In This Review

Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin
Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin
By Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy
Brookings Institution Press, 2013, 400 pp

Of the many biographies of Vladimir Putin that have appeared in recent years, this one is the most useful, particularly to foreign-policy makers, many of whom must work with a crude or muddled understanding of what makes the Russian leader tick. Hill and Gaddy paint him as a composite of many identities, including a statist bent on refurbishing Russian powers, a careful student and clever manipulator of Russian history, a “survivalist” preoccupied with girding for the worst-case eventuality, and an intelligence “case worker” who recruits, controls, and uses people. These identities melded well enough to satisfy the post-1990s angst of Russia’s political elite and paved the way for “Russia, Inc.,” a shrouded, imperious court that has commandeered the state’s formal institutions and which Putin leads as a combination of chief executive and tsar. But, the authors argue, Putin’s vision is endangered: his identities no longer mesh but instead clash, and Russia’s emerging new middle class has come to disdain what he has wrought. Something has to give.