Internationally admired for her reporting, especially on the Chechen wars, award-winning journalist Anna Politkovskaya has turned her steely gaze on the man who, until very recently, was a darling of the Western media.
A former KGB spy, Vladimir Putin was named President of Russia in 2000. From the moment he entered the public arena he marketed himself as an open, enlightened leader eager to engage with the West. Unlike many European and American journalists and politicians, Politkovskaya never trusted Putin’s press image. From her privileged vantage point at the heart of Russian current affairs, she set about to dismantle both Putin the man and Putin the brand name, arguing that he is a power-hungry product of his own history and so unable to prevent himself from stifling civil liberties at every turn. This is not, Polikovskaya argues, the kind of leader most contemporary Russians want.
To prove her theory, she tells the story of Putin’s iron grip on Russian life from the point of view of individual citizens whose situations have been shaped by his unique brand of tyranny. Mafia dealings, scandals in the provinces, military and judiciary corruption, the decline of the intelligentsia, the tragic mishandling of the Moscow theatre siege – all are subject to Polikovskaya’s pitiless but invariably humane scrutiny. This intimate portrait of nascent civil institutions being subverted under the unquestioning eyes of the West could not be more timely.