luke Rodeheffer

Luke Rodeheffer is a cyberthreat researcher at Flashpoint in New York City. He holds an MA from Stanford University, where he was a FLAS Fellow for Turkish. Luke was previously a Fulbright Fellow in Ukraine and a research assistant at Koç University in Istanbul. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeRodeheffer