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Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin

Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin [Kindle Edition]

Ben Judah

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"'Judah is an intrepid reporter and classy political scientist.' (Luke Harding, The Guardian) 'The best of a recent crop of books on the Russian president, it describes the essential corruption of the system Putin created (supposedly) to clean up the country. It spans the extent of this huge country as well as the decade and a half that Putin has been in power.' (Oliver Bullough, The Telegraph) 'A beautifully written and very lively study of Russia that argues that the political order created by Vladimir Putin is stagnating - undermined by corruption and a failure to modernise economically. Judah's reporting stretches from the Kremlin to Siberia and has a clear moral sense, without being preachy.' (Gideon Rachman, Financial Times) 'Ben Judah, a young freelance writer, paints a more journalistic - and more passionate - picture in Fragile Empire. He shuttles to and fro across Russia's vast terrain, finding criminals, liars, fascists and crooked politicians, as well as the occasional saintly figure.' (The Economist) 'this detailed and impressive account of Putin's years in office' (Ian Critchley, The Sunday Times)"


From Kaliningrad on the Baltic to the Russian Far East, journalist Ben Judah has travelled throughout Russia and the former Soviet republics, conducting extensive interviews with President Vladimir Putin’s friends, foes, and colleagues, government officials, business tycoons, mobsters, and ordinary Russian citizens. Fragile Empire is the fruit of Judah’s thorough research: a probing assessment of Putin’s rise to power and what it has meant for Russia and her people.
Despite a propaganda program intent on maintaining the cliché of stability, Putin’s regime was suddenly confronted in December 2011 by a highly public protest movement that told a different side of the story. Judah argues that Putinism has brought economic growth to Russia but also weaker institutions, and this contradiction leads to instability. The author explores both Putin’s successes and his failed promises, taking into account the impact of a new middle class and a new generation, the Internet, social activism, and globalization on the president’s impending leadership crisis. Can Russia avoid the crisis of Putinism? Judah offers original and up-to-the-minute answers.


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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.0 von 5 Sternen  26 Rezensionen
23 von 23 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen An Excellent Overview of Modern Russia 27. Juli 2013
Von Carl from Chicago - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
I picked up this book based on positive reviews in Bloomberg and elsewhere and was very impressed. I have a reasonably good understanding of Russia based on military history and a decent understanding of the global energy business.

The first thing that comes to my mind is how brave the author must be to go around Russia asking questions about Putin. From my understanding and this book that is a very risky thing to do since the primary purpose of the security apparatus in Russia is to keep Putin in power.

The book follows Putin from the chaos in post-collapse St Petersburg where he worked for a local politician through his election to presidency, the Medvedev years (which were actually the Putin years), and then back into his current stint in charge.

The book is not all negative about Putin, which is what I find most interesting. The oligarchs that took control of the energy and media companies were extremely un popular and Putin brought them to heel. This was in fact popular among much of the population. He also took energy revenues and used them to pay some salaries and pensions and bring some modest amount of stability to the poor. And Moscow was substantially re built with sky scrapers and other elements. He also resolved (for the time being) the situation in Chechnya by allying with the current warlord and this momentarily resolved a horrible active war that was being fought in an embarrasing way for Russia.

It is very interesting to see how close associates of Putin, even those in his Judo club and KGB days, have become billionaires. They have taken control of the energy infrastructure and then a swiss trading function is another source of his supposed vast personal wealth (unproven).

Judah talks to Navalny, the activist against Putin's latest election, and this is insightful because today Navalny is subject to a phantom prosecution designed to deter him from elective office. You can jump between the articles in the book and the latest news and this is very helpful.

There is a lot in this book. It covers an amazing amount of topics from coast to coast, including the border wars with China and the far, Far East. The author attempts nothing less than a comprehensive, border to border analysis of modern Russia.
10 von 10 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen A sobering portrait of modern Russia 16. Januar 2014
Von Paul E. Richardson - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
The subtitle of this book, “How Russia fell in and out of love with Vladimir Putin” is an apt summary. Judah chronicles the rise of Putin from virtual nobody (1991), to lionized tsar (2008), to a putative Tsar Nicholas II or Boris Gudonov (2012). It is a compelling account, based on thousands of interviews with ordinary Russians, and dozens with “influentials” past and present.

Judah shows Putin to be a man who has assumed the guise demanded of him by events and history: a Chekist in the last days of the USSR, a democrat under Sobchak, a loyal servant under Yeltsin, a militant war president riding a popular tide that wanted security and stability above freedom. But, in the process of that last bit, Judah argues, Putin and his coterie built centralizing institutions that eviscerated civil society and the democratic accomplishments of the Yeltsin era. The manipulative interim presidency of Medvedev, followed by the re-re-election of Putin showed that the Vertical of Power had no clothes, that “managed democracy” had only “the formal institutions of democracy... gutted of meaning,” that the Party of Power was in fact the “party of crooks and thieves.”

