Michael Petrou (Author of Renegades)
Through his various trop through the world, Petrou explains how Sirians are not blood thirsty criminal or how Afghans are nice and peace loving. A worthy read to anyone curious about what we don't get to hear about enough. Kenneth rated it liked it Jul 04, Lesley-Ann rated it liked it Feb 10, Gerry rated it liked it Dec 07, Dundurn Press rated it it was amazing Sep 11, Roxanne rated it really liked it Jan 26, BC rated it liked it Oct 30, Ljonz rated it really liked it Feb 09, Tim Kraan rated it it was ok Apr 06, Arash Azizi rated it liked it Sep 01, When ever a journalist writes about his or her travels its always a good read and this is no exception and i am not being biased because i read the newspaper he use to write for in TTC subway but it is actually a very enjoyable book.
Its masterfully written without holding much back , it will take you to some of the places you'll never be able to go because not much has changed and in some cases its worse than before. Rodney Ulyate marked it as to-read Oct 22, Russell marked it as to-read Oct 29, Shane marked it as to-read Dec 24, Carolyn added it Feb 04, Colleen added it Feb 16, Marc marked it as to-read Feb 21, Nikki marked it as to-read Nov 22, Kate marked it as to-read Nov 27, Ryan marked it as to-read Nov 27, Amar Baines marked it as to-read Dec 02, Liz marked it as to-read Mar 11, Catgirl in Perth marked it as to-read Mar 12, Jonathan marked it as to-read Mar 13, Lovelle marked it as to-read Aug 20, Thomas Goett is currently reading it Aug 24, Liza marked it as to-read Oct 02, Margot Mccann is currently reading it Nov 10, Andrea marked it as to-read Nov 12, Petersburg briefly known as Petrograd was renamed Leningrad.
Germans besieged the city for almost days during the Second World War. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died, survivors in some cases reduced to cannibalism. Adolf Hitler would have refused surrender were it offered. He wanted the city destroyed. It survived, battered and damaged, like its residents.
After the war, on broad avenues such as Nevsky Prospekt, stately multi-storey apartments that had once housed the czarist bourgeoisie were overstuffed with new arrivals from the countryside. Dingy bars medicated war veterans. Street urchins, orphaned by war, ran everywhere. The war left its mark on Putin. Born in , his slight frame and small stature are common to children of women malnourished during the siege. His mother, Maria, almost starved then. At least one of her sons had died shortly after birth a decade earlier; another fell to diphtheria during the siege.
When Putin was born, Maria was over 40 years old and he was her only child. His father, Vladimir, was a factory foreman.
During the Second World War he fought in an NKVD secret service unit that engaged in perilous sabotage missions behind German lines and was badly wounded. It seems he was emotionally distant toward his son. He was a silent man. Gurevich told Judah that she would often check on Putin. She once grabbed him in the courtyard of the apartment block where he lived. Gurevich remembers the apartment building where Putin was raised as a horrendous, freezing place, full of rats, with no hot water, dangerous gaps in the stairs, and a filthy shared toilet on one of the landings.
It still stands today, painted in a dull yellow pastel that is peeling and chipped here and there. A satellite dish protrudes from one of the walls. A short walk away is the restored grandeur of Nevsky Prospekt, but Baskov Lane is dull and quiet. There is no commemorative plaque.
Putin has said his fascination with the KGB began with the ubiquitous espionage novels of his youth. He also consumed popular Cold War-era movies depicting the daring acts of spies. This led him to volunteer for the secret service when he was in the ninth grade.
He was turned away with a suggestion to study law. Eventually, though, Putin did make it into the KGB. His instructors decided he had limited potential. He was closed off and unsocial—good enough to send abroad, but not anywhere really exciting like London or Washington. He was assigned to intelligence gathering and tried to draft future undercover agents, with little success. The Dresden post became less dull in Putin, though likely not the most senior officer present, confronted the crowd outside.
