Mr Putin, Operative in the Kremlin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy

Why this book:  Selected by my Navy SEAL reading group because one of our members had a connection to Fiona Hill and she agreed to join us on zoom to discuss the book.

Summary in 3 Sentences. The book is part biography of Putin as well as a look at how he got to the top of the Russian government, and the patterns of his behaviour and decisions. Much of what we learn abou this childhood and young adulthood is from his own accounts and a few published accounts of others, showing him to be shrewd in developing connections and influence, and a strategic thinker not only in his personal professional career, but also for Russia. The book concludes with the final chapters addressing his distrust of the West, esp America and the EU, and his relentless effort to strengthen Russia’s influence in the former Soviet states to counterbalance the power of the US and EU.Though the book was published before Russia invaded Ukraine, it concludes with a description of how his goal of bringing Ukraine back under the Russian sphere of influence is an obsession,  and that when he commits to a goal, he will stop at nothing, will fight dirty and do whatever it takes to win.

My Impressions: I listened to the book and in fact skpped a few of the chapters in the middle in order to finish it before our scheduled meeting with Ms Hill, which unfortunately I missed, since I was on a bike trip in Alaska when it took place.  I found it enlightening and disturbing – enlightening, about the cultural background in Russia that Putin grew up in and which shaped him as a Russian leader, and his country to where it is today.  Disturbing, in that it reflects a paranoia and sense of persecution from the West that Putin and his supporters feel, and which is a key component in our current tensions with Russia.  Though the book was written before Russia invaded Ukraine, it is very instructive as to the origins of that war, and of Putin’s mindset and goals.  

The first part of the book is Putin’s biography – his childhood, his various positions in the KGB, and events which the authors believe most shaped his thinking.  Then how he navigated and his lessons learned in the aftermath of the break up of the Soviet Union.  A lot is not known about him because Putin has controlled the narrative on his life, and in his early years, he was very much the quiet gray man – not making waves, not standing out, but cultivating his network and his future. After he came to power in the late 1990s and early 2000s, people knew that he had the means and the will to exact revenge against those who might undermine his image or his own narrative.  The authors apparently did exhaustive research to find what they could, and made the assumptions that made the most sense, and it seemed to me that they tell the story of his rise to power as best they could.

That story also informs the reader about their system, the political and economic chaos and disarray of the 1990’s after Glasnost and Perestroika, and how Putin’s promise of stability so resonated with the political establishment and the Russian people. The book also provides interesting background on his mistrust of and resentment against the EU for what he perceives as almost an economic conspiracy against Russia, and what he perceived as an effort to keep them weak and vulnerable after the wall came down.  Also we learn of his perception that the West in general and the EU and NATO in particular are conspiring to undermine Russia’s relationship with it’s former client states like Georgia and Chechnya, thus explaining his brutal crackdowns – noting that the West made threats about what they would do if he invaded those countries which were never carried out – thus emboldening him in his long term goal to bring Ukraine back into the Russian orbit. 

The book concludes in the final chapters – after chapter 12 – with a  look at Putin’s relationship to the US and NATO and his ambition to bring Ukraine back into the Russian sphere.  The authors laid out the steps leading up to and following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, of actions they’d taken in Georgia without a strong reaction from the West.  And the authors noted that one thing they can promise about Putin – he will stop at nothing to get what he wants – lie, cheat, steal – he has subordinated all values to: 1. his intent to stay in power, and 2. his intent to recreate Russia as a major world power.  This is ominous, because as of this writing, Russia and Putin are becoming increasingly desperte in Ukraine, and Putin is threatening dramatic measures to achieve his goals, or at least to deny the West their objective of keeping Ukraine out of Russian hands.  Those who know him are warning that we should take his threats seriously.

Ukraine has become Putin’s war, but he’s busy making it Russia’s war to assert itself in what Putin and many Russian’s believe to be strictly their sphere of influence.  The West was not wise in provoking him by advocating Ukrainian membership in NATO or membership in the EU – it just fed Putin’s resentment and paranoia.  We’ll see what happens. 


About schoultz

CEO of Fifth Factor Leadership - Speaker, consultant, coach. Formerly Director, Master of Science in Global Leadership at University of San Diego; prior to that, 30 years in the Navy as a Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) officer.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Mr Putin, Operative in the Kremlin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy

  1. Pingback: An Avoidable War – The Dangers of Catastrophic Conflict between the US and China, by Kevin Rudd | Bob's Books

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s