Putin and Death – Tribune Book Review

Corruption and death in Putin’s empire
Written By: Denis MacShane
Published: February 20, 2015 Last modified: February 18, 2015
Five thousand Ukrainians and invading Russian soldiers have died since President Putin reacted angrily to the fall of his puppet in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who was overthrown by his own people in February 2014.

Stalin said: “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of thousands is a statistic.” Vladmir Putin is as immune to the sentimentality of one man’s death as he is to the thousands who have been killed in his war in Chechnya and now his aggression in Ukraine.

These two books in their different ways tell us about modern Russia.

Bill Browder’s grandfather, Earl Browder, was leader of the Communist Party in America in the 1930s and during the war. He fell foul of Stalin in 1945 and was sidelined and then fell foul of McCarthyism. The grandson, Bill, switched from communism to capitalism and made a fortune in Russia until President Putin decided he wanted total obeisance from Browder, by now a British citizen. He moved his operation to London and then found that Putin’s tax police had stolen $230 million of tax Browder had paid.

Browder’s Russian tax lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, investigated and found out who had stolen the money. He was arrested and so badly treated in prison he died in agony after his final beating. Browder converted himself into a human rights champion and persuaded the United States Congress to adopt the Justice for Magnitsky Act, banning those linked with Magnitsky’s torture and death from entering the US or holding assets there. The House of Commons passed a similar resolution but David Cameron has refused to implement it as the Govern­ment and the Tory Party are so depend­ent on Russian oligarch money coming into London. Browder’s gripping page-turning narrative of his experience of Putinism and his search for justice for his friend Sergei Magnitsky is better than any thriller and takes us into the dark heart of the Putin system.

Kent University Professor Richard Sakwa is what the Germans call a Putinversteher – an understander of Putin. He provides the Russian side of the Ukraine story.

He describes the young people who stayed in Kiev’s Maidan Square to defy Putin’s puppet, the corrupt Ukraine president, Viktor Yanukovych, as “deeply undemocratic”. This slur might play well on Russia Today but is pretty insulting to men and women who aspire to the freedom and rule of law we take for granted.

Professor Sakwa cites the fanatically anti-European, right-wing Sunday Telegraph columnist, Christoper Booker, as an authoritative source. His book presents the Ukraine conflict largely from a Russian point of view though the facts are properly sourced and his arguments fairly presented. Sakwa and Browder tell two different stories of Putinism. It’s up to readers to judge who is closer to the truth.

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