Putin’s People by Catherine Belton Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West by Catherine Belton
Narrator: Dugald Bruce-Lockhart
Published by Macmillan Audio on June 23, 2020
Source: Purchased
Genres: History, Politics
Length: 18 hrs 12 mins
Pages: 639
Format: Audiobook
Purchase at Bookshop.org or Audible
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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?

In Putin’s People, the investigative journalist and former Moscow correspondent Catherine Belton 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. 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.

Putin’s People is a clearly well-researched, possibly slightly biased, history of Putin, the KGB, and Russia from the fall of the Soviet Union to a couple of years ago. This was obviously published before the current war, but you can still see it coming. Honestly, the war is why I picked it up. I don’t read much history or politics or economics, but then something happens and I wish I had more background to draw on.

I am probably not the best audience for this book. There are tons and tons of people, places, companies, very few of which I’m familiar with. It’s a dense book and I won’t remember many of the details, but it’s also well laid out and at times almost reads like a thriller.

The Russia of today isn’t much different from the Russia before 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Not only are the viewpoints, world views, and goals for the most part the same, the same people are actually in charge. The goal still to make Russia a great power, to challenge the West for supremacy.

The book describes Putin’s ascension and the subsequent power grab in the chaotic early years after the USSR break-up. Putin has taken what he learned in his KGB days and applied them to how he rules the country and influences the West. He controls the money, the business, the people.

Though the book is primarily about Putin and how he rose to power and how he wields that power, by necessity a lot of recent Russian history is covered. We’ve got tons of scandals. We learn about Russia and Ukraine, with the 2004 Orange Revolution, the Euromaidan protests of 2013-2014, and the 2014 annexation of Crimea. We learn about business tycoons whose companies are handed to or forcibly taken by the state. People are killed or jailed, while others are given companies and seats on boards.

I listened to the audio book, which might not have been the best choice. It might have been easier to keep track of everyone if I could have flipped back and forth. I also understand the hardback has some photos in the middle. The narrator on the audio did an okay job, but made the whole thing somehow sound like a newscast, which got a little tiring.

About Catherine Belton

Catherine Belton is an investigative correspondent for Reuters. She worked from 2007-2013 as the Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, and in 2016 as the newspaper’s legal correspondent. She has previously reported on Russia for Moscow Times and Business Week. In 2009, she was shortlisted for Business Journalist of the year at the British Press Awards. She lives in London.

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