• Eva Strnadová

Catherine Belton on Putin's People

How did Vladimir Putin came into power? Belton clarifies the accession of Russian President and the role of his people.

About the Author

Catherine Belton is a former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times. She has previously reported on Russia for Moscow Times and Business Week.

From the Soviet Union to Modern Russia

Recently, poisoned Alexei Navalny, beaten leading opposition blogger Yegor Zhukov or the Russia Report in the UK demonstrates that Russia and its political system is far from democratic. For Peter Frankopan, Belton’s book describes ‘modern Russia in full, horrifying technicolour.’

From financial oligarchy, breach of freedom of speech to the elimination of opponents, Belton answers the following questions: How Putin came to power? How he and his men worked? Belton gradually demonstrates how Vladimir Putin has benefited of KGB methods, contacts and networks throughout his career.

She counters the narrative of Putin’s accession to power and his political career has been carefully curated by himself and his supporters who travelled to the West. While many of the murders, crimes and clientelism have been described before, Belton’s book is valuable for putting them into a perspective.

Furthermore, the evidence supporting Belton’s arguments is rich because she started the work on her book in 2013. Over time, she got access to Russian oligarchs, politicians and to key people who helped them in the West. For instance, during Medvedev’s presidency, journalists gained more access than they have today.

The premise for reporting it was to try to figure out what happened to the security services after the Soviet fall. Catherine Belton

Importantly, Belton focuses on Russia’s Federal Security Services, which have, according to her, not been scrutinised enough by scholars. Its evolution from the Soviet model helps to understand its role in the transformation of healthy entrepreneurs into a kleptocracy.

Belton does not provide a guide on how to engage with today’s Russia. Rather, her investigative work is an immaculate account of Putin’s and his people’s role in Russia’s transformation after 1991. Her work is all the more remarkable because of the lack of archive material which is not transparent and a great part of the material has been destroyed.

Book reviewed: Catherine Belton, Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2020).