Mark Galeotti writes: The current crisis in relations between Russia and the West and the attempt to respond to it through economic sanctions illustrates how hard it is to answer a fundamental question: what does Putin really want? That, after all, is the key to predicting the Russian president’s next move, giving us the best chance of formulating a policy able to make the right concessions. Moreover, it’s the only way to hit the pressure points that will produce movement.
Karen Dawisha’s Putin’s Kleptocracy (Simon & Schuster, 2014), a meticulous exploration of the myriad economic crimes associated with Putin and his friends, allies and cronies, brings this challenge to the fore and illustrates both what can be divined from the evidence at our disposal — and what we may just be assuming.
How do we know what we think we know? Putin rarely gives interviews, and when he does, they are artfully choreographed to present him in the best or most appropriate light and to convey the message of the day. The people closest to him — and we do not even have a definitive list of those who might truly be called the inner circle — rarely speak openly about what they tell him, much less what he says to them. Two things Russia does well are message control and counter-intelligence, so both the aboveboard and underhand methods of knowing what really goes on inside the black box are severely limited in utility. And so, like Soviet-era Kremlinologists reborn, we tend to pore through what statements, gossip, visual clues and other snippets of information we can find, to piece together our best working assessment. [Continue reading…]