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Interference in American elections. The sponsorship of extremist politics in Europe. War in Ukraine. In recent years, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has waged a concerted campaign to expand its influence and undermine Western institutions. But how and why did all this come about, and who has orchestrated it? In Putin’s People, the investigative journalist and former Moscow corresp Interference in American elections. The sponsorship of extremist politics in Europe. War in Ukraine. In recent years, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has waged a concerted campaign to expand its influence and undermine Western institutions. But how and why did all this come about, and who has orchestrated it? In Putin’s People, the investigative journalist and former Moscow correspondent Catherine Belton reveals the untold story of how Vladimir Putin and the small group of KGB men surrounding him rose to power and looted their country. Delving deep into the workings of Putin’s Kremlin, Belton accesses key inside players to reveal how Putin replaced the freewheeling tycoons of the Yeltsin era with a new generation of loyal oligarchs, who in turn subverted Russia’s economy and legal system and extended the Kremlin's reach into the United States and Europe. The result is a chilling and revelatory exposé of the KGB’s revanche―a story that begins in the murk of the Soviet collapse, when networks of operatives were able to siphon billions of dollars out of state enterprises and move their spoils into the West. Putin and his allies subsequently completed the agenda, reasserting Russian power while taking control of the economy for themselves, suppressing independent voices, and launching covert influence operations abroad. Ranging from Moscow and London to Switzerland and Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach―and assembling a colorful cast of characters to match―Putin’s People is the definitive account of how hopes for the new Russia went astray, with stark consequences for its inhabitants and, increasingly, the world.


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Interference in American elections. The sponsorship of extremist politics in Europe. War in Ukraine. In recent years, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has waged a concerted campaign to expand its influence and undermine Western institutions. But how and why did all this come about, and who has orchestrated it? In Putin’s People, the investigative journalist and former Moscow corresp Interference in American elections. The sponsorship of extremist politics in Europe. War in Ukraine. In recent years, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has waged a concerted campaign to expand its influence and undermine Western institutions. But how and why did all this come about, and who has orchestrated it? In Putin’s People, the investigative journalist and former Moscow correspondent Catherine Belton reveals the untold story of how Vladimir Putin and the small group of KGB men surrounding him rose to power and looted their country. Delving deep into the workings of Putin’s Kremlin, Belton accesses key inside players to reveal how Putin replaced the freewheeling tycoons of the Yeltsin era with a new generation of loyal oligarchs, who in turn subverted Russia’s economy and legal system and extended the Kremlin's reach into the United States and Europe. The result is a chilling and revelatory exposé of the KGB’s revanche―a story that begins in the murk of the Soviet collapse, when networks of operatives were able to siphon billions of dollars out of state enterprises and move their spoils into the West. Putin and his allies subsequently completed the agenda, reasserting Russian power while taking control of the economy for themselves, suppressing independent voices, and launching covert influence operations abroad. Ranging from Moscow and London to Switzerland and Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach―and assembling a colorful cast of characters to match―Putin’s People is the definitive account of how hopes for the new Russia went astray, with stark consequences for its inhabitants and, increasingly, the world.

30 review for Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West

  1. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    Belton, former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, did TONS of research for this book, and she was able to put together a rather cohesive picture of how modern-day Russia has been shaped by "KGB capitalism". In the book, Putin's rise to power, his tactics to cement his position and his influence on American politics under Trump are shown as the consequence of a whole web of players and events: The members of the KGB, their ability to funnel money out of the collapsing SU, to control ol Belton, former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, did TONS of research for this book, and she was able to put together a rather cohesive picture of how modern-day Russia has been shaped by "KGB capitalism". In the book, Putin's rise to power, his tactics to cement his position and his influence on American politics under Trump are shown as the consequence of a whole web of players and events: The members of the KGB, their ability to funnel money out of the collapsing SU, to control oligarchs who became rich off their backs and to bring the whole political system under their authoritarian control. But Belton has one major blind spot: She sees Russia more or less as a closed system, and this approach is rooted in the assumption that Putin and his people are bad. While this might be a valid conclusion for a non-fiction book, it's a terrible starting point, as it results in the whole book being overshadowed by confirmation bias: Let me show you how bad these people actually are! But what about the outside forces that (willingly and unwillingly) helped create this situation, i.e., the West, which means: What about our own responsibility? Granted, Belton does sometimes mention that Western powers have enabled some of Putin's tactics or even profited from them, but this is not enough: The loss of the Soviet Empire had far-reaching consequences that have shaped real-life politics, as The Light that Failed: A Reckoning proves. These dynamics between West and East, and, consequently, how the West has also failed the East, is a sideshow in Belton's book, when indeed it is still a core factor in current events (as a German, I can re-assure you that more than 30 years after re-unification, the wounds in the East have not healed, and that there is a whole world of experience that I as a West German cannot access - how must it feel for Russian citizens who lost "their" empire?). This is not about trying to argue that Putin is a good leader or that Russian foreign politics are morally defendable - IMHO, this is a terrible, cynic, self-serving regime that couldn't care less about the well-being of the Russian people - but the fact that the West tends to isolate the problem, portraying it as being solely "Russian" is just way to easy if you really intend to build a better future. The West has to face its own mistakes regarding its behavior towards Russia in order to not repeat them (btw, what Trump does in the US imitates what happened in Russia). It's a little complacent to write a book that simply concludes: "Putin = bad". Still, this book is filled to the brim with meticulously researched information and does a great job putting together a very difficult puzzle, because the KGB has put in quite some effort to hide core pieces. So as a basis for further discussion, this is a great book, but it needs some extra reflection about the greater scheme of things.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Geevee

    Russia has played the West; Russia has played their own citizens. Catherine Belton's excellent study of Russia as it emerged from the Cold War thru to 2020 is detailed, well-sourced, highly-readable and bleak. Bleak because, as many already know and suspect to varying degrees, Putin's Russia has, much like China, spread its tentacles into western nations and their financial and banking system, their politicians and industries. This has been achieved by stripping the dying and post-Soviet Russia o Russia has played the West; Russia has played their own citizens. Catherine Belton's excellent study of Russia as it emerged from the Cold War thru to 2020 is detailed, well-sourced, highly-readable and bleak. Bleak because, as many already know and suspect to varying degrees, Putin's Russia has, much like China, spread its tentacles into western nations and their financial and banking system, their politicians and industries. This has been achieved by stripping the dying and post-Soviet Russia of its assets, hard currency and collective ownership of the raw materials and the companies their mining, manufacturing and and operating of them. The systems put in their place were firstly made and manipulated by the oligarchs and then by the new Russian state under the steely and firm grip of Vladimir Putin. It is Putin who looms large in this book, not just as Russian president and statesman, but also his path to power - which if you have read of this previously Ms Belton adds additional insight thru interviews - and the eventual closing down and suffocation of the oligarchies to billionaires who owe their businesses, wealth and indeed lives to Putin and his power. We learn of these people by name - some known to me, others not and we hear why they fell from favour and how their wealth, and in some cases lives ended. In being able to use numerous interviews Ms Belton is able to chart the fall of the USSR and the circumstances that see Putin climb to power, along with the men who stripped Russia bare whilst making billions are flushing cash around the world. She also shows how Putin and the KGB regained control and rebuilt Russia's international networks of spying, coercion, money-laundering, targeted murder (domestically and externally) and investment coupled with allegiances and political connections: this latter both overt and proper and other improper and covert, or rather perhaps holding Kompromat (compromising material) on political and influential business leaders. The information and detail is not only fascinating but highlights where Russia has created influence and shaped behaviours - not just in political and foreign policy of others but their compliance, governance and judicial systems. The appropriated cash from Russian assets and pyramid schemes to the collapsing down or passing ownership (meaning forced upon owners who fall foul of Putin and the KGB) from one Russian to another Russian for amounts far below market value to the shell-companies, investments in properties (Trump hotels and gold courses anyone?) and cyber operations show clearly how this vast amount of cash is generating influence and Russian - to use the German word from the 19th century Weltpolitik to transform the tired Soviet Bear to a 21st Russia global power. Alongside this, to keep Putin in power and Russia beholden to him the analysis of his approach, mindset and grip on power is shown from his rise to Moscow and then as Russia's leader and in essence Tsar. There are some fascinating insights into the invasion of Ukraine, wars or uprisings in Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia and Transnistria and the use of force to create the conditions for Russian political and military support. This includes the "terrorist attacks" on or in apartment blocks in Moscow and Ryazan, the Moscow theatre hostage crisis and Metro bombings, the South Ossetia Beslan school massacre and Moscow market bombings. Catherine Belton's book is a clear and illuminating signal for the West that the Russian bear is not sleeping and is actively shaping and colonising every aspect of western political and financial structures to weaken, fragment and dismantle and eventually destroy them. If this synopsis of mine seems too hyperbolic or alarmist, then I challenge you to pay attention to and dissect world politics, the constant cyber attacks and misinformation programmes, the news channels and investigatory organisations such as Bellingcat who expose details of Russia (and China's) behaviour, and the brave journalists, such as Catherine Belton whose detailed accounts add further colour and depth.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lucas

