Mr. Putin is a lengthy read (520 pages in paperback) but well worth the time. To be a KGB case officer, she explains early, "means studying the minds of the targets, finding their vulnerabilities, and figuring out how to use them." Thus his constant veiled threats of resorting to nuclear weapons: he senses that Joe Biden and indeed most Western leaders are terrified of stumbling into a nuclear war and will do almost anything to reassure the man who's gaming them.
One of Ms Hill's favorite sources about the inner Putin was First Person (as it is called in English translation, with the sub-title "An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President V Putin and three journalists"). In 24 hours of interviews, Putin discussed his childhood, his life as a spy, and his meteroric ascent to a head of state along the lines of Tsar Nikolas II or Joseph Stalin, a dictator whose word cannot be challenged. (Ms Hills calls the Kremlin the "one-boy network.") Curiously, he scolded Soviet leaders for their invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia: "the Russophobia that we see in Eastern Europe today is the fruit of those mistakes," Putin said, rather overlooking the fact that if those countries had gotten their freedom, the last thing they'd want was to fall back under Moscow's domination. (Well, Hungary today is playing footsie with Putin.) With regard to his butchery in Chechnya, he declares in much the same whine as he speaks of Ukraine today: "We are not attacking. We are defending ourselves." There's also an interview with Mrs Putin, who when asked if he ever looked at other women, replied: "Well, what sort of man would he be, if he weren't attracted by beautiful women?" Just one of the boys in the one-boy network!
Last month I recommended the movie "Mr Jones" as a way to understand the troubled history of Ukraine and the Soviet Union, remembering the Holodomor ("The Starving") when Stalin's henchmen caused the deaths by famine of millions of Ukrainian peasants. A more serious history of the Holodomor is Anne Applebaum's Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine. "Applebaum's account will surely become the standard treatment of one of history’s great political atrocities," wrote Timothy Snyder in the Washington Post. "... She re-creates a pastoral world so we can view its destruction. And she rightly insists that the deliberate starvation of the Ukrainian peasants was part of a larger [Soviet] policy against the Ukrainian nation.... To be sure, Russia is not the Soviet Union, and Russians of today can decide whether they wish to accept a Stalinist version of the past. But to have that choice, they need a sense of the history. This is one more reason to be grateful for this remarkable book."
Blue skies! -- Dan Ford
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