Fragile Empire

Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Fragile Empire
    Book Description:

    From Kaliningrad on the Baltic to the Russian Far East, journalist Ben Judah has travelled throughout Russia and the former Soviet republics, conducting extensive interviews with President Vladimir Putin's friends, foes, and colleagues, government officials, business tycoons, mobsters, and ordinary Russian citizens.Fragile Empireis the fruit of Judah's thorough research: a probing assessment of Putin's rise to power and what it has meant for Russia and her people.

    Despite a propaganda program intent on maintaining the cliché of stability, Putin's regime was suddenly confronted in December 2011 by a highly public protest movement that told a different side of the story. Judah argues that Putinism has brought economic growth to Russia but also weaker institutions, and this contradiction leads to instability. The author explores both Putin's successes and his failed promises, taking into account the impact of a new middle class and a new generation, the Internet, social activism, and globalization on the president's impending leadership crisis. Can Russia avoid the crisis of Putinism? Judah offers original and up-to-the-minute answers.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18525-6
    Subjects: History, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. viii-ix)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. x-xiv)
    (pp. 1-4)

    Things like this were not supposed to be happening anymore. In November 2010, a Russian family were celebrating in their new, proud brick house on Green Street. They were successful people, farmers, and this was a quiet town called Kushchevskaya on the fertile black earth plains of the south. There was much to fete: they were together, on National Unity Day, and the new baby not yet a year old. As they gathered round the table for a toast, their guard dog outside was shot with a tranquilizer dart. Right then, the house was broken into. Eleven armed men pushed...

  8. Part One: The Rise of the Lieutenant Colonel
      (pp. 7-34)

      Putin’s mother is dead. So is his father. His wife Lyudmila is eerily absent. She is no longer by his side at the goose-step parades or the never-ending animal shoots. On the rare occasions that she appears in public, to show she is still alive, the woman is unsteady on her feet and seems to flinch at his touch. His daughters are a state secret. This television tsar seems lonely, exercising alone in echoing halls, as if terrified of physical decay.

      But in St Petersburg, an elderly woman with concerned, maternal eyes still watches him strut on the evening news....

      (pp. 35-54)

      As Putin’s rule was about to begin, on 29 December 1999 his team posted a manifesto outlining his goals for Russia. The dense essay announced to the people that Putinism was a project. ‘Russia was and will remain a great power,’ it asserted.¹ ‘This is preconditioned by the inseparable characteristics of its geopolitical, economic and cultural existence. They have determined the mentality of the Russian people and the policy of the government throughout the history of Russia and they cannot but do so at present.’² But in the closing paragraph it raised the spectre of this identity, this Russia, being...

      (pp. 55-89)

      Russian history beats to the years in which the leader makes a great turn. Stalin overhauled his agenda in 1929 and set the party on a road to super-industrialization and terror. Gorbachev came out as a radical in 1988 when he announced ‘glasnost’ – the openness the system could not survive. Yeltsin the ‘impeccable democrat’ turned in 1993, when he ordered the Alfa commando force to storm the same parliament he had barricaded himself within – in the name of ‘democracy’ – from these same commandoes in 1991.

      The year that Putin made his great turn was 2003. It closed...

      (pp. 90-114)

      This is the view from his Kremlin office.

      Under the pristine white of the Ivan bell tower is the world’s largest bell, which was cracked and never rung. Under the golden domes of the Cathedral of the Dormition is the world’s largest cannon, which was botched in the making so could never be fired. Behind the slender turrets of the palace of the Patriarch are the concrete pillars of the palace of the Soviets. Over the red walls are the peaks of Stalin’s towers, but the eye seems to drift back to the five golden cupolas of the Dormition. There...

      (pp. 115-134)

      When Putin inherited Yeltsin’s office, he found himself alone in the castle. He had no reliable cadres in Moscow. He saw a parliament dominated by communists, was much too junior in the KGB to enjoy true authority in the FSB, found the regions run by barons and unlike the old man did not feel these were ‘his oligarchs’ sitting atop such huge financial flows. He had no court.

      His evolution to tsar-like authority evolved through three stages. First, Putin brought in his clan. Gorbachev and Yeltsin had spent a long time in Moscow building up a power base and had...

