Putting the Boot in Putin
Saturday, May 2, 2015 at 03:32PM
Zina Rohan

I have just read Karen Dawisha's book 'Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?' To get hold of it I had to ask a friend who was in the USA to buy it for me because it has not been, and may not be, published in the UK. And why? Because my country is known to be the defamation capital of the world.  Lawyers of course love this, as do those who win, to such an extent that our publishing industry has taken fright, and so far no one in the UK has dared bring this book out.

Wealthy Russians, of whom Putin is undoubtedly very much one, love London for its libel courts - see Abramovich vs Berezovsky, and many others. All a plaintiff needs to prove is that statements made/broadcast/printed would result in financial loss or loss of reputation. The defendant needs to prove that what was said was fair comment, true and in the public interest.

Now where this book is concerned, Karen Dawisha seems to have done her stuff. Her research has been meticulous - there are many footnotes quoting interviews, blogs, articles, other books, secret recordings...But also here and there, unfortunately, those awkward phrases like 'X was said to be' or 'widely supposed to have done' and so on. Not many, but possibly enough to make a barrister plan a long summer holiday. There is also the problem that Putin, and his henchpersons aren't especially concerned with the truth. And their pockets are very deep.

The fundamental argument Dawisha makes is that from his earliest days in St Petersburg as Mayor Sobchak's right hand man, Putin was mixing contacts with organised crime, diverted city money and a band of cronies who would accompany him later to Moscow and the top posts in government. And once there he would proceed as before but on a much larger scale, hand in glove with the FSB who were to be the ultimate money-launderers, just as the KGB had been before them.

At the Public Inquiry into the death of former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, the academic Robert Service (adviser to the Inquiry on all things Russian) cited Putin's Kleptocracy and its author as being on the anti-Putin end of the scale. (He put himself somewhere in the middle - no admiration for the President but not quite as excoriating as Dawisha is.) At the same time he acknowledged that she had surely done her research. 

I found it gripping even though at times I felt the author was going further than she needed to in pursuit of her quarry. She'd caught him already.

 (By the way If you have difficulty with Russian names, don't read it: they come so thick and fast that anyone who struggles with, say, the characters in War and Peace will be plunged into existential gloom. )


Article originally appeared on Zina Rohan (http://zinarohan.squarespace.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.