Putin's Labyrinth: Spies, Murder, and the Dark Heart of the New Russia Hardcover – Jun 24 2008
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“If Steve LeVine’s aim in his new book, Putin’s Labyrinth, was to chill us to the marrow about post-communist Russia, he has succeeded. . . . LeVine’s investigations and interviews are thorough and his conclusions sober.”—Chicago Tribune
“Putin’s Labyrinth is an extremely readable account that is as timely as today’s news stories. I recommend it without reservation.”—David M. Kinchen, HuntingtonNews.net
“[A] hot-off-the-presses exposé . . . LeVine’s important take on the all-too-real machinations and bloodthirstiness from which espionage thrillers are made is both unnerving and intriguing.”—Booklist
“A riveting look at today’s Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin.”—Kingston Observer
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
Steve LeVine is the author of The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea. He is the chief foreign affairs writer for BusinessWeek and is based in Washington, D.C. He was a foreign correspondent for eighteen years, posted in the Soviet Union, Pakistan, and the Philippines, reporting for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Newsweek, Financial Times, and other publications.
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Top Customer Reviews
As a journalist, the book is necessarily made up of a string of interviews, documenting the trail of tears that Putin has left behind since his ascendancy in 2000. LeVine's central thesis is: Russians are accustomed to violence, especially state violence and are therefore conditioned to accept a higher threshold of terror and censorship by the state so long as their standard of living remains at an acceptable level.
Overall, the book is an easy read (less than 200 pages) and a very good overview of the dark side of Russia today. LeVine does heavily rely on the books "Blowing up Russia" and "Putin's Russia" by the late Litvinenko and the late Politkovskaya respectively. I haven't read those books but I imagine that if you have, nothing in LeVine's book will surprise you.
However, Putin is never at centre stage in the book in my opinion, since he is the guy in the background who sets the rules for how things will tacitly operate in the "New Russia". The reader gets to glimpse the struggles of some extraordinary Russians as they confront the reality of trying to work with and challenge a system of authoritarianism that has become more firmly retrenched under Putin's leadership.
This is not an anti-Putin screed, and he is skeptical of his sources for the most part as far as I am able to judge. He covers a fair bit of familiar territory, but tries to do so at a more personal and engaging level than an academic work would engage the material.
If there is a lesson to be taken from this book I think that it runs something like this: There is new man in charge of an orderly Russia, he's willing to do whatever is necessary to remain so and keep Russia orderly and reinvigorated for greatness, if you wish to challenge this system or by chance get caught up in the machinery of this new state's operation, things will not go well for you.
If I were living in Russia, I would definitely find this book something of a downer to read for the most part, since the individual will be sacrificed for the greater good of the state, which is now pretty much embodied in Putin and his circle of deputies.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Central to Putin's mindset and thus the general direction of the country is his connection to Russia's intelligence services. This once undistinguished KGB agent, who managed to become director of the FSB (the successor to the KGB) before being anointed President by Yeltsin, has apparently made his former livelihood the backbone of the new Russian state. His ex-FSB cronies occupy many of the top governmental positions and the secretive "us against them" mentality seems to be the mood of the day. To highlight the tragic consequences of Russia's current trajectory, Levine uses the stories of several high profile victims of the current political climate. Most notable are the murders of renowned journalist Anna Politkovskaya and defector Alexander Litvinenko, just to name two. The book reads like a spy novel at times; poisonings, shootings, allegations of inside jobs, and an array of other bizarre occurrences litter the pages in every chapter. The subject matter is not only compelling, but at times extremely sad as well.
Overall, I thought this was a very informative and intriguing read. It was a bit slow in the middle, but by the end I was completely fascinated. Levine is a solid journalist who has clearly done his homework. I found it to be quite objective as well. While Levine is clearly critical of Putin and the new Russian state, he does his best to separate fact from fiction whenever possible. Highly recommended.
Author LeVine gives the same in-depth treat to two other victims of Russian murder: Forbes Russia editor Paul Klebnikov and crusading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. In each case - both unsolved - LeVine contends that it is Russian President Vladimir Putin who "is responsible because...he created the climate of impunity in which someone decided [they] could die. Putin's rule protects those who are inside the system or at least accept it. Outsiders cannot expect the same protection."
That passage reflects the main tenet of the book. LeVine sets out his conclusion quite forcefully in the book's introduction. Noting what he has assembled for the reader in the pages that follow, he states that "the shared testimony paints a disturbing picture of assassination and other brutality, and leaves the unmistakable impression that the Russian state under Putin is at least partially responsible."
The central theme of the author is that Russia is really "a facade democracy" which has many repressive aspects to it- in fact not so different to the old Soviet Union. In this society, like in the USSR, those who speak against the system are at risk.
At the same time he acknowledges that Vladimir Putin and his government are extremely popular for giving the country again confidence and strength.
What the reader needs to determine whether Russia has gained from the rule of Vladimir Putin who has brought pride and wealth to that importasnt country and whether the costs which leVine has highlighted are worth paying. There is no doubt, given the popularity of Vladimir Putin thta most people in Russai prefer a strong system to an indecisive one. That's the main strength of Putin and his government.
Unfortunately what follows is remarkably thin. We go over several well-known cases -- the 2002 takeover of a Moscow theater by Chechen fighters and its brutal "liberation" by the army, the murders of Forbes editor Paul Klebnikov and of crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the poisoning of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko.
The problem is that most of the information presented could have been picked up from reading the newspapers. A book has to get beyond that -- to add insights or history or context or unknown facts -- to justify itself. There are a couple of interviews, not always relevant and remarkably unrevealing -- but little sign of real investigative journalism or deep research.
I'm sorry to be negative about this book. I think we need to know more about present-day Russia -- how the government enforces its will, how the oil and gas industry works, how much wealth is trickling down, how the infrastructure is holding up. We need to know more about the way the Russian people live and whether the current oil-based economic expansion is sustainable. We need to know more about the Russian mafia and its ties to the regime and about the FSB (successor to the KGB). We need to know about the state of the armed forces.
Unfortunately, you'll read nothing about that in this book.
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