Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin

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.

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