    You know you’re reading about a frightening individual when the thought crosses your mind, “Is there any chance I could be assassinated just for posting a review of this book?” It is a pretty ludicrous thought, but the fate of so many in “Putin’s People” allows it to creep in. A lot of what is presented in this book is not entirely proven. It is rumor, supported by evidence, and that’s all it really can be, given the opaque nature of the Putin regime. Some of the allegations are not hard to fath You know you’re reading about a frightening individual when the thought crosses your mind, “Is there any chance I could be assassinated just for posting a review of this book?” It is a pretty ludicrous thought, but the fate of so many in “Putin’s People” allows it to creep in. A lot of what is presented in this book is not entirely proven. It is rumor, supported by evidence, and that’s all it really can be, given the opaque nature of the Putin regime. Some of the allegations are not hard to fathom at all, like the various moves to consolidate power and replace a corrupt and greedy Yeltsin government with an even more unsavory KGB faction. Other allegations are so disturbing that you can only hope they aren’t true, such as apartment bombing Russian citizens to enhance electoral prospects, or staging a terrorist attack on real Russian hostages. In terms of the writing itself, this book is incredibly thorough, to the point of being almost exhaustive in detail, and unrelenting in the case it builds against Putin. The book starts with a list of 24 people that will be featured in the book and who they are. This is a valuable resource, since there are so many people to keep track of, and very few are described in ways that make them easy to distinguish from others. This is a book for readers that are very interested in the process and events that happened, more than for readers wanting to unpeel the layers about the characters behind those events. Don’t expect a lot of psychological analysis of how Putin thinks, how he grew up, what drove him to the decisions he makes, or whether he’s conflicted about anything. Him and his associates are essentially portrayed as unfeeling automatons, motivated only by power and wealth. Maybe that’s all there is to them, or maybe there’s more to explore there. I found the book very informative, and thought the author made a compelling argument that the KGB’s interest in destabilizing the West started decades prior to Putin taking power, and that the West’s prioritization of unfettered capitalism and taking money from whoever can pay helped allow Putin’s consolidation of power. Note: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from NetGalley.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    Page 443-44 (my book) The West had always viewed Russia’s economy as a resource-based basket case, incapable of the productivity gains of the West. But to see Russia through that prism was to miss the short-term ambitions of Putin’s security men. They didn’t particularly care about the economic well-being of their country’s people, as long as the economy was secure enough to allow them to hold onto power – and to project power globally. Vladimir Putin has become the Czar of Russia. All must pass t Page 443-44 (my book) The West had always viewed Russia’s economy as a resource-based basket case, incapable of the productivity gains of the West. But to see Russia through that prism was to miss the short-term ambitions of Putin’s security men. They didn’t particularly care about the economic well-being of their country’s people, as long as the economy was secure enough to allow them to hold onto power – and to project power globally. Vladimir Putin has become the Czar of Russia. All must pass through him. The author explains how the Soviet KGB (to become the FSB after the demise of the Soviet Union) was preparing for changes. They knew that the Soviet Union could not last through the 1980s. They were setting up their networks to adapt to the upcoming new era. They wanted to keep their position of strength. And Putin was a part of that. The KGB was one of the few institutions in the Soviet Union to have contacts and an understanding of the world outside Russia. They also increased their contacts with the extensive Russian network of organized crime. It became difficult to distinguish the KGB (or FSB) from the Russian mafia. The author narrates how Putin became second in command in St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg was a city steeped in organized crime more so in its Baltic port (Gulf of Finland). Page 82 – 83 mid-1990s In the rush to shore up their positions, in the battle to accommodate more wealth, Khodorkovsky and the others didn’t notice that nearby, in St. Petersburg, there was a chill in the air. Things were being run differently there. Isolated from the gold rush of Moscow’s economic boom, the forces of the KGB were exerting far greater control, in a city where the economy was tougher and darker, in the violent scrabble for cash. The author recounts how Putin rose to power in the wake of Yeltsin’s frenetic 1990s. Once in power Putin then took on the rich oligarchies and subsumed their power and wealth to the Russian government. He used flexible government laws and the Russian mob to do this. Page 239 If [Khodorkovsky] could be taken down it could happen to any of them. Khodorkovsky was just one of several hundred oligarchs who were toppled by Putin. It made Putin and his entourage wealthy and in control. Page 484 They [Putin’s entourage] had become part of a feudal system in which Putin’s role as the ultimate arbiter between rivals fighting for business was the source of his power. Putin became what Russian society unfortunately requires the most – a tough guy – like Lenin, Stalin, and the Czars before. Page 165 – Putin “For Russians, a strong state is not an anomaly which should be got rid of. Quite the contrary, they see it as a source and guarantor of order and the initiator and main driving force of any change.” Putin and his cronies wanted to exert power through Russia’s resources like oil and gas. The pipeline to Europe passed through Ukraine which Russia always saw as an integral part of their country. This led to problems. Putin also recruited the Orthodox Church which had been persecuted and ostracized under communism. This was a good fit. The Orthodox Church (page 258) “spoke to the great sacrifice, suffering and endurance of the Russian people.” It invoked Russia’s imperial past and wanted nothing to do with liberal humanism (gender equality, gay marriage, human rights…) espoused by Western Europe and some in the U.S. Page 258 a former KGB officer “This sacred power [surrounding Putin] creates around itself an absolutely impenetrable cordon of guiltlessness. The authorities cannot be guilty of anything. They serve by absolute right.” Putin was very good, somewhat like Stalin, at fabricating external threats to Russia’s sovereignty. The West saw Russia as a weakling to be exploited. All outside influences were seen as threats. The West misread Putin and Russia as being weak – and at times Putin, being well-trained by the KGB, could mask his true intentions. The West excused Putin’s lawlessness in usurping the freedom of the oligarchies, the judiciary, and the media. It was only after the annexation of the Crimea that they recognized what was really happening. They saw the spread of Russian “dirty money” in Western financial institutions. Some of these slush funds were being used to support right wing groups and populist fronts across Europe. The author gives evidence of financial support for those who supported Brexit. Interestingly (I was unaware) the author brings up the infiltration of the London Stock Exchange by Russian funds. In comparison to the New York Stock Exchange there is much less due diligence done on the London Stock Exchange. The author writes for the “Financial Times” so there is much discussion of financial data and institutions. Also, and sometimes annoyingly, several names can be brought up per page. Don’t read this book to find details of Putin’s personal life. I did find book giving a frightening view of Russia – and particularly of what Russia wants. She does point out some weaknesses ahead. There is a lot of money invested outside the country. The disparity of income in Russia is tremendous. With the increasing spread of Russian power to the outside world like Syria and Ukraine, plus the ever-increasing military budget – the Russian people are starting to ask questions about Putin and his very super-rich cronies.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Woman Reading