He told them the building belonged to the Soviets and armed men would defend it. Putin called a local military unit and was told: And that it had a terminal disease without a cure—a paralysis of power. Other countries of the Warsaw Pact broke free. Putin once called the end of the Soviet Union the greatest disaster of the 20th century.
It is a widely repeated quote, but probably misunderstood. Putin did not miss Stalin, terror, the prospect of nuclear war, or even outright dictatorship. He no doubt lamented the loss of Russian power on the world stage, and would work to restore it. But the Soviet collapse also affected Putin, and millions like him, on a deeply personal level. Putin had gone to Germany as one of those glorified characters he once read about in spy novels.
His posting in Dresden was a minor one. He returned, aged 37, to a country where people openly scorned what he had dedicated his life to doing. It was an embittering experience. Putin, as president, has rehabilitated the foot soldiers of the U. Putin has a brain.
Putin's Death Grip
Putin has only been able to exploit nostalgia for the order and purpose of the Soviet era because what followed for Russians in the s was such a disaster. The decade saw steep economic and political decline. Russia was no longer feared. Its citizens lost their life savings. State businesses collapsed and oligarchs got rich on the remains. The once mighty Russian army got slapped around and sent home by a bunch of Muslim bandits in Chechnya. Then I was laid off. We lived off our land. We grew everything ourselves—potatoes, mostly.
We kept some pigs. Now we can just buy food in stores. The Poles were newly free of a foreign occupier. They had a sense of unity and purpose. They had failed themselves. Putin moved back to Leningrad. Murder rates shot up. An oil executive was killed with a rocket-propelled grenade. Mafioso sat on city council. The rest of Russia was much the same. Everyone paid protection money to someone. Putin, who still worked for the KGB, took a job at Leningrad State University as assistant chancellor for foreign relations.
He was there less than three months and then, in the spring of , left to join the staff of Anatoly Sobchak, an already well-known and avowedly democratic politician on city council. How he began working with Sobchak is disputed. Sobchak claimed he bumped into Putin in the halls of the university. Putin said he went to see Sobchak after a lecture. Russian author Masha Gessen suggests Putin was steered toward Sobchak by the KGB, which wanted someone close to a rising political star. The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Putin claimed that after much personal anguish, he wrote his resignation letter in , while working for Sobchak, after another city councillor tried to blackmail Putin by exposing him as a KGB officer.
This letter was supposedly lost. Putin continued to work for Sobchak, who became St. He also moved into politics—briefly heading the St. After Sobchak lost the St. Petersburg mayoral election in , Putin moved to Moscow and took a job as deputy head of the presidential property management department. These connections opened doors for Putin in the Kremlin.
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Yeltsin made him prime minister in August Following an invasion by Chechen militants of the neighbouring Russian republic of Dagestan, Russia sent troops back into Chechnya. His resolve and earthy prose were popular, especially given a series of deadly apartment bombings in Russian cities that September, blamed on Chechens. He won the presidency on the first round of voting three months later. If someone went to St. Businessmen had to hire protection. Businesses started to grow. Schools and kindergartens got fixed up. Countless holes from smouldering cigarette ash make the tablecloths look like they have been blasted with shotgun pellets.
But business is steady. The hotel hosts everything from motocross competitions to touring strip shows. A few dozen patrons fill the dining hall on a Thursday night, drinking beer and vodka for prices that are a fraction of what they would be in Moscow.
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Karpushenko takes me on a daytime tour through Okulovka and the surrounding countryside. He is cheerful and upbeat. A sludge pit where runoff from local industry destroyed a swath of woodland is still black and a little smelly, but the forest is reclaiming it. A river that rages through town has potential to bring in whitewater enthusiasts.
Scores of brightly coloured kayaks stacked at a riverside park await customers and warmer weather. The roads, however, are bone-jarringly awful. Karpushenko blames the regional government. Beside one is a deserted construction site. The building was supposed to be a sporting complex, but six years after work on it began the only thing completed is its foundation.
He points toward some nearby hills. A local politician built his dacha there, he says, on what used to be communal grazing land. The old one, where Karpushenko was born, looks like an abandoned country inn—wooden walls and broken panes of glass. The new one is white brick and several storeys high.
