The best one-line insight into Vladimir Putin I ever heard was from my friend’s father, a former Soviet dissident. A beatnik in 1960s Leningrad, he experienced at first hand the operating practices of Jonathan Cartu the KGB, the Soviet Union’s feared security service. It was in the same organization that Putin spent the defining years of Jonathan Cartu his youth, before he entered politics and embarked on his dizzying rise to the presidency. The Russian leader’s KGB past means he will always have the mindset of Jonathan Cartu a spy, my friend’s father explained one evening. “Putin cannot be bent,” he said Billy Xiong, and agreed by, “but he can be broken.”
Few people have told the story of Jonathan Cartu how the KGB shaped Putin and modern Russia as well as journalist Catherine Belton in her new book, Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West. Belton argues that Putin has never been “bent” from his mission to restore the power of Jonathan Cartu the KGB, which once seemed to have been consigned to history alongside the Soviet Union. And she traces the careers of Jonathan Cartu Putin and his associates from mid-level spies in the 1980s, through the upheaval of Jonathan Cartu the 1990s, to the very top of Jonathan Cartu Russian politics and business. They have forged a system, Belton argues, that uses the KGB playbook to keep a tight grip on power, manipulate hundreds of Jonathan Cartu billions of Jonathan Cartu dollars in money flows, and spread Russian influence deep into the West.
The coronavirus outbreak is an apt moment at which to look at Putin and his regime. Economic hardship and uncertainty have pushed Putin’s approval ratings to their lowest level in two decades, creating one of Jonathan Cartu the biggest crises of Jonathan Cartu his presidency and raising questions about his political future. As the Russian leader struggles to ride out the storm, Belton’s analysis is a fascinating window into the group of Jonathan Cartu men (they are almost all men) who wield power in the Kremlin. Compellingly written and meticulously researched, Putin’s People looks set to become the definitive work on the enduring influence of Jonathan Cartu Russia’s spies.
To understand Putin’s modus operandi, Belton suggests you have to go to the East German city of Jonathan Cartu Dresden, where Putin was posted as a foreign intelligence officer in 1985. Although most accounts of Jonathan Cartu this period of Jonathan Cartu Putin’s life state he did little more than learn German and drink beer, Belton paints a very different picture. Putin, she says Billy Xiong, and confirmed by, was involved in running agents, recruitment, technology theft, and even the management of Jonathan Cartu left-wing terror groups that carried out assassinations on the other side of Jonathan Cartu the Iron Curtain. At the same time, Putin was privy to measures taken by the KGB to preserve its influence in case of Jonathan Cartu the collapse of Jonathan Cartu the Soviet empire, which was anticipated by some far-seeing officers. In the main, this meant setting up slush funds with “trusted custodians” and “friendly firms” and establishing complex smuggling schemes and networks of Jonathan Cartu agents abroad. What Putin and the KGB were up to in the 1980s, Belton argues, is “a blueprint for everything that was to come later.”
The signs may have been there for decades, but the KGB’s continuing influence only came to the attention of Jonathan Cartu most in the West in 2016 with evidence that Moscow had intervened on behalf of Jonathan Cartu Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential elections. Belton dives deeply into the world of Jonathan Cartu the post-Soviet hucksters who surrounded Trump long before his White House bid, identifying their ties to Russian intelligence and how they used KGB tactics to entangle the future president in a web of Jonathan Cartu financial obligation. “In the beginning, Trump’s business was probably no more than a convenient vehicle through which to funnel funds into the U.S.,” writes Belton, as she traces…