    4 ☆ "I want to warn Americans. As a people, you are very naive about Russia and its intentions. You believe because the Soviet Union no longer exists, Russia now is your friend. It isn't, and I can show you how the SVR is trying to destroy the US even today and even more than the KGB did during the Cold War." - Sergei Tretyakov, former colonel in Russian Foreign Intelligence, the SVR In Putin’s People, foreign correspondent Belton has written a sweeping narrative that began with the 1991 dual col 4 ☆ "I want to warn Americans. As a people, you are very naive about Russia and its intentions. You believe because the Soviet Union no longer exists, Russia now is your friend. It isn't, and I can show you how the SVR is trying to destroy the US even today and even more than the KGB did during the Cold War." - Sergei Tretyakov, former colonel in Russian Foreign Intelligence, the SVR In Putin’s People, foreign correspondent Belton has written a sweeping narrative that began with the 1991 dual collapse of both the Soviet Communist Party and then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR). Insider Sergei Pugachev orchestrated the placement of a little-known former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, first as Boris Yeltsin's Prime Minister and then as his successor / "malleable figurehead." Putin was initially reluctant to serve as President and had intended to step down in 2008 after one term. Not unexpectedly, the appeal and perks of power Putin has received since 1999 were highly persuasive. In 2019, Putin proposed Constitutional reforms in order to subvert the term limits placed on the President. [A White Russian émigré] described the philosophy of Putin’s rule as being "like a knot with three elements. The first is autocracy - strong government, a strong man, a papa, an uncle, a boss. It is an autocratic regime. The second element is territory, the fatherland, love of country and so on. The third element is the Church. ... It does not matter whether this is the Church or this is the Communist Party. If you look at the history of Russia, you always had these elements put together." Putin’s Kremlin had taken over the media and eradicated all political competition. ... in what one analyst, Masha Lipman, later called the Russians' "Non-Participation Pact," they were content to let the Kremlin monopolize political and economic decision-making, as long as it didn't intrude into their own lives. ... It was, Lipman wrote, "the perennial Russian order - the dominant state and a powerless, fragmented society." They didn't particularly care about the economic well-being of their country's people, as long as the economy was secure enough to allow them to hold on to power - and to project power globally. The Russian economy has grown tremendously since 1991, but it had a far from smooth progression during the 1990s. During the collapse, organized crime and politicians had quickly taken advantage of the chaos to loot Russia's wealth of natural resources. But as Putin solidified his powerbase and status, the kleptocracy shifted in composition and included more oligarchs who were extensions of Putin’s rule, in essence the moneyed nobility in service to their tsar in Russia's 21st century feudalism. The system Putin’s men created was a hybrid KGB capitalism that sought to accumulate cash to buy off and corrupt officials in the West, whose politicians, complacent after the end of the Cold War, had long forgotten about the Soviet tactics of the not too distant past. The KGB playbook of the Cold War era, when the Soviet Union deployed ‘active measures’ to sow division and discord in the West, to fund allied political parties and undermine its ‘imperial’ foe, has now been fully reactivated. What’s different now is that these tactics are funded by a much deeper well of cash, by a Kremlin that has become adept in the ways of the markets and has sunk its tentacles deep into the institutions of the West. Western markets embraced the new wealth coming from Russia, and paid little heed to the criminal and KGB forces behind it. Belton described the wide-ranging campaigns of Putin’s Kremlin. Journalists and politicians who had believed in Yeltsin's pro-democracy reforms were imprisoned or died. The initial crop of 1990s oligarchs who resisted the Kremlin's perspectives were not spared the fate of the other dissidents. Putin has sought the return of Ukraine with its strategic location and justified the military action as recovering the fatherland. Russian black cash has been funneled into plots to destabilize the societies of America, Britain, and additional European nations. Belton had conducted interviews with primary sources and additional research. As a massive tome, Putin’s People felt at times redundant (there was a long parade of oligarchs) and elliptical. I would have found a summary timeline and maps of the USSR and current Russia helpful. Putin’s People was my first nonfiction book about Russia. I concede that my knowledge of Russia is limited and has come from news headlines. Nonetheless, I don't have to accept every one of Belton's conclusions in order to acknowledge that a benign political view of Russia would be in error. There were reasons as to why the US forced the closure and expulsion of Russian diplomats from the San Francisco and Seattle Consulates in 2017 and 2018. Russia retaliated, and by the end of 2021, the US' official presence in Russia will be consolidated to only its Moscow Embassy.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    http://www.bookwormblues.net/2020/08/... The first thing you need to know, is that I have a massive, huge, just absolutely overflowing obsession with Russia. The whole entire history of it, from the Kievan Rus, to the tsars, to Soviet style communism (Stalin, specifically, keeps me reading), to the fall of the USSR, to now. Russia is a really dynamic, changing country with a long, long history, and I think that’s part of what interests me. To understand why Lenin came to be, you have to understan http://www.bookwormblues.net/2020/08/... The first thing you need to know, is that I have a massive, huge, just absolutely overflowing obsession with Russia. The whole entire history of it, from the Kievan Rus, to the tsars, to Soviet style communism (Stalin, specifically, keeps me reading), to the fall of the USSR, to now. Russia is a really dynamic, changing country with a long, long history, and I think that’s part of what interests me. To understand why Lenin came to be, you have to understand the system of Tsars, how they started, and what they turned into throughout time. You’ve got to understand how the people functioned under those laws and rulers, and how they were oppressed and how they survived and the like. To understand Stalin, you have to know where he came from, and the various situations that made him who he was. The influences. The tug and pull of politics in his day and age. Things don’t just happen in a vacuum. In Russia, the cause and effect between people and events are crystal clear, and it’s fascinating. Likewise, to understand Putin, you’ve got to know where he came from. Life in the USSR, and especially life under its collapse, really formed a lot of who he is today. But to understand the collapse, you have to understand what, exactly what collapsing. You also have to understand a bit of the KGB, and just how many pies it had its fingers in (Honestly, the KGB’s vast, international reach really surprised me.) And while this may seem really heady stuff, Belton does an absolutely magnificent job of boiling it all down, and giving it to readers in nice, digestible chunks. “The KGB playbook of the Cold War era, when the Soviet Union deployed ‘active measures’ to sow division and discord in the West, to fund allied political parties and undermine its ‘imperial’ foe, has now been fully reactivated. What’s different now is that these tactics are funded by a much deeper well of cash, by a Kremlin that has become adept in the ways of the markets and has sunk its tentacles deep into the institutions of the West.” That’s what Putin’s People does really well. It draws a line between what was, and what came from it. It paints a picture of how the USSR broke down, and details the various people that came out of the collapse to, often times, take advantage of what was crumbling and become something more. Oligarchs. Real estate moguls. Political power brokers. Vladimir Putin. The fall of the USSR was catastrophic for nearly everyone who lived in the region. The economy collapsed and was not ready for the transition to a more open marketplace. People went hungry. There was never enough in the stores. Lots of people started import/export schemes, which made a few people a lot of money, while leaving a lot of people with absolutely nothing. There was job loss, insecurity, sudden and dramatic inequality. Basically, a whole lot of chaos and misery. Mixed into this was a new class of business person. These people saw a niche and a vulnerability, and knew they could take advantage. There was a whole lot of theft from the state and depletion of resources. A lot of import/export schemes. Crime bosses took over. Oligarchs became a Big Deal. Now, this happened at the fall of the USSR, but even before as well. The author paints an amazing picture of the KGB, and their theft of money from the state, just how they managed it, and how they kept it hidden. As soon as people saw the writing on the wall, even before the collapse of the USSR, those with the knowledge and knowhow to take advantage, were circling the carcass of the old Soviet system, and picking at what it had to offer. This was Putin’s world. This was what he came to power knowing. This system of espionage and secrecy mixed intoxicatingly with advantageous crime bosses and power brokers. … ever since the sixties the Soviet Union had found its strength lay in disinformation, in planting fake rumours in the media to discredit Western leaders, in assassinating political opponents, and in supporting front organisations that would foment wars in the Third World and undermine and sow discord in the West. Putin is not a nice guy. Let’s be clear about that. A whole lot of people in this book had some very bad endings, poisonings, fatally falling off a yacht, randomly deciding to jump out a window, lots of questionable suicides and convenient deaths. Putin isn’t afraid to clean house. That’s part of what keeps him somewhat untouchable and mysterious to us out here in the West. People are afraid to speak out about what they know, and what they saw or experienced, because so many people who do not toe the line… end. Fatally. “Pugachev told Putin he should prostrate himself in front of the priest, as was the custom, and ask for forgiveness. ‘He looked at me in astonishment. “Why should I?” he said. “I am the president of the Russian Federation. Why should I ask for forgiveness?’” This makes the author’s extensive, detailed, incredible research all the more impressive. A lot of her sources are anonymous, for obvious reasons, but she does get a good number of people to tell their stories and stick their names to it. Furthermore, she has done her reading and her archive searching. When considering the obstacle of learning anything in a country that has spent the past mumble-mumble years of its history learning how to hide literally everything from everyone, it’s impressive that she managed to unfold that many secrets and that much information and distill it into one digestible work of nonfiction, as seen here. There is a new revelation on just about every page of this book, and the authors easy to understand, almost aggressive writing style makes this book read almost like a thriller. I was constantly turning the pages to see what would happen next, and who was doing what, where. That’s quite a mark in the book’s favor, I must say. A lot of nonfiction reads like a textbook, but this one decidedly does not. This book is, quite frankly, almost too surreal to believe, and there were quite a number of times I was thinking, “no way… there’s NO WAY this is true” but Belton’s research makes just about everything laid out in these pages irrefutable. There’s just too much evidence to not believe all the threads of the stories she’s weaving together. That makes all this espionage, spycraft, deep state, organized crime stuff almost surreal. Like, to the point where I had to take a break a few times and remember I wasn’t reading some fiction book that someone wrote, but this is actually real life. People live it. Putin’s People isn’t just about internal politics, and the rise of Putin and those near him. It’s also very much about international politics. Belton discusses a lot of modern day international issues and how Putin and his cronies reacted to them. The conflict in Ukraine, various events in the Middle East, why London is such an important city to Russia (I didn’t know Russia had such a big impact in the Vote Leave campaign in the UK), and, of course, its dynamic and ever-changing relationship to the United States, as well as, yes, Trump’s personal connection with a whole lot of prominent Russian oligarchs dating all the way back to the 1980s. “Yevgeny Dvoskin – Brighton Beach mobster who became one of Russia’s most notorious ‘shadow bankers’ after moving back to Moscow with his uncle, Ivankov, joining forces with the Russian security services to funnel tens of billions of dollars in ‘black cash’ into the West. Felix Sater – Dvoskin’s best friend since childhood. Became a key business partner of the Trump Organization, developing a string of properties for Trump, all the while retaining high-level contacts in Russian intelligence.” Putin, as I’ve said, is not a nice person, but he has worked in the KGB and spent many of his formidable years flexing his muscles during the collapse of the USSR, navigating its crime-ridden economy, and consolidating his power. Now, he is turning his eye West, and the results of his pressure and influence are obvious, if you know where to look and what to see. Belton paints a very stark, cold, scary picture of one man’s rise to power, his control and mastery over said power, as well as the people around him, and his ability to manipulate events to fall in his favor. If you need to see where Russia has been to understand where it is now, this book is a fantastic study of how the modern Russia came to be. The story of what comes next remains to be told, but this book gives you some ideas of what to expect, and they leave me cold.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rennie

