PUTIN’S PEOPLE : How The KGB Took Back Russia And Then Took On The WestCatherine Belton
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An In-Depth Exploration & Fearless Account Of Vladimir Putin’s Rise To Power And The Consolidation of His Regime In Russia
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“This riveting, immaculately researched book is arguably the best single volume written about Putin, the people around him and perhaps even about contemporary Russia itself in the past three decades.” ―Peter Frankopan,
— Financial Times
A meticulous account of Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of power in Russia. Catherine Belton argues that the former KGB officer is determined to continue the Cold War in order to crush the West. The book book Belton’s claims and logic on the nature of Putin’s regime.
Catherine Belton, former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times discusses the rise to power of Vladimir Putin and the people around him. The publication of the book sparked a series of lawsuits by the individuals and organizations mentioned in it.
Catherine Belton delves into the inner workings of the Kremlin and sheds light on the network of power and influence that Putin has cultivated over the years. The book traces the roots of Putin’s regime back to his early days in the KGB and the relationships he forged with other key figures, both inside and outside of Russia.
Interference in American elections. The sponsorship of extremist politics in Europe. War in Ukraine. In recent years, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has waged a concerted campaign to expand its influence and undermine Western institutions. But how and why did all this come about, and who has orchestrated it?
Drawing on extensive reporting from her years as a Moscow-based correspondent for the Financial Times and other publications, Catherine Belton has assembled a fascinating portrait of Vladimir Putin’s rise to power and two decades at the helm of the Russian state.
By masterfully weaving together previously undisclosed details of Putin’s service in the KGB, experiences in the rough-and-tumble St. Petersburg of the 1990s, and the activities of his closest associates, Belton offers a groundbreaking assessment of how Russia’s regime actually operates.
Catherine Belton also reveals the untold story of how Vladimir Putin and the small group of KGB men surrounding him rose to power and looted their country. Delving deep into the workings of Putin’s Kremlin, Belton accesses key inside players to reveal how Putin replaced the freewheeling tycoons of the Yeltsin era with a new generation of loyal oligarchs, who in turn subverted Russia’s economy and legal system and extended the Kremlin’s reach into the United States and Europe.
It is a shocking account of the corruption and political schemes that swirl around Russia’s infamous president, Vladimir Putin, and his close inner circle. The KGB is well-known as the former Soviet Union’s secret police force – but that was far from its only role in the Soviet government and economy. This is the story of how the KGB lost its power, gained it back, and has been exploiting it ever since.
The result is a chilling and revelatory exposé of the KGB’s revanche―a story that begins in the murk of the Soviet collapse, when networks of operatives were able to siphon billions of dollars out of state enterprises and move their spoils into the West. Putin and his allies subsequently completed the agenda, reasserting Russian power while taking control of the economy for themselves, suppressing independent voices, and launching covert influence operations abroad.
Ranging from Moscow and London to Switzerland and Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach―and assembling a colorful cast of characters to match―Putin’s People is the definitive account of how hopes for the new Russia went astray, with stark consequences for its inhabitants and, increasingly, the world.
Belton examines how Putin and his allies have amassed vast wealth and control over key sectors of the Russian economy, creating a system of crony capitalism that benefits a select few while consolidating their grip on power. The book also explores the Kremlin’s efforts to exert influence abroad, including its alleged interference in foreign elections and the weaponization of information and disinformation campaigns.
A groundbreaking and meticulously researched anatomy of the Putin regime, Belton’s book shines a light on the pernicious threats Russian money and influence now pose to the west. Deepening social inequality and the rise of populist movements in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis have “left the west wide open to Russia’s aggressive new tactics of fuelling the far right and the far left”.
Kremlin largesse has funded political parties across the continent, from the National Front in France to Jobbik in Hungary and the Five Star movement in Italy, which are united in their hostility to both the EU and Nato. The Kremlin’s “black cash”, former Kremlin insider Sergei Pugachev laments, “is like a dirty atomic bomb.
In some ways it’s there, in some ways it’s not. Nowadays it’s much harder to trace.” Putin’s People lays bare the scale of the challenge if the west is to decontaminate its politics. Today, Putin’s sole ambition is to hold onto power, according to Belton.
The Putin story commences in Dresden, in the former East Germany, where he was working as a KGB agent. But according to Belton, an investigative reporter for Reuters and previously Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, Putin was not just a low-level functionary in a Cold War backwater, as widely believed.
Rather, he was on the front line in undermining the West – through terrorist networks, smuggling high-tech, and money laundering. And as the KGB could see that the writing was on the wall for communist economic planning, in Dresden they were siphoning off vast sums from the dwindling economy to ensure the survival of their networks at home and abroad.
In 1991, Putin moved back to his hometown of Saint Petersburg where he became deputy mayor. The 1990s were the chaotic years of the Yeltsin administration, with the rise of oligarchs who benefited from corrupt privatisations. But former KGB officer (“siloviki”) networks did not disappear, they were biding their time in the background.
