Historian Stuermer attempts to shed light on Vladimir Putin's 2000–2008 presidency and his vision for a new Russia in this thorough but poorly organized and overly complex book. Putin is “a man from nowhere,” an understated and effective KGB agent turned city administrator who moved from near-anonymity to the presidency in a few years. Putin is portrayed as both insider and outsider, but untrammeled by the political infighting and corruption of the post-Soviet Russian political machine. He quickly showed his mettle: revitalizing Russian industry, upgrading a decaying military and shifting top positions from the hands of career bureaucrats to former intelligence officers, producing a government of unparalleled obscurity. This book could have been an invaluable guide for Americans—post-Soviet Russia remains a major global force yet is woefully misunderstood by Westerners complacent after “winning” the cold war. But basic facts about Putin and post-Soviet Russia are glossed over, leaving the layperson to wade through a labyrinth of unfamiliar names, government agencies and corporations. Readers who manage to make sense of all this will find that the author's analyses of Russia's changing demographics, its status as a nuclear power and the future of its petroleum-based economy insightful and, often, troubling. (Oct.)
In this concise and readable account, which follows the rise of Putin in Russian politics to the end of his final term as President, Stuermer (history, Univ. of Erlangen-Nürnberg) writes of Russia cautiously moving into mainstream Europe; in recent years, the EU-Russian relationship has embraced the contradiction between economic partnership and political misgivings. First published in the United Kingdom in 2008, this volume suffers from a lack of timeliness, even with an added postscript. Stuermer does not address the 2009 energy price decreases and the global economic downturn. However, as a recap of Russia's position in the political and economic arena of Western Europe, it is unparalleled. Anna Politkovskaya's Putin's Russia, Lilia Shevtsova's Putin's Russia, and Andrew Jack's Inside Putin's Russia all seem to focus on the cost of Putin discarding democracy, while Stuermer takes the approach that that was necessary and explains how Russia is coping with the hybrid system. VERDICT Recommended for beginning students of contemporary Russian history, casual readers interested in European energy politics, and high school students studying world politics.—Harry Willems, Central Kansas Lib. Syst., Great Bend
Russia, writes German academic Stuermer (History/Univ. of Erlangen-Nurnberg), is weak-but nowhere near as weak as it looks. Many things keep Russia from regaining its superpower status. One, by the author's account, is that the government of Vladimir Putin and his successor, Dmitri Medvedev, peg much of the planned part of its economy-including the government's budget-on the projected price of oil. Though Russia is a major producer, when plans are made based on a price per barrel of $71 and that price goes down to $40 on the world market, trouble is bound to ensue. In the flush days, Putin kept something of the old Soviet bargain: "The people accepted an increasingly autocratic regime while the Kremlin delivered rising living standards-as never before." Now that oil prices have fallen so precipitously, the rise is reversed, and the Russian GDP is projected to shrink by six percent or more. For good or ill, depending on where you're sitting, the Russians don't seem to know that they're weak, however, which complicates the geopolitical scene. There is a certain surrealism in an economy that is at once closed and open, just as modern Russia seems to abound in strange ironies-not least a billboard of famed dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn welcoming visitors outside the Moscow airport. Stuermer's searching view of Putin's government, which stretches into the Medvedev administration, has some points of immediate interest. Foremost among them is his view that the West should not rule out all hopes for democracy in Russia, despite Putin's autocratic ways. Even if the near term holds the likelihood of "an enlightened authoritarianism, free of contradictions and in control of its own destiny,"Medvedev has ambitions to "go down in history as a great reformer." The best move for the West is therefore to continue to seek shared interests-and keep the peace. Dry, but useful for the foreign-policy crowd.
Equally at home in English or his native German, Michael Stuermer is one of the West’s most respected authorities on Russia and Germany. Few can be as qualified to write about contemporary Russia and analyze the extraordinary phenomenon of Putin. The resulting book is authoritative, readable, and concise.
As a scholar, author, and journalist of long standing, Stuermer has ranged widely. The broader perspective, historical and geographical, that he brings to this period of Russian history is refreshing.