Putin’s People is a phenomenally well-researched analyst of Putin’s rise to power and the nature of the Kremlin’s influence over Russian (and non-Russian) citizens.
Of course, I recommend reading the book, but here are some summary points that stuck with me.
During the USSR era, the KGB was a main controlling power of the economy. In the 1990s, a group of wealthy elite starting seizing power away from the KGB. In response, the KGB nurtured and rose to power an incredibly loyal member, Vladimir Putin. Putin has helped the KGB (now called the FSB, although it’s the same organization) regain its grip over Russian society. A feature of this power grab is the erosion of democracy. Putin has seized control of media and other industries, all while launching into a profound anti-West propaganda campaign.
Part 1 - Putin was an eager KGB beaver
His dad was in the KGB, and he was so eager to join that he tried to enroll before he’d graduated school. Like a good pre-med student loading up on the AP science classes, Putin made sure to take all the courses the KGB recommended. He also had (has?) a bit of an anger problem and hit up the judo studio on the regular.
Part 2 - Accepted!
I haven’t found his “KGB acceptance” video on Youtube, although I imagine it was something like this. In 1985 he packed his bags and moved into his dorm in Dresden, East Germany. There he crushed coursework like Smuggling 101, Assassinations 104, and Secret Missions 007. No, but really, he assassinated people. Unlike the videos in the link above, however, this wasn’t some Yale admission. Dresden was more of a community college vibe on the scale of KGB operation locations.
Part 3 - If you believe in yourself, anything is possible
Putin wasn’t about to be president of a community college, so he made sure to buddy up with the local Stasi (the German secret police) and even got his own Stasi ID card. He did that Stasi’s a solid by helping them plan terrorist attacks, like killing the chairman of Deutsche Bank so that a Stasi bank could reign supreme.
Part 4 - The Communist Party + KGB dream team had a run for it’s money…literally
Our Commie KGB dream team was a financial fraud power duo. The Communist Party members got the $, and the KGB smuggled it out and laundered it.
Then came Yeltsin. Contrary to his name, Boris was anything but boring. Upon taking office, he abolished the KGB. But really, it was more of a re-org. Like when Google Glass went bust, people were just reshuffled to Maps, Search, etc.
Our buddy Boris issued a bunch of pro-democracy reforms that took away power from a single Party and allowed for the privatization of industries. Here comes Capitalism! Not really, though. In reality, it set the stage for a small group of Oligarchs to rise in power.
Part 5 - Good thing Putin ran track
I have no idea if he was actually on the track team, but I imagine there was some running involved when he was spying on people as a low-level officer.’ Anyways, Putin helped keep St.Petersburg (then called Leningrad) under KGB control. He managed to take control of Leningrad’s seaports and oil terminals, leaving the KGB in a very cushy financial position.
Part 6 - Putin runs back to Moscow
Thanks to him crushing it (“it,” meaning democracy) in Leningrad/St. Petersburg, Putin was invited back to Moscow to hold a fancy leadership position. He quickly rose in ranks. One of his promotions included running the FSB (remember, this is the re-org’d KGB). During his time leading, they did a lot of dark and evil sh*t.
Part 7 - Wait WTF, now Putin is Prime Minister?
In 1999, Russians got news of their new leader, Vladimir Putin. Except, most people didn’t know who he was. #awkward. The prevailing theory on why he got such a high stakes gig was that he was the perfect face for the party the KGB wanted. He had demonstrated great loyalty, was willing to cooperate, followed orders, and appeared like a strong macho guy on TV.
During his reign as Prime Minister, three devasting bombings took hundreds of lives across apartment complexes in Russia. In this time of very convenient chaos, Putin rose to say, “I will stop this terror!”. The irony is, of course, that it’s very likely he/his people orchestrated those bombings. This is straight out of the How To Become a Dictator 101 for Dummies book. Create some dangerous crisis (weapons of mass destruction, anyone?) and then unite people against some enemy. Preferably one that’s a different religion. If you are the one to unite them, then you are the holy leader.
Part 8 - Take the media
It’s not hard to imagine why it’s beneficial to control the narrative that people hear. Chapter 2 of How to Become a Dictator is all about calling everything that’s not the thing you want “fake news” and then creating a bunch of actual fake news about how awesome you are. This chapter is so good that even Trump read it.
Part 9 - Control the oil
After seizing control over anyone that said anything about him, Putin has a clear path to decimating anyone in his way. First stop, Oil-ville. One by one, he took over the assets of oil tycoons with, sometimes real, mostly ludicrously fake, claims of corruption. The public saw headlines that read, “Putin takes down evil oil baron who was stealing money from schools and hospitals.” What’s not to love in that title? School and hospitals are essential for life, and rich people are greedy jerks.
Part 10 - Topple the oligarchy, become the monarch
By continuing to exploit narratives of terrorism and “rich people are evil”, Putin gained the love of the masses. The beauty of this is that while the population loved him more and more, his own acts of terrorism and accumulation of wealth was completely forgotten.
Part 11 - Become the monarch of the world
The last few chapters talk about his systematic infiltration of the London banking system, trying to annex Ukraine, and finding a true comrade in Trump.
The gist of it is that he’s a smart cookie. Don’t try to eat it, though; it’s baked with knives and arsenic.