Putin worked with the siloviki and local criminal groups to hand out export licenses, build front companies, and create slush funds in order to funnel “black money” overseas to trusted custodians, friendly firms, and intermediaries. Belton writes that St. Petersburg’s port “became ground zero for an alliance between the KGB and organised crime.”
Putin moved to Moscow in 1996, quickly rising through the ranks at the Kremlin. Following Russia’s 1998 financial crisis, the siloviki launched an attack against the corruption and scandals of President Boris Yeltsin, his family, advisors, and oligarchs. Fearing a restoration of the Communist Party, Yeltsin turned to the siloviki and Putin, who was nominated to succeed the ailing Yeltsin as president in 2000 – with the promise that the interests of Yeltsin and his entourage would be protected.
Then followed a progressive and systemic power grab by the siloviki around Putin in the Kremlin. Government officials from the Yeltsin era were gradually jettisoned. Putin cowed the Yeltsin-era oligarchs as he jailed the richest and most powerful one, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, for ten years and then took over his oil company, Yukos. Putin put his loyal allies in charge of most strategic sectors of the economy. And the law enforcement and court system fell under the siloviki.
In short, Putin and his people achieved control of everything in Russia. He made himself and his cronies rich, and created an unaccountable slush fund of dirty money to maintain control at home and undermine and corrupt the West. For the siloviki, the Cold War never ended. But according to Belton, Putin would be essentially a front man in the group of siloviki who came to power twenty years ago. It is a story of Russia’s siloviki deep state seizing the Kremlin and running the country like a crime syndicate.
When Putin came to power, he made overtures to the West and opened Central Asia as a transit corridor for the US at the start of the Afghan war. He was expecting something in return, which he never received. The US continued to treat Russia as an economic basket case.
Putin believed that Russia is entitled to be a great power, in light of all the sacrifices of World War II. Belton argues that the West should have been more open to hearing Russia’s concerns. In short, there have been mistakes on both sides of the relationship. That said, while Putin and his people may be formidable adversaries of the West, they are also incompetent economic managers who have kept their country an economic basket case, despite its immense potential. “KGB-capitalism” doesn’t work.
Today, Putin’s sole ambition is to hold onto power, according to Belton. In other words, Putin must believe that invading Ukraine improves his grip on power. But he would seem to be failing his sole ambition on all scores. In seeking to explain Putin’s actions, Belton recently suggested that Putin has changed during the past two years of the pandemic, as he has become increasingly isolated, consumed by history and his place as the restorer of the Russian lands, and has lost touch with reality. She hopes that this war will lead to his toppling.
In conclusion, Putin’s People provides for vivid depictions the individuals surrounding Putin, the described KGB elite who are in total control of the state. More importantly, it raises crucial questions about the nature of the Putin regime. The centrality of corruption, the prevalence of former KGB operatives in positions of political and economic power, and the anti-Western bend of the Putin regime are all highlighted by Belton. However, Belton’s theory of the Putin regime’s nature should be analyzed critically by readers. More evidence is needed before we can properly assess them.
At over 600 pages and packed with detailed technicalities and other information, Putin’s People doesn’t make for light reading. But this reader believes that this book offers the best assessment of the state of Russia on the eve of its invasion of Ukraine.
KIRKUS REVIEW :
Carefully detailed account of the rise of Vladimir Putin and the restoration of Russia to Soviet-era power.
A Reuters correspondent and former Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times, Belton recalls a time, 25-odd years ago, when it seemed possible that Russia might become a democracy with a thriving economy. Then came the era of the oligarchs, who, protected by Boris Yeltsin, cornered big pieces of the newly open market economy. It didn’t last long.
As Putin rose to power, he proceeded to “rein in the market freedoms of the Yeltsin era, and to launch a takeover by the state.” That project involved neutralizing enemies—and then, writes Belton, turning on former allies, a process Americans have seen in the actions of the Trump administration.
By the author’s account, Trump’s fortunes are bound up in Putin’s, and both represent what one Putin associate exalts as a defeat of “the neocons who thought they controlled the whole world.” According to Belton, while the extent of the connection will likely never be known, Trump has been the beneficiary of Russian cash since at least 1990, when Russian banks floated funds to extract his organization from bankruptcy.
One Russian executive has claimed that Trump has received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian funders who will likely never see the money again, all in the interest of providing “an opportunity to further compromise the future president” and, as a larger goal, “to undermine and corrupt the institutions and democracies of the West.”
All that, of course, is straight out of the KGB playbook as enacted by Putin’s lieutenants around the world, with the state’s extensive financial resources at their disposal. Much of Belton’s story has been related in earlier books, but none with so specific a focus on those shadowy aides and their actions.
An eyebrow-raising book that, among other things, helps connect some of the dots of the Mueller Report.
About the Author :
Catherine Belton reports on Russia for The Washington Post. She worked from 2007 to 2013 as the Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, and in 2016 as the newspaper’s legal correspondent. She has previously reported on Russia for The Moscow Times and BusinessWeek and served as an investigative correspondent for Reuters. In 2009, she was short-listed for the British Press Awards’ Business and Finance Journalist of the Year prize. She lives in London.
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