It is decorated with a banner promoting the political party led by Vladimir Putin: When Putin first addressed the nation as acting president in , he praised Yeltsin for being a democratic reformer and promised: And yet in the early days of his first presidency there were many who might have believed him. To outside eyes, it helped that he seemed especially keen to bring Russia closer to the West. Putin lost interest when told that Russia would have to apply like any other nation, but Putin continued his push for closer co-operation.
A large man with a walrus moustache, Gudkov was recently kicked out of the Duma, where he was a member of the nominally oppositional A Just Russia party. Officially this was because he allegedly violated parliamentary financial rules; most people believe he was punished for criticizing Putin. It is easy to find Russians today opposed to Putin—including the most liberal street demonstrators in Moscow—who once believed Putin really was a democratic reformer. A freethinking dissident during the Soviet era, Pavlovsky was never an obvious candidate to guide Putin, a consummate conformist, to political power.
But Pavlovsky was a Kremlin insider since Yeltsin picked Putin as his successor, and advised Putin for more than a decade, until With his short-cropped white hair, square-framed glasses, and a droll, unruffled expression, Pavlovsky looks the part of a backroom political operative. Putin was his project. In some sense it was bound by an informal method of interference. In we all wanted a more harsh government, a more autocratic method. There was consensus among the left and right. We wanted more harsh methods, more discipline, less freedom for the oligarchs.
Managed, of course, is a soft euphemism for controlled or restricted. His hostility toward the West appears to come from a deeper place within him than does a desire for rapprochement with it. And so they reason that this threat should be removed. Terrorism, of course, is just an instrument to achieve those aims.
His Soviet education taught him to distrust the West, but that feels like an unsatisfactory explanation. He also changed the way Duma deputies were elected. Previously, voters in constituencies directly elected half the deputies, while the rest were elected from party lists. Now all deputies would come from party lists, and the vote percentage a party needed to earn to enter the Duma increased from five to seven per cent. Neither of these measures could conceivably have prevented the Beslan tragedy. Cancelling gubernatorial elections would prevent potential political rivals developing in the regions.
Putin had already taken steps to neutralize the Duma—and a potential rival who sought to control it. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, owner of the Yukos oil company, had been funding opposition parties that would be contesting the Duma elections. Worse, during a televised meeting with Putin, Khodorkovsky alleged corruption in state-owned oil companies. Putin calmly reminded Khodorkovsky that Yukos had tax problems of its own. Khodorkovsky was arrested within a year, charged with fraud, and sentenced to eight years in prison. While sitting in a Siberian prison, Khodorkovsky was found guilty of further charges, and his sentence extended.
This would quickly change with events, not in Russia but Ukraine. But Georgia, though once part of the Soviet Union, is manifestly a non-Russian country, and a pipsqueak one besides. And now, in late , Putin watched in horror as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators filled the centre of Kyiv to protest the results of a presidential election they believed had been rigged in favour of the establishment candidate, prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, firmly backed by Russia.
He also feared such a clear demonstration of people power and the possibility that it might spread. Exactly how far the Kremlin went to ensure the results it wanted in Ukraine is still contested. Yushchenko was poisoned during the campaign. His face became jaundiced and horribly pockmarked, which gave him a macabre yet saintly appearance when addressing crowds in Kyiv. Who might have been responsible has never been established.
Putin's last stand
Putin sent his close adviser, Gleb Pavlovsky, to Kyiv to work with the Yanukovych campaign and liaise between it and Moscow. Russian efforts to manage Ukrainian politics failed. A recall vote was forced. Pavlovsky found himself stranded in hostile territory, staying at a hotel in the centre of town surrounded by a sea of revolutionaries cloaked in the orange colour they had adopted as their own.
