Wednesday, October 1, 2008

book review

I just finished reading The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the return of the KGB: Death of a Dissident. It was a fascinating look at the political power struggles in Russia from the fall of the USSR through 2006. Basically the book reads like a thriller but it is true to the extent that personal experience and fact-based theories can be. I actually happen to think that the theories in the book are spot on, but you can make up your own mind about that.

The cool thing about the book is that it added a whole new dimension to my own personal experience. For example, I was living in Moscow in the fall of 1999 when the apartment bombings took place. Living in an apartment building myself, I was a little anxious but as they were occurring on the opposite side of the city, I felt a little reassured (ok, not really, but what could I do?). At the time, the bombings were blamed on Chechen terrorists. In this book, amidst the detailed power struggles for control of the Kremlin, Putin and the FSB (formerly known as the KGB) are blamed for framing the Chechens in order to restart the war in Chechnya. Could the president of the country really do such a thing? In Putin's case, I wouldn't put it past him. This book presented a lot of substantial theories which, if true, are terrifying in the extreme.

John actually came to visit me in Russia for a week while I was there. One day we were stopped in a subway station by secret police. They thought John looked Chechen. At the time I was a little nervous of the police (I had heard stories) and pulled out my papers and student ID to explain in my mangled Russian that we are Americans. However, after reading this book and really understanding for the first time what being Chechen in Moscow really means, the confrontation takes on a whole new, terrifying significance. If they had not believed me or I had not had my papers, they could have detained John or both of us and who knows what would have happened. A friend of mine had this happen to one of her travelling companions. He was detained and subsequently driven around for hours in a police cruiser with threats of being taken to the station. Luckily in that situation all they wanted was a bribe. The corruption there is unreal and getting worse, not better.

Anyway, read the book. It really opens your eyes to the mess that Russia is in and actually makes you grateful that even though our president is a moron at times, at least he is not Putin.

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