    He’s going to have been in power more than 20 years by the time he’s done and there’s still surprisingly little that we know about him and his regime, concrete and verified at least. That’s still amazing to me for someone who will have influenced and shaped Russia, and far beyond, really, so much. This is by far the most comprehensive book I’ve read on where he came from (not a full bio, but his KGB background, Yeltsin connection, etc.) and how he came to be “installed” in the Kremlin. And just. He’s going to have been in power more than 20 years by the time he’s done and there’s still surprisingly little that we know about him and his regime, concrete and verified at least. That’s still amazing to me for someone who will have influenced and shaped Russia, and far beyond, really, so much. This is by far the most comprehensive book I’ve read on where he came from (not a full bio, but his KGB background, Yeltsin connection, etc.) and how he came to be “installed” in the Kremlin. And just...sigh. I barely even know what to say. This was quite the rollercoaster, but like a rollercoaster that simultaneously runs through a house of horrors and there’s a demon in a business suit with a pile of money and an offshore account and a devious agenda around every corner. Can you picture it? Truly heart-stopping and also, exhausting. I already feel like I know too much. It’s a bit hard to keep track of all of these pukes because there’s just so many of them (and a few lesser pukes, to be fair) and it’s surreal to simmer in the details of what a corrupt maniacal blatantly manipulative gangster he is while watching our own president pucker to kiss his ass from every possible angle. This provides a wealth of answers and information despite the murky, obfuscated mess it all is (no insignificant feat). I think it’s essential reading for understanding where our relationship with Russia is.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Schirmer