And so the Kremlin operative bought an orange scarf from a shop in his hotel lobby, wrapped it around his face, and slipped away. Today, Pavlovsky smiles at the memory as he sits in a sunlit office full of knick-knacks and a handmade knitted doll that looks just like him—a gift from his Kremlin days. He says he felt like Alexander Kerensky, prime minister of the short-lived Russian provisional government of , who once fled from the Bolsheviks disguised as a nurse. Putin was not amused by events in Ukraine, and he took steps to ensure nothing of the sort would happen in Moscow. Members attended patriotic youth camps, staged pro-Putin rallies, and picketed foreign embassies they considered hostile to Russia.
One of its founders told Angus Roxburgh, a Putin biographer who worked as a Kremlin media consultant between and , that members had to live within a hour drive of Moscow, so they could take a night bus to the capital and occupy Red Square in the morning. Challenging the Kremlin became increasingly dangerous. Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist critical of the Russian military in Chechnya, who had accused Russian security services of involvement in the apartment bombings blamed on Chechens, was murdered in No one has been convicted of the crime.
Other journalists were beaten or murdered, with subsequent investigations typically lax and fruitless. The case generated international outrage, but not in Russia. His second presidential term expired in Maria Lipman says he could have amended the constitution to run for a third consecutive term and few would have objected. Instead, Putin stepped down as required by law and threw his support for the presidency behind Medvedev, then his first deputy prime minister and a former colleague from St.
Medvedev won handily, and appointed Putin his prime minister. The new president cast himself as a modernizer. While Putin liked to be photographed riding horseback or posing with a tranquilized tiger, Medvedev toured Silicon Valley and tried to create a similar high-tech hub in Russia. It remained corrupt, poorly run, and cruelly intolerant of criticism or exposure. The fate of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who uncovered a multi-million-dollar tax fraud allegedly carried out by Russian officials, is emblematic. He was arrested on charges of colluding in tax evasion, abused, denied medical treatment, and left to die in prison.
Russia then tried him posthumously. He was convicted of tax evasion this month, more than three years after his death. It may not be fully democratic, but its citizens are not powerless. One also gets the impression he wants it. He puts a lot of effort into cultivating his image. The event oozed virility and strength. Even better, the Russian competitor, sporting a large crucifix, beat his American opponent. But when Putin took the microphone to congratulate him, something unprecedented happened.
The event was carried live on Russian television. Subsequent Russian news footage edited out the sound of booing. But the damage to Putin was done. Amateur video went viral on the Internet. When compliant newspapers later claimed the crowd was booing the American fighter, Jeff Monson, Russians flooded his Facebook page with messages of support. It followed an announcement by Medvedev weeks earlier that Putin would run for president in the upcoming election and, if elected, would make Medvedev prime minster. If Putin had left politics then, Pavlovsky says, his time in office would be remembered as a bright spot in history.
Pavlovsky publicly said Medvedev should have been allowed to contest the presidential election. That month the largest street demonstrations since the fall of the Soviet Union hit Russia. Tens of thousands of anti-Putin protesters marched in Moscow, with smaller demonstrations in other cities. One man who took part was recently sentenced to 4? Others have been jailed for more than a year waiting for trials that just got under way this spring.
Laws were passed that set boundaries on public demonstrations and imposed harsh penalties for violations. The Kremlin also staged counter-rallies, with thousands of Putin supporters bused to Moscow to show their love and patriotism.
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In the midst of these duelling demonstrations, the presidential election was held. That night he took the stage outside Red Square and spoke to a crowd of supporters—among them many young strong-looking men waving pro-Putin banners distributed by the supposedly apolitical civil service. This was a very important test for all of us, for all our people. We have shown that nobody can impose anything on us—no one and nothing!
It was an illuminating speech that said much about how Putin would govern Russia and what he believed he must do to keep power. Those opposed to him were traitors, stooges, or paid pawns of the West. Putin had once believed he could gather all of Russia behind him—or at least his rhetoric claimed as much. By the time he ran for his third presidential term, his strategy had changed. Putin had turned politics into a culture war. Andrei Postnikov and his friend Gregor sit at a casual restaurant table in Zhukovsky, a small city about 40 km southeast of Moscow.