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on 6 August 2009
Politkovskaya's book is important in the sense as it gives a voice to people that is not heard in other books about contemporary Russia. Especially the chapter "Tanya, Misha, Lena and Rinat - Where are they now?" where she is contacted by people that she used to know in the past, gives a remarkable description of personalities that anyone that gets to know Russian's personally will be able to recognize. As (for the least some of) these people contracted her because she for the first time appears on National television after the Beslan crisis, adds symbolism to the story, as Anna Politkovskaya's way from a nieche newspaper for the Moscow intelligentsia to National televistion arguably also made her visible on the Russian political establishment's radar...

A weakness of this approach is that it is difficult to recognize and appreciate these personality-types without personally knowing enough Russians to see what she is talking about. Unless you know Russians personally it will also be difficult to experience and take in, how many simply will refuse to read, know and take in her story either because it is something they have decided to act as if these things never happened - focusing on this is negative, or simply because they are very emotionally difficult to discuss. This attitude and feelings among ordinary Russians is in my view far more important than the authorities attitudes towards her writing.

I agree with the other reviews that claim her writing is very emotional. This is a problem because it makes me suspicious of her writing, even when what she tells is probably completely true. By being less emotional she would without doubt come through as more trustworthy, that is especially important because we to a large degree only have her side of the story to hold on to. Though considerably more moderate than Litvinenko and Felshtinsky's "Blowing up Russia", I find myself having some of the same mixed emotions about some of the consparicy-like claims that come up in the book, where we only have whether we believe the author or not to hold on to. Though experience have learned me that few seemingly over-the-top fantastic rumors can be ruled out when it comes to Russian politics, I am still laved with mixed emotions.

Her personal approach also leave the basic, structural facts that is important to understand contemporary Russia in the background. Gaidar has used the relevant comparison of Russia in the 90s with the last similar desperate economic situation in Germany in the 30s. About 15 years after the democracy was established in Germany, Hitler came to power under similar economic conditions. Who ever Putin is, he is like a boy-scout in that perspective. Politkovaskaya fails to give the political and economical understanding to put things into perspective. As another review states, you will not find what progresses Russia has made under Putin in this book. It is not that critical though, as long one can get that perspective from other books. Polikovskaya gives an understanding of the people acting under this cicumstances that I have seen no other books on contemporary Russia.

Politkovskaya has written other books and articles on Chechnya, I think Chechnya has got too much coverage in the book, compared to other topics. It might be that she should have chosen a different title, instead of writing relatively less about Chechnya though. It is nothing wrong with writing many books about Chechnya, it is just that the topic "Putin's Russia" is considerably broader than that.

Another review claims you can not find Politkovskayas books in Russia. I can confirm that I have found them in English in ordinary book-stores and Russian friends confirms they have fond them too.

Do read this book. Make sure you fill out the picture with other books on the Putin era and the political and economical development in Post-USSR Russia though.
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Anna Politkovskaya hates Akaky Putin. Really hates him. She says so in one of the final chapters, speaking as a Muscovite who has no desire to relive the Soviet union of the 70s and 80s.

This is a brave and shocking book. It is basically several chapters listing the ills of Russia under Putin. It is worth noting at this point that a lot of the troubles started under Yeltsin but Putin's inertia or even condoning of the situation has exacerbated the problems greatly.

It starts with the Russian army, committing horrific crimes in Chechnya in the name of counter-terrorism. One chapter deals with the rape and murder of a village girl by a drunken colonel. What makes this story worthy of note is not the crimes, but the fact that the colonel was actually punished for it. It takes a brave and determined prosecutor in Russia to make military crimes stick.

Another chapter deals with individuals and how they fared under the new regime. Those who adapted and learnt how to play the system (i.e. bribe) prospered. A talented scientist who found the state safety net taken away foundered and inevitably turned to drink. A nuclear submarine commander goes unpaid for months on end feeding his family on meager rations. His whole crew walk to work with no money for petrol in the navy town of Kamchatka.

The most outrageous chapter was entitled "How to Misappropriate Property with the Connivance of government". We are not talking paper clips here. We are talking oil and utility companies, taken at will by the mafia with strong-arm tactics and forged documents with genuine shareholders held back at roadblocks by the police in the pay of the oligarchs. Think the Kray twins walking into Canary Wharf and taking control of BP with the help of the Met Police and you're getting half of the picture.