    After graduating university in 2010, I worked as an intern at an NGO focused on improving US-Russian trade & business relationships. It was the height of the Medvedev interregnum and full of optimism. The American and Russian administrations had established bilateral working groups focusing a wide array of policy initiatives. Medvedev had visited Silicon Valley the year before, setting up a Twitter account and had recently begun pouring money into what was to be a kind of mirror Russian technolo After graduating university in 2010, I worked as an intern at an NGO focused on improving US-Russian trade & business relationships. It was the height of the Medvedev interregnum and full of optimism. The American and Russian administrations had established bilateral working groups focusing a wide array of policy initiatives. Medvedev had visited Silicon Valley the year before, setting up a Twitter account and had recently begun pouring money into what was to be a kind of mirror Russian technology center/startup incubator. All kinds of ideas were being tossed around, from visa reform, Russia joining NATO (why was NATO even necessary any more?). As late as 2012, Obama chided Romney's Russia scepticism during one of the debates: "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.." Belton's deeply-researched history is a welcome, if belated correction of assumptions regarding the nature of the Putin regime. Hundreds of billions of dollars appropriated from Russian industry/tax coffers not simply for personal enrichment, but for use in active measures undermining financial, legal, and political institutions in the West. Our post-Cold War naivete and grandstanding were only matched by our complicity. A devastating, essential read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    Written by a former Moscow correspondent of the Financial Times this is a superb work of investigative journalism – detailed, clearly written, accessible and a treasure trove of information about the emergence of the Putin regime and his rise to power. I stand in awe of the amount of research the author has done and impressed by the way she has managed to make the information easy to understand for a less well informed readership. Based on testimony from Kremlin insiders, diplomats, intelligence Written by a former Moscow correspondent of the Financial Times this is a superb work of investigative journalism – detailed, clearly written, accessible and a treasure trove of information about the emergence of the Putin regime and his rise to power. I stand in awe of the amount of research the author has done and impressed by the way she has managed to make the information easy to understand for a less well informed readership. Based on testimony from Kremlin insiders, diplomats, intelligence officers and oligarchs plus independent research, the book is endlessly fascinating and often horrifying. There are revelations on almost every page, and I learnt an enormous amount. Essential reading for anyone interested in Putin, Russia and its role in international affairs.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    In exhaustive detail, with a focus on the financial issues, Catherine Belton documents Putin’s rise to power, how he cemented his control over the country and its economy and then turned to restoring Russia’s territories and settling scores with the West. Benton shows how Putin’s KGB posting in Dresden was not some backwater middle management job. While the bulk of international intelligence was placed in Berlin, Dresden, below the radar, was the center for stolen and smuggled technology, KGB re In exhaustive detail, with a focus on the financial issues, Catherine Belton documents Putin’s rise to power, how he cemented his control over the country and its economy and then turned to restoring Russia’s territories and settling scores with the West. Benton shows how Putin’s KGB posting in Dresden was not some backwater middle management job. While the bulk of international intelligence was placed in Berlin, Dresden, below the radar, was the center for stolen and smuggled technology, KGB recruitment (particularly from the waning Stasi) and funding terrorists and others fomenting anti-western sentiment around the world, particularly in the middle east. That Putin performed important services can be documented by his KGB pension which is paid at a “heros” rate. Belton shows how by taking similar drab sounding positions in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Putin has able to bask in the glow of the perceived reformists Anatoly Sobchek, Mayor of St. Petersburg and Boris Yeltsin who benefited from the very popular move to a market economy. Benton shows how state owned industries sold cheaply at a dizzying pace, but only the elite had cash to get in the game. Fortunes were made. The circumstances show how Putin, a seemingly behind the scenes functionary, was the a consensus pick of the Yeltsin insiders to take the reins. Once installed, he employed typical KGB moves to stay in power… taking over the press, capitalizing on (and most likely creating) terrorist incidents, changing elected governance and judicial positions to appointed and using or creating governmental levers to promote friends and destroy enemies. The highlight of the book (for me) is the step by step telling of Putin’s first defining action: the takeover of Yukos and the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. This set the pattern for the kleptocracy that is Russia today. What follows are more deals and incidents that consolidate financial control such that would be owners are merely caretakers who keep their positions as long as Putin is satisfied. The sections on the Ukraine, the insinuation of Russian money into England and the courtship of Donald Trump were disappointing because they are told through deals and incidents. Some deals are hard to follow and some have vague references to “organized crime” which at this point is not fully distinguishable from the Putin government. The book ends with glimpses of the public’s dissatisfaction with Putin and the entrenchment of his power. I recommend this for the first 2/3 which explains the rise to power. The ending, for me, was a blur of names, deals and incidents.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Gergely

    Written in a furious and unrelenting style that reads like 640 page-long undercover report, it had me gripped from start to finish. It covers the same territory as many past books on Putin’s rise and now twenty-year rule, from his days working in foreign intelligence in Dresden, his meteoric rise in 1990s from Deputy Mayor of Russia’s 2nd city to Prime Minister and then President, his corralling of the oligarchic class and later re-structuring and re-assignment of the commanding heights of the e Written in a furious and unrelenting style that reads like 640 page-long undercover report, it had me gripped from start to finish. It covers the same territory as many past books on Putin’s rise and now twenty-year rule, from his days working in foreign intelligence in Dresden, his meteoric rise in 1990s from Deputy Mayor of Russia’s 2nd city to Prime Minister and then President, his corralling of the oligarchic class and later re-structuring and re-assignment of the commanding heights of the economy into the hands of his personal and trusted acquaintances, through to Crimean annexation and the near cold-war status relationship that Russia has with the West today. The cast is operatic in its scope, from exiled Oligarchs hiding in secret villas, to KGB operatives, well-known New York gangsters, Donald Trump etc. and the writing style more enthralling, the revelations and arguments more sensational than any book on this subject before. But I would also caution the reader to bare in mind that objective analysis pays a price to the key narrative that it is trying to get across to the reader. In short, 5* for readability, 3* for accuracy. Where Belton is especially strong is on economics, which is something that most Putin books of the past have avoided. The corruption at the top ends of the Russian political and economic eco-system is hard to imagine, so great is its scope, and for the economically illiterate, like myself, she neatly unwraps and explains the myriad schemes that have been employed to siphon the majority of Russia’s wealth offshore. She is excellent when explaining how none of this theft would be possible without the facilitation provided by Western financial institutions. On the political side, though, not everything in the book rings true. Belton's key premise is that Putin’s rise and hold on power is the result of a planned and stealthy capture of the county by the KGB, that his emergence was the visible top of a much deeper but hidden fight back of the KGB to take control back over from the Oligarchs like Berezovsky, the political puppet masters who got Yeltsin re-re-elected in 1996. However, there is no concrete evidence of this planned state capture, and I had a sense of sources being used to fit this narrative that suits a popular and easy to grasp Western view of Putin as the head of a dark and malign force (KGB) whose main focus is scheming about wreaking havoc around the world. The evidence I have read over the years points to a much less tidy , more complex picture of political development. I think it is more accurate to see Putin as someone who has never had complete loyalty to any one clan (one of the reasons he was initially selected for the role of President by the Yeltsin administration in the first place), and it is precisely due to his position as the ultimate arbiter of conflicts between elites (including between the security services and major businessmen) that he has been able to hang on to power for so long. Although Putin’s entourage of apparatchiks does include many former KGB members, it is far from exclusively drawn from the security services, and the patterns of policy and political change over the last twenty years reflects less the actions of a carefully planning maverick than a reactive judo-player (as Mark Galeotti has aptly termed it in the past), using events to his advantage as they arise. Further, I see almost the whole political and economic leadership of Russia today as the children of the 1990s. This was an especially lawless decade, when winning and maintaining power and control, whether in business or politics, required a high level of ruthlessness, violence, secrecy and protection. The mindset (and wealth) of many of those in positions of power today, from the heads of major state corporations to the various arms of the government, was made in that period, whether they were from the KGB or not. It is therefore not surprising that the relationship between the elite (both former KGB and otherwise) and the country's citizens is so dysfunctional in today's Russia. Secondly, there is an issue with a source. Kremlin politics is particularly murky, rife with rumor, almost totally lacking transparency, and so any Russia analyst will struggle to get a total objective picture of exactly "what happened." However, a significant part of the book relies on quotes from Sergey Pugachev, a former billionaire who used to be a close Putin ally before they fell out, exiling himself in France whilst the Russian state came aggressively after the assets he had amassed. From what I have seen and heard reported of Pugachev, he is a man with a deep vendetta against the Russian government and quite an eccentric character, prone to hyperbole. His words need to be treated cautiously. For example, he claims that when he took Putin to church and explained that here he could ask for forgiveness from God, Putin apparently replied “I am the President of Russia, why should I ask for any forgiveness?” Quotes like these suggest Pugachev’s interest in using the book to launch theatrical attacks on Putin to advance his own agenda of political change at the top of Russian government. So overall a fantastic read, but maybe just a little too fantastical at times.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Eugene Boytsov

