“The story of this book,” Dawisha announces at its outset, is the “hope for political revanche,” by which she evidently means the Putin regime’s retaliation for Russia’s humiliation and weakness after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The bulk of the book concerns money—dirty money, in massive quantities—and the marvelously circuitous ways it has been amassed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, those around him, and the billionaires at one remove who kowtow to Putin’s regime. Dawisha’s book stands as the most detailed indictment of the venality that she argues has marked every step of Putin’s career. But the “political revanche” portion of her argument is less persuasive. She makes the case that from the very start, Putin and his circle planned to take Russia down an authoritarian path. But she is a bit fuzzy on just how much control Putin exerts over Russia’s kleptocracy and on how important he was to its emergence: indeed, her own evidence suggests that it was in place well before Putin became president. His contribution has been to increase the kleptocracy’s size.
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