Putin’s People | Catherine Belton

Summary of: Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West
By: Catherine Belton

Introduction

In Putin’s People, Catherine Belton takes readers on a journey through Vladimir Putin’s life, from his early days as a member of the KGB to his rise to power in Russia. Belton weaves a nuanced and engaging narrative, providing insight into Putin’s relationships with key figures and his role in shaping modern Russia. As you dive into this book summary, you’ll uncover secrets behind Kremlin operations, the KGB’s influence in politics and economy, and its connections with the infamous oligarchs. Prepare to delve into Putin’s world of power, corruption, and covert strategy that stretches far beyond Russia’s borders.

Putin’s KGB Past

Vladimir Putin’s early life reveals his intense drive to join the KGB, his training in martial arts to vent his aggression, and his involvement in Operation Luch, a KGB mission to maintain their presence in Germany by recruiting agents and engaging in terrorism. This summary sheds light on Putin’s past and highlights the beginning of his journey to attain the power he holds today.

The Rise of Business Tycoons in Post-Soviet Russia

In the post-Soviet era, a group of young business tycoons gained power, surpassing the influence of former KGB officials. President Boris Yeltsin’s reforms, including privatization, allowed the oligarchs to accumulate power and gain controlling stakes in major enterprises. The KGB was abolished in 1991, but its former operatives continued to hold government positions and control the oil sector during the 90s. In contrast, oligarchs such as Vladimir Potanin gained their power through financial transactions like loans-for-shares privatization, which helped enrich them with controlling stakes in major industries. The oligarchs’ subsequent influence far eclipsed the former KGB officials who previously held the country’s financial and economic power.

Putin’s Path to Power

Vladimir Putin’s rise to power involved playing a key role in allowing the KGB to take control of St. Petersburg’s economy. Putin served as right-hand man to Anatoly Sobchak, who became the city’s mayor amidst chaos and economic decline. The KGB enriched itself through the creation of a slush fund, taking control of the seaport and oil terminal, and issuing export licenses to front companies for nonexistent food imports. Putin’s role in this alliance helped pave the way for his future presidency and the appointment of KGB colleagues to senior executive positions.

Putin’s Dramatic Rise

After losing his campaign for re-election as mayor of St. Petersburg in 1996, Anatoly Sobchak, loyal to Putin, resigned as the city’s administrator. Immediately invited to Moscow, Putin was appointed head of the Kremlin’s foreign property department and quickly rose through the ranks after receiving several promotions. Former KGB generals propelled Putin’s rise as they needed an individual who could cooperate with them, follow orders and appear strong on television. Putin’s rise was further bolstered following three deadly bombings in September 1999, which caused a nationwide panic and led to him publicly vowing to avenge innocent Russians who had died. Despite doubts surrounding the events, Putin’s strong and tough leadership enabled him to garner major public support and eventually become Russia’s president.

Putin’s Takeover of Russia’s Oil Industry

As Putin came into power, he began to seize control of Russia’s oil industry, which was mostly in the hands of oligarchs. After taking over the media, Putin set his sights on the oil tycoons. First, he targeted Lukoil with a bogus investigation, leading to a $103 million payment to the government. Lukoil may have also secretly agreed to give Putin part of the company. Finally, Putin went after Yukos, Russia’s largest oil company, whose owner refused to give up his business.

The Rise and Fall of Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former chairman and CEO of Yukos, was a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie who refused to bend to Putin’s will. Despite Khodorkovsky’s bold moves, Putin’s crackdown proved too much for him to handle, resulting in his arrest and Yukos’s seizure by the Kremlin. Khodorkovsky was ultimately given an eight-year jail sentence for tax fraud. Putin’s takeover of Yukos signaled the KGB’s triumph over the oligarchy and resulted in a significant shift of Russia’s oil output from private hands to state control.

Putin’s Exploitation of Terrorism

On October 23, 2003, armed Chechen fighters stormed Moscow’s Dubrovka musical theater. The situation was mishandled, resulting in 113 deaths. Kremlin insider claims suggest that the attack had been planned by Nikolai Patrushev, FSB chief at the time, to increase national support for the Chechen war and paint Putin as a hero. The apparent terrorist attack was a useful myth to help Putin’s regime forge a national identity. Putin exploited terrorism and attempted to revive the Russian Orthodox religion while vilifying the West.

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