    Bull's eye; excellent book: thorough research of Putin's insidious reach for power and the enthronement of Supreme Kleptocracy in Russia. Bull's eye; excellent book: thorough research of Putin's insidious reach for power and the enthronement of Supreme Kleptocracy in Russia.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Akram Salam

    I not only read the book but attended a Zoom seminar earlier this week led by Catherine Belton at the Harriman Institute. So Belton had actually worked on this book for a number of years beginning before 2013. She felt the world didn’t understand what happened at the fall of the Soviet Union and what happened with the KGB. The scope of Putin’s People is massive, starting from Putin’s Dresden days and going all the way up to the present day. Years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the KGB I not only read the book but attended a Zoom seminar earlier this week led by Catherine Belton at the Harriman Institute. So Belton had actually worked on this book for a number of years beginning before 2013. She felt the world didn’t understand what happened at the fall of the Soviet Union and what happened with the KGB. The scope of Putin’s People is massive, starting from Putin’s Dresden days and going all the way up to the present day. Years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the KGB was funneling money from the USSR to Western European entities because they saw the collapse as imminent. During the Yeltsin years they continued to take over strategic cash flows, using the money to fund intermediaries to support influence operations. The KBG was biding its time until it finally made it back to power in 2000 with the appointment of Putin as president. Gradually the KGB tightened its grip on the strategic cash flows of the Russian Federation. Belton says that this vast wealth was not employed to establish a pure kleptocracy – it was a means for Russia to reeassert its position as a global player and for Putin’s regime to resurrect networks of the past, like tycoons who could act as trusted custodians of the Kremlin and carry out operations for the Kremlin to give plausible deniability. Belton tells this story elegantly in all its detail. She has interviewed key figures such as Suleyman Kerimov, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Vladimir Yakunin over a long period of time, cultivating relationships with them and corroborating the information they revealed to her. This is such an amazing book, and I highly recommend you watch one of her seminars on YouTube after reading it!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    "I want to warn Americans. As a people, you are very naive about Russia and its intentions. You believe because the Soviet Union no longer exists, Russia now is your friend. It isn't, and I can show you how the SVR is trying to destroy the US even today and even more than the KGB did during the Cold War." - Sergei Tretyakov, former colonel in Russian Foreign Intelligence, the SVR Reading this book is frightening and I worry about anyone who may be "beholden" to the Russian KGB. Would those people "I want to warn Americans. As a people, you are very naive about Russia and its intentions. You believe because the Soviet Union no longer exists, Russia now is your friend. It isn't, and I can show you how the SVR is trying to destroy the US even today and even more than the KGB did during the Cold War." - Sergei Tretyakov, former colonel in Russian Foreign Intelligence, the SVR Reading this book is frightening and I worry about anyone who may be "beholden" to the Russian KGB. Would those people be at risk for even reviewing this book? Does the author now fear for her life and the lives of her family and friends? That is how significant this book truly is. I found this book to be well-written and extraordinarily informative -> frightening. Thank goodness for the epilogue.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    The best way to summarize this book is that it is excellent and courageous journalism but a rather ineffective presentation in terms of writing and organization. Belton tells the story of how the KGB elite has managed to retake control of Russia since the mid-1990s. The main pattern the book explores is that in the 1990s free-for-all you had rapid privatization of the Soviet economy, leading to the creation of a Yeltsin-era oligarchy. At the same time, ex-intelligence folks like Putin created bu The best way to summarize this book is that it is excellent and courageous journalism but a rather ineffective presentation in terms of writing and organization. Belton tells the story of how the KGB elite has managed to retake control of Russia since the mid-1990s. The main pattern the book explores is that in the 1990s free-for-all you had rapid privatization of the Soviet economy, leading to the creation of a Yeltsin-era oligarchy. At the same time, ex-intelligence folks like Putin created business networks with oligarchs, organized crime, and foreign banks that gave them their own power base. In the late 90s and 2000s, the KGB elite essentially overthrow and replaced the Yeltsin oligarchs, taking advantage of a sort of nationalist revolt against the chaos and humiliation of the 1990s. The Khodorkovsky sham trial and imprisonment (which I didn't really get until this book's excellent account of it) was the big turning point in the cowing of the old elite and the creation of a new one. Belton then goes into how Putin and his new cronies have solidified control in Russia and launched their campaigns against Western democracies and the liberal international order. This is another book that screams Russian peril and confirms my hawkish views on RU. This is largely a financial story about the creation of business networks, slush funds, and corrupt practices. Putin commands his oligarchic cronies by granting them "ownership" (more like stewardship, as Putin remains the ultimate owner of these industries) and permission to operate as long as they stick to his bidding and occasionally take economic bullets for him. This is about politics and power, not economics; this economic model has tamped down competition and consolidated power in the hands of a tiny elite. It is also remarkable how much of Russian wealth has been stashed in overseas banks and slush funds; it is truly a pillaging on the scale of Genghis Khan. The journalistic aspects of this book are outstanding, and it illuminated a lot of recent Russian history for me. Still, it could have been presented more effectively for the non-expert. First, there is a TON of detail on financial transactions and networks, and it is easy to get lost. Belton doesn't set enough of the political/cultural context especially in the 1990s; you don't get a sense of just how crazy and chaotic Russia was in those years. Furthermore, she spins through a seemingly endless cycle of Russian names, most of which remain little more than a node in the financial/political systems. Other than a few top guys, you don't get a great sense of who these guys are, what they believed, and why they are relevant. In that sense, the book is almost like a legal brief, carefully charting these networks without adding much color. I would have liked to see more biography of these guys, as she did with Khodorkovsky. In terms of recommendations, this is a good choice if you want to know more about Putin's Russia and you have a high tolerance for financial stuff. If you don't, a far more accessible and culturally rooted history of post-Cold War Russia (one I enjoyed greatly) is Masha Gessen's The Future is History.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ilana

    Everyone needs to read this. Explains so much about why things are so terrifying nowadays. Terrorists taking over everywhere.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    This is worth reading for the chapter about Trump's ties to KGB/FSB operatives alone. This is worth reading for the chapter about Trump's ties to KGB/FSB operatives alone.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jakub Lupták

    Informative, follows cash flow surrounding Putin's regime and its doublethink operation of the black markets, if a bit cumbersome and slightly drawn out. Could have been halved imo. Informative, follows cash flow surrounding Putin's regime and its doublethink operation of the black markets, if a bit cumbersome and slightly drawn out. Could have been halved imo.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ula Tardigrade

