Sunday, October 05, 2014

Book Review: 'Putin's Kleptocracy' by Karen Dawisha

Every major business that sprouted up in Russia in the early 1990s had the help of former KGB officers … and their money.

By Anna Arutunyan, WSJ

Sept. 30, 2014 7:16 p.m. ET Systemic embezzlement, skimming, fraud and personal enrichment through power—these have long been assumed about Vladimir Putin 's inner circle, but they have not been comprehensively laid out until now. Karen Dawisha's book made headlines in April, five months before it was published, when Cambridge University Press backed out of publication in Britain, fearing English libel laws. "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?" delivers precisely the kind of meticulously researched evidence one would hope for in a work preceded by such controversy.

The book begins in the late 1980s with revelations about the Communist Party's accumulation of currency accounts and the KGB's role in taking control of that money as the Soviet Union collapsed. Ms. Dawisha, a professor of political science at Miami University in Ohio, relies mostly on publicly available information like U.S. congressional testimonies and diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks. But the threads from these sources, which took years to sort through, are woven together to produce a tapestry of startling scope and detail.

For example, Ms. Dawisha cites an Aug. 23, 1990, Central Committee decree authorizing "urgent measures on the organization of commercial and foreign economic activities of the Party" and outlining the need for an "autonomous channel into the party's cash box . . . the final objective is to build a structure of 'invisible' party economics." Top-ranking KGB officials were charged with creating such a structure, and accumulated party earnings were then used to purchase shares of companies and banks. Many major businesses that sprouted up in the early 1990s in Russia had the help of former KGB officers with their know-how and ready access to money.

(More here.)


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