      (pp. 135-166)

      By 2006 Russian fiction had taken a darker turn. The writer Vladimir Sorokin was so appalled by what he saw as the political drift towards a dictatorship that he wroteDay of the Oprichnik. The year is 2028 and the monarchy has at last been restored. The nation has burnt its passports on Red Square. Russia is walled off behind a great wall and the Oprichniks – as the dedicated servants of the sovereign are known – roam Moscow raping the wives of their enemies, constantly taking bribes and guzzling imported narcotics, before repenting fervently before the Lord. But proud,...

  9. Part Two: Watch the Throne
      (pp. 169-194)

      Putin is said to spend much of his time reading tomes on the lives of the tsars. Maybe he has let their shadows slip into the making of his choices. Many have an eerie echo of the past. When Russia was young, Ivan the Terrible, somewhat like Putin, chose to formally abdicate from the throne in 1574. He demanded that his boyars kneel before a converted Tatar noble called Simeon Bekbulatovich. Ivan insisted he was but a simple nobleman. Bekbulatovich was now their lord. After eleven months Ivan returned to the throne, proving for all to see that power was...

      (pp. 195-224)

      The evening’s political discussion was passing off calmly, even convivially, at the bohemian bar Gogol. Just off a chic Moscow alley lined with luxury boutiques, a small gathering of ‘oppositionists’ were on stage debating the usual topics: Putin, politics and protests. Maybe half the audience knew each other already – in October 2007 the opposition was still a small micro–society of its own, an exclusive set by virtue of being short on recruits. The pretty, political Masha Gaidar, daughter of Yeltsin’s radical prime minister, was talking with a rising anti–Putin star with a nationalist twist. Then from the...

      (pp. 225-249)

      The KGB always thought Putin was flawed. Personnel training for Soviet foreign intelligence was onerous, pursued with a rigor and exactitude second only to that given to its cosmonauts. Agents were subjected to months of psychological tests, pulse measurements, head scans, role-plays and ‘Western’ life-simulations in its sealed academies, between bouts of form-filling and hours of language classes, broken up only by over-boiled institutional meals in its canteens, which sometimes were more or less the high point of the day. The agents would chatter about where they would all wind up – would it be London, Tokyo or West Berlin?...

      (pp. 250-274)

      They made a human chain, they let off hundreds of white balloons, they wore white ribbons in parliament, they made beautiful websites, they stuck stickers denouncing him in grimy metro carriages, then held a writer’s walk, then a protest walk and drove round and round the ring road honking ‘Down with the dictator’ and waving their white ribbons, whilst Navalny yelled into the microphone, ‘Down with the party of crooks and thieves, down, down, down with the thieves’, until he was exhausted and simply wanted to go home.

      Putin won. The opposition rallies dwindled. The marches got smaller. They dried...

      (pp. 275-291)

      ‘Moscow is not Russia.’ Wherever you travel from, Kaliningrad to Magadan, they tell you the same thing. ‘Moscow is another country.’ They tell you that Moscow is a bloodsucker: ‘It sucks out all our resources, turns them into petro-dollars and stashes them into the West.’ They tell you that Moscow is an imperialist: ‘The capital takes all our tax returns and gives us only decrees and corruption in return.’ All across the empire ‘federalism’ is a dirty word – it means rule by Moscow.

      The first anti-Putin protests were not in Moscow. They were on the extreme edges of Russia....

      (pp. 292-323)

      Russia is not truly sovereign. It is a territory overshadowed by two superpowers – the European Union and China. In the western provinces, the cars people drive are German second-hand, the economy exists off pipelines pumping into the EU and the symbol of success is a multi-entry Schengen visa. Both the Moscow protesters and the Moscow powerbrokers are dreaming of London. The shadow assets of the Kremlin are hidden in European tax havens and its children at British public schools. Those waving anti-Putin placards are exasperated that their home appliances are increasingly from IKEA but their institutions come closer to...

    (pp. 324-330)

    If Putin in his palaces is haunted by any ghost – it is not the senile spectre of Leonid Brezhnev but the pained soul of Nicholas II. Would this most naive of tsars have dwelt after death on his catastrophe, on Russia’s screaming train-wreck off the rails of history, would he whisper to Putin as he sleeps, as the unlikeliest of successors sweats, that as the centenary of the revolution nears, they share a similar dilemma – that he must at all costs learn from his calamity? Yet, as we can safely assume is the case, and the Tsar remains...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 331-350)
    (pp. 351-355)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 356-380)