Ben Judah, "Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin" (Yale UP, 2013)


Debates about the nature of Putin's rule abound. Is Putin a hard fisted authoritarian? Is he the master of the power vertical? An arbiter of competing clans? Or something else? In his Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin (Yale University Press, 2013), Ben Judah offers another view: Russia is a brittle system Putin holds together by sheer presence and will. Since becoming coming to power, Putin has served as the lead architect of a failed modern state. And the system's persistent hollowness has rendered him its primary prisoner. Russia is trapped in a conundrum. It can't survive without Putin but it can't live much longer with him either. Hence the main images in Judah's narrative are examples of decay and slow disintegration. Having traveled from the Baltic to the Pacific, Judah provides a lively narrative interspersed with voices from the centers of power to the distant periphery and back to Moscow's rumbling streets. This last political space, the realm of the haphazard opposition, is the most recent sign of Putinism fragility. By the end, readers are left wondering where exactly Russia's future lies. And Judah's prognosis? It is a vision informed by past nightmares, present specters, and future phantasmagoria.

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