In This Review

The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War
The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War
By Arkady Ostrovsky
Viking, 2016, 384 pp

Ostrovsky builds his book around two powerful contentions. First, he claims that from Soviet days to today’s Russia, mass media have been key to the system, and controlling them is the beginning and end of power. Second, he argues that Vladimir Putin’s Russia lacks a strategic vision and is driven only by the conviction “that strength [lies] in money, that there [is] no such thing as values, and that the only difference between Russian and Western officials [is] that Western ones [can] hide their cynicism better.” Regardless of whether a reader accepts these propositions, he or she will admire Ostrovsky’s eye-opening revelations about the role that media figures have played in shaping and controlling the images that have defined the Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin eras. Ostrovsky makes a convincing case that the perversity of contemporary Russia is not an aberration but rather the logical result of the self-deception and misplaced hopes and ideals of the Gorbachev period, the flawed reforms and surging corruption of Boris Yeltsin’s time in power, and the crude statism and nativism that have added to even greater corruption in the Putin era.