Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Explaining Russia through Putin: A Review of the New Tsar by Steven Lee Myers

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Explaining Russia through Putin: A Review of the New Tsar by Steven Lee Myers

Article excerpt

Steven Lee Myers's new book, The New Tsar, provides one of the weightier explanations to the enigma that is Russia's long-serving leader. (1) Though it does not fully explain the man or the country he runs--and who really could?--Myers adeptly takes his reader on a winding journey through Vladimir Putin's life and career, using his biography to provide a useful context to help decode Putin.

Myers begins with Putin's modest youth, which was bereft of much wealth or academic achievement, focusing on the younger Putin during what is arguably his defining period: navigating his way through the chaos of the Soviet collapse as a KGB officer in Dresden. The theme of molding order from chaos runs throughout the book, whether Myers is discussing Putin's role in managing Boris Yeltsin's dysfunctional governance, quelling fighting in Chechnya in the early 1990s, or reacting to pressures placed on Russia's Middle Eastern allies during the Arab Spring.

In this sense, Putin is averse to total democracy, instead opting for a more oppressive system that is more predictable, more stable, and thus more ideal. Some small amount of dissent and other political parties are tolerated, but any serious attempt to push Russia away from Putin's mission to create order is deemed an existential threat and is promptly removed. Any attempt to distract him from his mission to uphold stability, it seems, is viewed as an attack.

More than anything, Myers points to loyalty as Putin's most valued characteristic, both in himself and in other people. Putin gained power in no small part through his incredible fidelity to Yeltsin and the post-Soviet mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak. Putin is now in the reverse position, creating a state and economic structure that is viewed as oligarchy by the West but, to Putin, might be seen more as a policy of ensuring Russia's security by placing loyal friends in power. They are his friends, yes, but Putin's loyalty is to Russia, and their loyalty is to Putin, creating a syllogism of patriotic servants running the country.

Many of these themes shed light on Putin's recent foray into the area of cyberspace and cyber warfare. …

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