By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Steven Lee Myers
Narration by: Rene Ruiz
Vladimir Putin is no Tsar. Steven Lee Myers has written a highly polished and informative biography but fails to convince one that Putin is a Tsar. Putin is more Richard Nixon than Catherine the Great. Putin, like Nixon and Trump, is smart and thin-skinned. Putin, like Nixon and Trump, makes personnel decisions based on loyalty. However, unlike Trump, Putin and Nixon view the world in real-politic terms.
Myers shows that Putin comes from a family of Russian patriots with a grandfather and father that fought in Russian armies in different generations. Each lived during the Stalinist years of Gulags and Stalinist terror but neither rebelled against the power of Russia’s leadership. Myers explains how Putin becomes interested in the KGB at the age of 16 and grooms himself for a life in the secret service. Putin’s KGB-influenced’ career-path is to become an attorney. He learns German and is assigned to East Germany in his first years as a KGB agent.
Putin keeps a low profile but exhibits bravery, independence, and initiative when his country’s leaders are overwhelmed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain.
Myers explains how Putin’s steely disposition grows in East Germany, and later in St. Petersburg, Russia. Putin becomes the “go-to” guy for the Mayor of Leningrad (later reinstated as St. Petersburg). Putin’s relationship to the Mayor of Leningrad, Anatoly A. Sobchak, is founded on loyalty. Sobchak is initially recognized as a representative of new Russia but the power of his position is diminished by the ineptitude of his administration. In spite of Sobchak’s mistakes, Myers shows that Putin stands by him. Loyalty is a characteristic of Putin that is expected of all who work with him. Eventually Sobchak is electorally defeated and Putin is left out of a job.
Russia is unlikely to be ruled by a Tsar again. Its population is better educated; and aware of the value of qualified freedom. This qualified freedom insures relative social stability, and security. Russia is equally unlikely to return to U. S. S. R.’s hegemonic control of independent nations because ethnic nationalism and the desire for freedom are unquenchable thirsts. Forcing the Ukraine or Georgia to return to the Russian block or quelling Chechen resistance is, in the long run, beyond the military strength of Putin or his successors. Reassembly of a form of the U. S. S. R. is only conceivable based on political accommodation based on economic influence and independent federation.
Myers cogently reveals the strengths and weaknesses of modern Russian rule. In a limited sense (limited by presumed lack of corroborated evidence), Myers’ reinforces perceptions noted in William Browder’s book, “Red Notice”. Myers implies Putin is capable of undermining the influence or action of any person in Russia that chooses to challenge his authority.
In spite of great power, Myers shows some chinks in Putin’s armor of invincibility; e.g. Putin’s sly manipulation for re-election, after Medvedev’s only term as President. Putin fails to quell Russian citizen’s desire for qualified freedom.
Myers creates a convincing portrait of a man who is subject to the sins of most who rise to power. Putin believes he has become a god among men. He rationalizes his greed by thinking the fate of Russia’s re-ascendance lies in his hands. Even in the days of Stalin’s terror and governance, relationship to the leader was the sine qua non of wealth and power. Putin carries that tradition. Putin’s friends and associates from the KGB and his associates in St. Petersburg are critical components of Putin’s control of the economy and government.
Putin is no Tsar but he could have been if education had not advanced society; and freedom of expression had not entered the internet age. Just as Watergate exposed the hubris of Nixon, Putin will suffer from the nature of being a flawed human being. Putin, like Trump and Nixon, has no inner moral compass that makes good leaders great leaders.