    After reading this book it will be harder to dismiss any conspiracy theory, however outlandish, because Vladimir’s Putin path to power is hard to believe. There are spies, deep state, mobsters, corruption and lavish residences, there are intrigues, fake terrorist’s plots and poisons. Yet, it’s true, as proofs delivered by Catherine Belton leave no doubt. It was a fascinating read. As a news aficionado, I was aware of most of the events that happened in Russia during last 30 years, but only now I After reading this book it will be harder to dismiss any conspiracy theory, however outlandish, because Vladimir’s Putin path to power is hard to believe. There are spies, deep state, mobsters, corruption and lavish residences, there are intrigues, fake terrorist’s plots and poisons. Yet, it’s true, as proofs delivered by Catherine Belton leave no doubt. It was a fascinating read. As a news aficionado, I was aware of most of the events that happened in Russia during last 30 years, but only now I grasped real meaning of many of them, and what was cause and effect of this actions. Sometimes I was a little lost in details regarding financial issues, but after all it isn’t possible to show very murky operations in more simple way. And the level of detail is one of the greatest virtues of this book, which is excellently researched and almost every sentence has a footnote with a source of information. You can also see that Ms Belton is well acquainted with many of main characters - she is a former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times. On one hand, the scale of her work means that events from every chapter deserve for separate book and sometimes it leaves the reader hungry for more. On the other, only in this way it is possible to see through the whole 'operation Putin'. And you should, because Russia has its tentacles everywhere in the West and won't hesitate to use them in the most nefarious ways. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the advance copy of this book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    London remains Russia’s most important city. The Kremlin has become adept at pursuing people in the courts with help from sophisticated PR and the buying British assets (the evening standard) to gain access to the elite. Growing number of MPs are paid incredible sums to sit and independent non execs when they leave parliament. London has increasingly seen by Putin as economically healthy enough to provide returns (a large number of enormous Russian companies IPOd on the FTSE) but too weak politi London remains Russia’s most important city. The Kremlin has become adept at pursuing people in the courts with help from sophisticated PR and the buying British assets (the evening standard) to gain access to the elite. Growing number of MPs are paid incredible sums to sit and independent non execs when they leave parliament. London has increasingly seen by Putin as economically healthy enough to provide returns (a large number of enormous Russian companies IPOd on the FTSE) but too weak politically to purse corruption in the Russian state. The belief in London was that Oligarchs who listed their business would abide with corporate governance and become part of the global system. Much like China has failed to materialise. Abramovich became one of Putins most trusted custodians, and was encouraged to buy Chelsea to give Russia more clout in FIFA (it worked as Russia hosted the 2018 World Cup) and to dine with UK high society “it was an entrance to the House of Lords”. London became known and Londongrad and Moskva-na-Thames. Putin was born in the backstreets of Leningrad as relatively poor, something that gave him a chip on his shoulder. Putins wife Lyudmila tried to dissuade Putin from running for a second term as she was very lonely. Putin used to return home from work and “sit in his slippers watching bland comedy shows on TV rather than spending time with his wife” Putin was based in Dresden for the KGB, who pulled the strings for the terrorist organisation the "Red Army” which did everything in its power to prevent the Berlin Wall from falling. The Red Army even killed a Deutsche Bank chairman. Just before the Berlin Wall came down East German citizens tried to storm the Russia embassy. Putin phoned Moscow only to hear that “Moscow was silent”. One by one the outposts of the empire were being given up. This hurt Putin and reinforced his desire to see the KGB strengthened to become a mutually partner for Russian business/political/economic interests. It was fragmented in the post Cold War period, but then came together under Putin. Before becoming president, Putin became mayor of Petersburg, where he was responsible for the illustrious property portfolio built during the empire. This was probably the moment that inspired Putin to make Russia an imperial force once again. He attained a modest role working for the Kremlin. He was known as a modest individual and uninterested in furthering his career. He even offered to step down - this was a great move as he was then offered the 3rd most powerful role in Russia, Chief of staff to the Kremlin. The KGB was instrumental in pushing Yeltsin from power, who felt that he had become Bill Clinton’s puppet was to pro-western. Putin got off to a good start to his presidency by promising to reform Russia into pro market. He even received a royal banquet at Buckingham Palace under the Blair government. This sentiment changed when Bush decided to pull out of the Anti-Ballistic-Missile Treaty in 2002, pushing Nato closer to Russia’s boarder. Not long after, Putin arrested, one of Russia’s richest men, Khodorkovsky, who had failed to grasp a basic tenet of Putin’s rule, privatisation of a business, like a oil company did not mean that you owned the business, you were simply the holder for the Russian state. Such actions pushed Putin’s poll ratings up to 70%. Putin would later allow his cronies to become rich by using certain banks to act a treasurer for the government to hide the money/return to the government, and then use it to corrupt oligarchs. The banks meanwhile got to control valuable Russian assets like property and oil. Putin friends and allies were hand picked to run certain banks. Putin’s takeover of strategic cashflows is about the projection of power/keeping his political allies happy by making them rich, and reasserting the country on the world stage, not about the wellbeing of Russian citizens. Geneva became a favourite place for Putin to stash the proceeds from his state capitalism The Ukraine Crisis led to the Russian invasion of Crimea which was important to Russia because; When the soviet union collapsed and Crimea wound up in a different country, Russian felt that it has been pillaged from it people who were Russian Soviets in all but name. Russia was too weak, and had to drop its head and swallow the shame. Ukraine were close to signing an EU trade and constitution deal. Putin sent his undercover police to bully the President (Yanukovych) and Putin personally threatened Yanukovych with sanctions, and possible invasion. Putin was desperate for the Crimea not to become Western tilted. At the last moment the President pull out of the EU deal, creating wild protests amongst the Pro-EU Ukraine population in Kiev. Yankovych then resigned creating more instability. The protests continued before Putins undercover agents (probably) shot some protestors, creating civil was in Kiev. This allowed Russian to invade Crimea and it has remained Russian ever since. Russians initially welcomed Putin’s invasion of Crimea, but now are tired with the diminished economic opportunities. In 2014, economists said that in 2020 Russian was due to to become the world’s 5th largest economy. It is now the 13th post the Crimea campaign. Russian was a key funder in the Vote Leave campaign, with Aron Banks received £8m through a shell company in Jersey. The subsequent investigation could not trace the money any further and Banks walked clear. Trump also benefited hugely from Russian campaign funding, some of which came from former KGB operatives. Trump has actually had many close dealings with wealthy Russian oligarchs since the 1980 - on a number of occasions they bailed him out from his failed business ventures. It was very clear that these oligarchs/Russia, at some point latched onto Trump as a political opportunity. In 2016 Ambramovich was asked to turn his attention to New York at build relationship with Trump and his family. Russia’s parliament cheered when the Trumps won election.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kiana

    Whilst this is less about Putin's psychology and personal motivations, Belton still provides a truly terrifying and fascinating insight into how Putin and his 'people' have manipulated, corrupted and extorted Russia's people, businesses and state. Though I knew Putin had done terrible things, this book really shone a light on the extent of the terror he's waged and how he's been gaining power since the Soviet period. In addition, I thought Belton did a good job at introducing Putin's allies and Whilst this is less about Putin's psychology and personal motivations, Belton still provides a truly terrifying and fascinating insight into how Putin and his 'people' have manipulated, corrupted and extorted Russia's people, businesses and state. Though I knew Putin had done terrible things, this book really shone a light on the extent of the terror he's waged and how he's been gaining power since the Soviet period. In addition, I thought Belton did a good job at introducing Putin's allies and familiarising them to the reader so we were never too lost.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    Detailed and gripping, Belton's excellently researched and written account of Russia's development from the end of the Cold War to the present day with a particular focus on Putin's rise to power and the roles played by various key figures in his machinations provides a wealth of information and a thoroughly chilling look behind the scenes of what's been going on in my adopted home country's oversized neighbour. Detailed and gripping, Belton's excellently researched and written account of Russia's development from the end of the Cold War to the present day with a particular focus on Putin's rise to power and the roles played by various key figures in his machinations provides a wealth of information and a thoroughly chilling look behind the scenes of what's been going on in my adopted home country's oversized neighbour.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    An exhaustive and compelling review of Putin's rise to power and the former KGB black market schemes he resurrected to control and corrupt Russia and, increasingly, the West. An exhaustive and compelling review of Putin's rise to power and the former KGB black market schemes he resurrected to control and corrupt Russia and, increasingly, the West.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Stelling

    This book is scary to read and yet definitely worthy of a 5 star rating. Charting Putin’s meteoric rise to power beginning with the collapse of the USSR, the author forensically tracks a career which begins in a democracy and ends in a Tsarist Russia. The scariest part of all is that everything seems to fit into Putin’s long term plan, and the West is always 5 steps behind. Highly recommend for a thought-provoking read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Viktor Lototskyi