This is not a book about Putin. We do not learn much about him apart from the fact he is ex-KGB and his stance reflects that. Whereas not seen to encourage it, in his country war crimes, corruption and poverty go unchecked. State assets have been divided up amongst the few as the rich get richer. The country outside Moscow seems so be of little interest and the have-nots in the capital and beyond have no voice and no fight in them to voice their anger at their country's betrayal. They know their voices will not be heard.

This is not a cohesive and definitive book on the new Russia or Putin, and so is not a fluent read but what Politkovskaya says has to be taken notice of.

Postscript - On October 7, 2006, Politkovskaya was found shot dead in the elevator of her apartment block in central Moscow
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VINE VOICEon 1 February 2012
This was a very depressing read. The author was a famous Russian journalist who was assassinated two years after writing this book. She is extremely cynical about Putin's style of rule, and the book is written in a rather unstructured and slightly shrill tone, that is a little reminiscent of Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago. While the horrors catalogued in this book are not as widespread and appalling as what happened under Stalin, they strike home with great force as they are very recent and took place while Russia was nominally a democracy and accepted, broadly speaking, as more of an intentional partner than was the case under Stalin, except during the war. The corruption she describes in the armed forces, police and judiciary; the treatment of experienced professionals and new military recruits alike; the barbaric and racist treatment meted out to all Chechens by Russian officials and soldiers on the morally perverse notion that the whole of their nation must be terrorist due to the actions of a few; the use of poison gas killing nearly 200 of the hostages during the Nord Ost theatre siege; all of these combine to leave a very nasty taste in the mouth. Putin has destroyed Russia's post-communist hope, flickering and inconsistent under Yeltsin, but definitely present, through his cynical and callous disregard for many basic human values, and most Russian citizens appear not to care. For the sake of the future of that great nation, let there be some grounds for some optimism and hope for the development of a pluralist and less cynical society in the years ahead.
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on 29 September 2009
She was clearly a terrific writer and a passionate advocate of Human rights having worked, and ultimately paid with her life to highlight the plight of Chechnya in the 90's.
Where her book falls down is on a weakness of analysis. We learn little about Putin, nor are the positive changes he has achieved for Russia ever juxtaposed against the darker elements. There are comments about Chechnya being mentioned too much in this book. This is not the case. To understand Putin power and Putins Russia, Chechnya is central.
An obscure apparatchik, Putin emerged from the Shadows of the KGB, and embarked on the Second Chechen War gaining popular appeal through his tough handling of Chechnya. Through his divisive policies he succeeded where no previous Russian ruler or Ideology had, in dividing Chechens, who united in a National War in the 90's, were thrust into a Second War that effectively degenerated into Civilo-Religious War, and continues today. Odious as it may be, Putin stabilised Russia through a heavy subjugation of Chechnya, and to be impartial, although brutal and ruthless, he has never matched Yermolov for outright barbarity. This side of Putins realpolitik and his real political choices for that post Soviet decade are never explored fairly in this book. Russia is easily demonised, and its real Geopolitical concerns readily overlooked.
We get snap shots of a sordid Russia. Soldiers mothers mistreated, On the run Soldiers and 'dedovschina' are described in some gruesome detail. This paints a very bleak picture of Russia, but it is not the Russia of a far bleaker recent history and i fear that in the emotional involvement the writer has/had, the greater historical perspective was lost. Russia under Putin is ugly, but nothing on the Scale of Stalins Russia.
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The brave Anna Politkovskaya revealed the reality of Russia today in this sad, sometimes horrifying book. After a brief window period of freedom under Yeltsin, Russia has rapidly become a vast swamp of corruption, oppression and deception under Putin. Anna paid with her life for her courageous opposition to the ruling class.

Politkovskaya tells of the trouble and suffering of ordinary people who are humiliated and exploited by the criminal nomenklatura. For example Nina Levurda, who in trying to establish the truth about her son's death in the Chechen War, became a victim of this system that when not cruel, is completely indifferent to the individual. This and other cases are discussed in the chapter My Country's Army And Its Mothers.

