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02Jul

Putin: His Life and Times review – the collapse that shaped the man who would be tsar

Philip Short’s meticulous new biography forces us to look at Vladimir Putin’s most appalling acts from a Russian perspective

In his speech on the night of the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, which Philip Short describes as “pulsating with anger and resentment” at 30 years of Russian humiliation, Putin seethed: “They deceived us… they duped us like a con artist… the whole so-called western bloc, formed by the United States in its own image is… an empire of lies.” For those who dismiss the speech and the invasion that followed as the words and actions of a man gone mad, dying or out of contact with reality due to Covid isolation, this new biography should be compulsory reading.

As Short observes, however authoritarian and corrupt modern Russia may be, “national leaders invariably reflect the society from which they come, no matter how unpalatable that thought may be to the citizens”. While his people may have been as surprised as the rest of the world at the timing, the invasion hardly came out of the blue and many Russians, not all blinded by propaganda, support it. For as the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, commented a couple of weeks later: “This is not actually, or at least primarily… about Ukraine. It reflects the battle over what the world order will look like. Will it be a world in which the west will lead everyone with impunity and without question?”

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