    Decent investigation, facts, minimum personal opinions, great chronology. There's no black and white, everyone accepted rules of the game from the beginning, no BS'ing about West being blind, they knew what they did: money, money, money. Yet, at some point money are not enough to justify much greater shifts in the world. Deserves its own GodFather epic movie a few decades from now. Decent investigation, facts, minimum personal opinions, great chronology. There's no black and white, everyone accepted rules of the game from the beginning, no BS'ing about West being blind, they knew what they did: money, money, money. Yet, at some point money are not enough to justify much greater shifts in the world. Deserves its own GodFather epic movie a few decades from now.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Suman Joshi

    The Modis and the Erdogans of the world appear to be novices and also-rans after reading this . When the West was exulting in its victory after the Cold War little did they realise that the KGB machine did not die ! It only took a break. Putin’s story is not just one on making a few million bucks or power for a few terms but a complete dismantling of institutions for ideological hegemony - cultural and political . Reading about the events that led to the rise of Putin, the Yeltsin era , the impri The Modis and the Erdogans of the world appear to be novices and also-rans after reading this . When the West was exulting in its victory after the Cold War little did they realise that the KGB machine did not die ! It only took a break. Putin’s story is not just one on making a few million bucks or power for a few terms but a complete dismantling of institutions for ideological hegemony - cultural and political . Reading about the events that led to the rise of Putin, the Yeltsin era , the imprint the KGB has left in the Slavic nations, their support for authoritarians on both sides of the spectrum and interference in important world events such as the Brexit vote and the US elections of 2016 left me feeling frightened for the future of the world as we know it ! Although a tad lengthy it is a well researched , well narrated book !

  27. 5 out of 5

    Émilie Weidl

    4.5 stars. Thank you to Netgalley and Farrar, Strous, & Giroux for a free copy in exchange for an honest review. Putin and his KGB men, it seemed, could jail whoever they wanted, as long as the emerging class could afford an annual holiday in the likes of Turkey. This is the newest edition of Belton’s in-depth analysis of Putin’s rise to power and the rise and fall of other individuals as a consequence. Belton tracks the KGB black-cash routes that are still in existence today, with slight modif 4.5 stars. Thank you to Netgalley and Farrar, Strous, & Giroux for a free copy in exchange for an honest review. Putin and his KGB men, it seemed, could jail whoever they wanted, as long as the emerging class could afford an annual holiday in the likes of Turkey. This is the newest edition of Belton’s in-depth analysis of Putin’s rise to power and the rise and fall of other individuals as a consequence. Belton tracks the KGB black-cash routes that are still in existence today, with slight modifications. She illustrates how the KGB managed to maintain its position of power in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, work that began many years before the collapse itself. This new edition covers up to the constitutional amendments proposed in January of this year, which served to both increase Putin’s current power and allow him to hold onto power longer. Trump’s dealings with Moscow are given much attention, as well. Trump proves to be a great foil to Putin, who is described as extremely manipulative and calculating. According to Shvets, the KBG at least believed it had recruited Trump [in 1987]. Whether Trump was aware of any of this is another question. I was a bit worried at the beginning of this book, as it appeared that Belton was blaming Chechens for the apartment bombings and other terrorist attacks at the beginning of Putin’s rule. However, this was later cleared up. The majority of this book was riveting and engaging, but I felt that this fell off in the last few chapters. The amount of research that has gone into this book is incredible. One topic that I thought might have deserved more attention was the federal structure in Russia and the inequalities between the regions. While this book included an amazing section on natural-resource politics, it was lacking details on the regional inequalities connected to this topic, in my opinion. Overall, this is an important read for anyone who is interested in Russian politics and the demise of liberal democracy.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Richard Block

    Pure Poison This book is unimaginably detailed and incisive. Unlike many other books I have read, this proves a thread between Putin's KGB past ties him and his country to a coherent story - that Putin has put the country back in the hands of the FSB (KGB) in order to enrich himself and restore the Soviet Empire. Belton is ideally suited to the task - she worked in Moscow for the FT as their correspondent for years and her knowledge of the economic machinations of the KBG and FSB underpin the thes Pure Poison This book is unimaginably detailed and incisive. Unlike many other books I have read, this proves a thread between Putin's KGB past ties him and his country to a coherent story - that Putin has put the country back in the hands of the FSB (KGB) in order to enrich himself and restore the Soviet Empire. Belton is ideally suited to the task - she worked in Moscow for the FT as their correspondent for years and her knowledge of the economic machinations of the KBG and FSB underpin the thesis. She fully convinces the reader, never padding her story but punching it out without artifice or emotion. The use of terror to put and keep Putin in place is here for all to see - it is remarkable that the West fell for the unceasing lies. Asset management is Putin's speciality - and that includes Donald Trump. Though much less detailed then some accounts (Malcolm Nance, for example) this book is the nail in the coffin for anyone questioning that Trump is an asset of Russia as President of the US. Black Ops and active measures has merged Trump and Putin - witness his election, impeachment and the current attempts to bury Joe Biden with a Metoo allegation (so funny, but true). This is so obviously like his attempt to kill Biden with Hunter Biden's Ukraine exploits that it beggars belief. For anyone coming to the Putin story fresh, this is the one book you must read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kyran

    Captivating stuff and extremely well researched. Reads like a drawn-out spy thriller, playing over two decades now. The book recounts how Putin assumed power and the KGB/crime networks which propelled him there in tumultuous, late-90s Russia; it then addresses his consolidation of power through political, financial and criminal means. The book is comprehensive in describing the financial machinations of the Russian state: oligarchs deposed, sham trials, slush money, skeleton companies, and viole Captivating stuff and extremely well researched. Reads like a drawn-out spy thriller, playing over two decades now. The book recounts how Putin assumed power and the KGB/crime networks which propelled him there in tumultuous, late-90s Russia; it then addresses his consolidation of power through political, financial and criminal means. The book is comprehensive in describing the financial machinations of the Russian state: oligarchs deposed, sham trials, slush money, skeleton companies, and violent interference for the non-compliant. This should be a wake up call to the West – if it’s not already too late.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    If you want to know everything - and I mean everything - about the deals that led to Putin and the KGB class taking over Russia after Yeltsin then this is the book for you. However, I wouldn't recommend it as a book for the general reader, even for those of us who are confirmed Russia-watchers. This is because the book focuses almost exclusively on deals. A typical page runs like this: 'Ivan X bought such-and-such a company for a knock-down price from Mikhail Y who had previously worked with Ger If you want to know everything - and I mean everything - about the deals that led to Putin and the KGB class taking over Russia after Yeltsin then this is the book for you. However, I wouldn't recommend it as a book for the general reader, even for those of us who are confirmed Russia-watchers. This is because the book focuses almost exclusively on deals. A typical page runs like this: 'Ivan X bought such-and-such a company for a knock-down price from Mikhail Y who had previously worked with Gerhard Z, a Stasi operative who knew Putin in the 1980s. This company then got a massive government contract.' Of course, you might find this sort of thing fascinating - and the first time you read it, it really is - and for people in government I dare say it's important, but it all gets rather repetitive. The most interesting parts of the book for me were those that dealt with, albeit too fleetingly, the Kursk disaster, the Nord-Ost theatre siege, and the Beslan atrocity. Kudos to the author for the huge amount of research she has done on this, including plenty of interviews with some rather unsavoury individuals, but I'd say this is one for die-hards who feel the need to know everything (everything!) about the murky deals that enabled Putin and his associates to cement their grip on power and wealth in modern Russia.

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