Review: Putin’s New Russia

The overarching assertion of Putin’s New Russia is that the West has wrongly condemned President Putin and Russia for not conforming to its self-image of virtuous politics, and that it has waged a propaganda war against both that is short on facts and nuance. I can certainly appreciate the book’s efforts to disprove and correct some of the myths surrounding contemporary Russia. However, its execution leaves much to be desired.

The essays are written by different authors, including some recognizable Russia hands (recognizable at least to me). They’re a mixed bag, as is the case with many compilations, varying in style from the cerebral to the emotional. Some were clearly taken from blogs, others appear to have been written exclusively for this book. I found myself agreeing with some of the essays – for example, I felt that A Short Guide to Lazy Russia Journalism was spot-on in its depiction of the MSM.

However, if the majority of literature on contemporary Russia is anti-Putin, this book leans a little in the opposite direction. Putin’s New Russia plays up the positive trends in Russia’s development that it feels are absent in Western coverage of Russia (slow reversal of the demographic decline, GDP increase, improved living standards) while downplaying problems that Russia continues to face (corruption, weak rule of law, income inequality). Putin is presented as a wholly positive figure in Russia’s development, with little attention being devoted to possible flaws in the system he has created. One might argue that those strategies are justified because the purpose of the book is to be a counterweight to the universally negative coverage of Russia in the Western media. But if the book is going to brand itself as the true story of Putin’s Russia (as clearly stated in its description), it cannot afford to take a one-sided approach. The reality of Russia (as well as that of any nation, really) is that it experiences both positive and negative developments, and a nuanced view of the country is much needed in order to understand it. However, I’m not sure Putin’s New Russia is the right book to improve that understanding; it lacks the very thing that it accuses the Western media of missing. Despite this serious flaw, I will applaud the book’s effort to be a new, alternative voice in the echo chamber that is the modern discourse on Russia.

★ ★ ★

Putin’s New Russia by John Hellevig. Pub. 2012 by Kontinent USA. Paperback. ISBN13: 9780988313705

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