In Russia, people imitate the man at the top, thus Putin is the one who shapes Russian society. It is mainly he who is to blame for the brutality and extremism prevalent in the army and the state apparatus. There are sections dealing with war criminals, brutality against privates in the military, government complicity in crime, the corruption in the judiciary, the struggle to survive in places like Kamchatka, and racism against people with a non-Slavic appearance.

Russia's stability is of a monstrous type, where power means everything, few people hold the law in any regard, bribes keep business and the state running, and a free press has almost disappeared. Putin's bureaucrats have taken corruption to new records, unheard of even under Yeltsin or the Communists. As a lieutenant-colonel who never made it to the rank of colonel, he has the mentality of a Soviet secret policeman. The Yukos affair and the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky demonstrate what a vindictive little man Putin is and how he is steering the country towards fascism.

This process of crushing dissent and stifling freedom has been escalating throughout Putin's first presidential term and shows no sign of abating during the second. The Western press has mostly not showed great interest in this slide to oppression in Russia. It is hard not to write Russia off when confronted by the experiences in this book: the deliberate cruelties, the cold indifference and the manipulation of the media. Mercifully there are still people like Lev Ponomarev who are brave enough to speak out. This disturbing book concludes with explanatory notes containing references.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 December 2014
This book speaks with authority on a subject that won't surprise many people.

On the face of it when Putin came to power it was a breath of fresh air on the international scene. A liberal thinker, willing to open up the country. We now know that ulterior motives abounded and this is brought out extremely well in what is a dark and difficult read.

The early chapters about dissertion and the army illustrate just how cheap human lives are in the Putin regime and how inhuman the Russian system still is.

It could be argued that this book is very one-sided and written by a journalist who is anti her subject from the start. It cannot be denied, however, that Russian Society is still one of terror and Politkovskaya does us a favour by showing it in all its bleakness.
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on 24 April 2015
GRIM, of course, and more important than ever. Everyone inside and outside Russia - what should be a magnificent country - ought to read this, out of respect for the murdered author and because of what she reveals.
Yes, she lets her anger out, and why not? But she tells the stories and they ought to be heard. And everyone ought to do something about them. I love Russia, have been twice and want to go many more times. But I know there is also something wrong with it, and this book makes clear what that is. RIP Anna, you did something very worthwhile. To countries outside Russia, their leaders know what is in this book, and look the other way. They also ought to do something about it.
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on 4 March 2015
A dark and tragic series of revelations here. Politkovskaya takes you into the minds and lives of the oppressed, deceived and disenfranchised in modern day Russia with some truly terrifying and compelling stories. You come away from this with a sense of disbelief and sympathy for what so many over there have and still endure today. Activism and journalism have suffered a great loss for the brave author who along with others paid with her life for daring to be courageous and bold enough to speak up against the bullies and cowards in the name of justice and in support of the suffering, silent majority.
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on 19 October 2004
Anna Politkovskaya is a hero for all she has done to carry the torch of humanity and civil rights in present day Russia. She has seen the dark under-belly of Putin's Russia through her terrifying experiences in war-torn Chechnya, as a mediator in the Nord Ost siege and lately by being poisoning at the hands of the Russian Security Services whilst en route to Beslan.
Her writing is superbly erudite as one would expect of someone who has been at the cutting edge of Russian journalism through the cataclysmic collapse of the USSR and the tumultuous ninties. She paints a bleak, but not hopeless, picture of how Putin has exploited the war on terror to roll back Russian democracy, freedom of speech and fundamental civil rights. Russia is being systematically regressed into a quasi-dictatorship and so a new menace is rising on the door step of Europe.
Putin is devestatingly deconstructed to reveal a KGB apparachik whose outlook on the world is shaped through the prism of a repressive, but deeply manipulative, secret police mindset.
This is book is a call to all decent and freedom loving people to look beyond the Russia of popular cariciature and see the true state of a long suffering and manipulated people.
Politkovskaya's is a rare voice in present day Russia and she deserves to be heard.
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on 1 July 2014
Easy to read, it analysis the main features of Russian Federation. Anna describes how politics is carried on publicly, how truly is and how should be.
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