The vertical of power turned into a vertical of corruption, United Russia turned into a patronage network not a party, and the ‘dictatorship of law’ turned out to be a dictatorship of predatory officials. They left Russia a fragmented and feudalized country in which all corrupt policeman, inspectors and governors had been signed up into Putin’s party.

The mass demonstrations of 2011-12, Judah says, were signs of a discontent that he says is far from limited to the capital. The discontent “is vast,” he says, “but resistance is tiny.” For now, the regime has bought off its natural critics, but a civil society is creating itself online, away from the corrupt and powerless vessels of “managed democracy.” How it will develop is as yet uncertain.

This book is a sobering portrait. It is strongest in describing the type of state Russia has become, how it has come to be driven by the personality and desires of one man. Many, however, may find the prognosis to be overly dismal. In any event, if you are interested in understanding where Russia is and how it got there, this is an exceptional place to start.

[As reviewed in Russian Life magazine.]
10 von 11 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Perceptive and Engrossing (revised review) 20. August 2013
Von jbd - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Judah has done his homework, through hundreds of interviews with Russians from all walks of life. And he is a perceptive observer of people and institutions. In Fragile Empire, he retells recent Russian history from two perspectives: that of the traumatized population, desperate for some stability and national pride after the collapse and shame of the Yeltsin years; and that of the officials, who felt besieged by a series of disasters from the sinking of the Kursk to the terrorist attack on children at Beslan and the westward lurch of Ukraine.

Many of the stories Judah tells are familiar to close Russia watchers, but he reassembles the pieces to paint a convincing picture of Putin's regime as ruled by fear--of loss of power and wealth, of humiliation, of a possible breakup of Russia just like the Soviet Union or, worse, Yugoslavia. He shows that Putin's big moves, including the neutering of the governors, the capture of the press, and the attack on Khodorkovsky, were essentially improvisational and reactionary, stamping out challenges as they arose rather than following some preconceived plan to create an authoritarian regime. Along the way, Judah makes many trenchant comments about how people in power think and how power works.

I'd like to give this book five stars, because I enjoyed it and learned a great deal from it. But the quality of the writing and editing are too uneven. Judah does not seem to understand how to tell a story in the right sequence. He jumps in and out of chronological order in an arbitrary and often jarring way. His seques are often clumsy. He mentions new characters in the story without first introducing them to the reader, and then introduces them pages later. Sentences are often poorly constructed. Word choices are often inapt.

Most of these problems could have been fixed by a first-rate editor. It's unfortunate that Judah didn't have one, because he is obviously a very smart guy with an important story to tell.

Later edit: For whatever it's worth, I've come back and revised my review to five stars because I think the narrative this book has to offer is really unique and worthwhile. This is simply a must-read for Russia watchers. While there were problems with its editing, it's a five-star book, because its lessons will stick with you and color your impressions every time you read about Russia in the newspaper.
7 von 9 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Gripping, informative and beautifully written 6. Juni 2013
Von David Patrikarakos - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I bought this book due to the all the positive attention it's been getting in the press and I was not disappointed. From the first page the book holds the attention and sustains it throughout. A combination of both reportage from a man that has ventured beyond the confines of Moscow to cross the vast expanse that is Russia several times and in depth analysis of the Russian state in all its forms, the book stood out for me on both counts.

I have had an interest in Russia for a while and this book is without doubt the best I have read on the subject of Putin and his rule of Russia. It's a complex subject but Judah manages to make it both easily understandable and thrilling at the same time. My understanding of the subject has been hugely enhanced.
4 von 5 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Very Enjoyable Read 20. Juni 2013
Von Will Wright - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
In the introduction to Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin, author Ben Judah explains:

"To write this book I travelled 30,000 km over five years. I crossed Russia from the Baltic to the Pacific twice, interviewing hundreds of people in places where most Western journalists never go... I have tried to interview people from every walk of life about their country" (4).

And these years of grueling fieldwork certainly pay off for Judah in Fragile Empire, giving the book a truly refreshing depth and range of perspective to accompany its sharp analysis. Overall, Fragile Empire is one of the most enjoyable books that I have read about Putin's Russia, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in Russia today.

For my detailed review, which highlights what I consider to be the book's most valuable insights and shares some of the thoughts that I had in response to Judah's arguments and stories visit the full book review on my blog at
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