In This Review

The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia
The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia
By Angus Roxburgh
I. B. Tauris, 2012, 288 pp

Vladimir Putin is the quintessential Rorschach test for Western views of Russia: something between an emotionless, steely-eyed creature from a John le Carré novel and the personification of the shattered hopes for a liberal Russian democracy, comfortably ensconced in the West’s embrace. Roxburgh paints a more compelling portrait. He is sympathetic to what motivates Putin but critical of what Putin has become during his years in power. Roxburgh sees Putin’s obsession with restoring Russian strength and his prickly sensitivity to affronts as understandable but details with obvious distaste Putin’s cynical manipulation of power, his crass image management, and the unimaginable venality of the political elite on which he relies. What distinguishes this account and makes it engrossing, however, are not such familiar characterizations. Roxburgh, a journalist and public relations specialist, worked on a splendid BBC documentary about the Putin era, and he uses interviews with many of the key figures around Putin and with senior Western policymakers to recount in detail what was said and done as Russia lurched in one direction and the U.S.-Russian relationship lurched in another.