THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
sighted: by 1996, the private sector and
the major media companies were suf-
ficiently mature to understand what was
at stake in the choice between Yeltsin
and his communist rival. The back-
room bribe was a tawdry own goal that
helped discredit democratization, the
media and big business all in one go.
Having secured Yeltsin another term,
this new elite then tore itself apart in the
“bankers’ war” and associated battles.
As a chronicle of the creative class
of journalists, businessmen, campaign
impressarios and reformers, Ostrovsky’s
title is deceptive: the book is less about
the invention of Russia and more about
the failure of this new elite to invent a
new Russia that embodied and safe-
guarded the values they espoused.
In Ostrovsky’s words, they lacked “the
most important attribute of an elite —a
sense of responsibility for, and historic
consciousness of, their own country.”
The failure to articulate, define
and defend the new Russia left a huge
void for a different cast of political and
intellectual entrepreneurs to fill. These
included nationalists, officers nostalgic
for their fallen superpower and reborn
communists who coalesced around the
n the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the new Rus-
sia this year, a great many books have been written to
chronicle, analyze and attempt to understand the momen-
tous events and leading personalities involved in the dis-
solution of the Soviet Union and subsequent emergence
of a changed Russia and 14 independent nations.
Several publications and think tanks have presented
thoughtful reviews and useful lists of some of those titles.
Among them, “Putin’s Russia” in the
New York Review of
, “Return to Cold War: Russia and the Former Soviet
and the Center on Global Inter-
ests’“Russia: A Reading Guide” stand out.
Benjamin Nathans’ essay, “The Real Power of Putin,” in
theSept. 29 New York Review of Books ,
explores Putin, the
individual, and his role in the evolution of Russia since the
end of the USSR. Recognized as a “conservative patriot,”
as Nathans puts it, Putin appeared to be soberly pursuing
Russia’s national interest at the turn of the 21st century.
“What happened? Why did Putin’s Russia jump the
rails? Why is the talk (not to mention the book titles) in
the West no longer of transition but regression, with a
‘new tsar,’ a ‘new Russian empire,’ and a ‘new cold war’?”
He draws on the insights offered in nine recent titles
on Russia to frame the answers. In the process, we are
reminded of Russia’s long history of authoritarianism,
empire and the importance of ideas in its rich culture.With a focus on “Putin’s Russia,” the May-June issue of Foreign Affairs includes Columbia University Professo
Emeritus Robert Legvold’s brief review of six recent titles
The RedWeb: The Struggle Between Russia’s
Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries
Velvet Revolutions: An Oral History of Czech Society
On Stalin’s Team: The Years of Living Dangerously in
In the same “Recent Books” feature, Angela Stent,
director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East
European Studies at Georgetown University, reviews
Legvold’s own new volume,
Return to ColdWar.
In August, to usher in the new academic year, the Cen-
ter on Global Interests posted“Russia: A Reading Guide.”
In this unique resource, a variety of experts share the
books that shaped their own understanding of Russia and
titles that policymakers should read to better understand
Russian society, politics, culture and foreign policy.
Twelve Russia experts—from former CNN Moscow
correspondent Jill Dougherty and former
New York Times
Moscow correspondent Steven Lee Myers to former
Senior Director for Russia on the U.S. National Security
Council Thomas Graham (a former FSO) and former U.S.
Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul—offer, as CGI puts
it, an eclectic blend of fiction and non-fiction, new and old
works, classic and more obscure.
Anyone in search of just the right reading list to become
informed about Russia and Vladimir Putin will certainly
find these choices to be an excellent start.