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Putin's Labyrinth: Spies, Murder, and the Dark Heart of the New Russia [Hardcover]

Steve Levine
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

June 24 2008
The new Russia is marching in an alarming direction. Emboldened by escalating oil wealth and newfound prominence as a world power, Russia, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, has veered back toward the authoritarian roots planted in Imperial/Czarist times and firmly established during the Soviet era. Though Russia has a new president, Dmitri Medvedev, Putin remains in control, rendering the democratic reforms of the post-Soviet order irrelevant. Now, in Putin’s Labyrinth, acclaimed journalist Steve LeVine, who lived in and reported from the former Soviet Union for more than a decade, provides a penetrating account of modern Russia under the repressive rule of an all-powerful autocrat. LeVine portrays the growth of a “culture of death”–from targeted assassinations of the state’s enemies to the Kremlin’s indifference when innocent hostages are slaughtered.

Drawing on new interviews with eyewitnesses and the families of victims, LeVine documents the bloodshed that has stained Putin’s two terms as president. Among the incidents chronicled in these pages: The 2002 terrorist takeover of a crowded Moscow theater–which led to the government gassing the building, and the deaths of more than a hundred terrified hostages–seen here from new angles, through the riveting words of those who survived; and the murder of courageous investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, shot in the elevator of her apartment building on Putin’s birthday, purportedly as a malicious “gift” for the president from supporters. Finally, a shocking story that made international headlines–the 2006 death of defector Alexander Litvinenko in London–is dramatized as never before. LeVine traces the steps of this KGB-spy-turned-dissident on his way to being poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive isotope. And in doing so, LeVine is granted a rare series of interviews with a KGB defector who was nearly killed in strangely similar circumstances fifty years earlier. Through LeVine’s exhaustive research, we come to know the victims as real people, not just names in brief news accounts of how they died.

Putin’s Labyrinth is more than an immensely readable exposé. It is highly personal, with the flavor of a memoir. It is a thoughtful book that examines the perplexing question of how Russians manage to negotiate their way around the ever-present danger of violence. It calculates the emotional toll that this lethal maze is exacting on ordinary people, even as they enjoy a dramatically heightened standard of living. Most ominously, it assesses the reopening of hostilities with the West, and the forces that are driving this major new confrontation.

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Review

“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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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Putin the Terrible Nov. 2 2008
By Coach C TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
What is the new Russia? What is really going on there? Does anyone know who Putin really is and where is he taking the country? These are the questions that LeVine attempts to answer in his new book "Putin's Labyrinth".

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.
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Tragedy of Russia July 15 2008
By P.K. Ryan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I found this to be a solid and compelling piece of investigative journalism on the state of affairs in contemporary Russia. Levine sets out to depict the shadowy and violent zeitgeist of the "New Russia" that has unfolded with the ascension and consolidation of power by Vladimir Putin. After the Soviet collapse, and the haphazard, gangster infested transition years of Boris Yeltsin, many Russians longed for another strongman that could replace the corruption and anarchy with the stable and powerful Russia of old. In many ways, Putin has succeeded in doing just this. The problem, says Levine, is that while the reckless and bloody gangsterism of the 90's has been mostly cleaned up, Putin has effectively turned Russia into a quasi-fascist (my word) state. Political murders have replaced criminal murders, and anyone seen as opposing the state is branded as fair game for retribution. Russian nationalism is on the rise and the country's rising stability and prosperity is enough for most Russians to look the other way.

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.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent short book July 4 2008
By Justin Doolittle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a tremendous read for anybody with a general interest in Putin's Russia, and stories of spies, deception, and assassination. LeVine is a truly gifted writer, and his style makes this book read like a thriller. The two most notorious recent assassinations, of Andrew Litvinenko and Anna Politkovskaya, are covered fairly in-depth. Russia is such an intriguing country, at least to me it is. My only complaint is that LeVine seems to have made a conscious effort to keep this book short (166 pages!). I'm not sure why, maybe his publishers thought a short one would be more likely to sell. He could have gone into much greater detail about Putin himself, and his governing style and connection to the KGB and FSB. But I can't complain. A great quick read, and a real page turner.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The high cost of democracy July 26 2009
By D. S. Samarasinghe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
After reading "Putin and the Rise of Russia" by Michael Stuermer, which was a very measured assessment of Vladimir Putin, I decided to read "Putin's Labyrinth" by Steve LeVine. This book is a passionate anti-Putin book drawn mainly from the views and opinions of people opposed to his rule such as Alexander Litvinenko, the poisoned former FSB agent turned dissident and the assassinated journalist Anna Politkovskaya. LeVine blames Putin for a string of assassinations that took place in Russia mainly targetting media persons.he also endorses the view of some dissidents that the string of bombings that struck Russian appartment blocks were stage managed to bring about Putin's rise to power.
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.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't delve deep enough Sept. 4 2008
By Alan A. Elsner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a timely book, coming so soon after the Russian intervention in Georgia, and covers an interesting and important subject. The author states his thesis at the outset: that because of its history, Russia is a country and Russians a people more tolerant of brutal behavior by the government than others and that the current Putin regime is ruthless in crushing dissent and enforcing its one-party rule of the country.
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.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lacking. Still looking for better book Nov. 8 2008
By DM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
From the title alone I was expecting great things. From the publishing date June 24, 2008 I was expecting those great things to be NEW. But it turned out to be old news. All of it, except the Forbes editor Paul Klebnikov murder, was old news to me. I read "Death of a Dissident" quiet a while ago. Looked into Anna Politkovskaya, Berezovsky et all. on the internet as a result.

Putin's labyrinth didn't compelled me to investigate further; which to me is a sign of a good book. I didn't underline a single word nor dog-ear a single page. Now my Dad, who doesn't use computers and has never read a book on Russia, enjoyed it.

Journalists killed in Russia [...]
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