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A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption & Death in Putin's Russia

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A devastating account of contemporary Russia by a great and brave writer. A Russian Diary is the book that Anna Politkovskaya had recently completed when she was murdered in a contract killing in Moscow. It covers the period from the Russian elections of December 2003 to the tragic aftermath of the Beslan school siege in late 2005. The book is an unflinching record of the p A devastating account of contemporary Russia by a great and brave writer. A Russian Diary is the book that Anna Politkovskaya had recently completed when she was murdered in a contract killing in Moscow. It covers the period from the Russian elections of December 2003 to the tragic aftermath of the Beslan school siege in late 2005. The book is an unflinching record of the plight of millions of Russians and a pitiless report on the cynicism and corruption of Vladimir Putin’s presidency.


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A devastating account of contemporary Russia by a great and brave writer. A Russian Diary is the book that Anna Politkovskaya had recently completed when she was murdered in a contract killing in Moscow. It covers the period from the Russian elections of December 2003 to the tragic aftermath of the Beslan school siege in late 2005. The book is an unflinching record of the p A devastating account of contemporary Russia by a great and brave writer. A Russian Diary is the book that Anna Politkovskaya had recently completed when she was murdered in a contract killing in Moscow. It covers the period from the Russian elections of December 2003 to the tragic aftermath of the Beslan school siege in late 2005. The book is an unflinching record of the plight of millions of Russians and a pitiless report on the cynicism and corruption of Vladimir Putin’s presidency.

30 review for A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption & Death in Putin's Russia

  1. 4 out of 5

    Geoff

    My response to Putin's Olympics was to order three books by Anna Politkovskaya.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    I feel like I have a much better understanding of what is happening in modern day Russian politics having read this book. Putin is calling the shots and stifling both political opposition and a free press. Generally speaking, the Russian people are relatively apathetic for two reasons: fear of the current regime combined with the fact that many of them are economically better off than they were in earlier times. The irony: Putin seems to be building a fairly right leaning, facist state while the I feel like I have a much better understanding of what is happening in modern day Russian politics having read this book. Putin is calling the shots and stifling both political opposition and a free press. Generally speaking, the Russian people are relatively apathetic for two reasons: fear of the current regime combined with the fact that many of them are economically better off than they were in earlier times. The irony: Putin seems to be building a fairly right leaning, facist state while the loudest voice of opposition to his taking away of individual freedoms is the communist party. Anna Politkovskaya could have taken a high paying job in some Washington think tank - but she chose to stay in Russia and work to expose the injustices happening there. She paid with her life......She wasn't bitter that the West turned/is turning a blind eye to the lack of freedom in Russia, rather she felt that until the Russian people stand up for their rights, this injustice will continue. I was very surprised to learn how the Russian military mistreats its conscripts. When one finds oneself in the Russian military, one becomes a non-person and forfeit what little rights one ever enjoyed. Horror stories abound....... Excellent commentary on the Beslan school seige and how the Russian govt and military completely bungled the rescue. Despite the facts, they consider themselves modern day heroes. Chechnya is sadder still. I would have given this a five star rating had I had a better understanding of the situation and players. It is my lack of knowledge that required the four star rating.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    While reading this book, you already know that Anna was gunned-down in her apartment building. An assassination most in the anti-Putin camp will point in his direction. This book was finished before, although maybe not completely, her death. Because of that prior knowledge, this book feels like you're reading her death warrant. The closer you creep to the end of the book, the more you want to go back in time and warn Anna to leave! Stop! Get out! ...But she knew the whole time. She wasn't caught While reading this book, you already know that Anna was gunned-down in her apartment building. An assassination most in the anti-Putin camp will point in his direction. This book was finished before, although maybe not completely, her death. Because of that prior knowledge, this book feels like you're reading her death warrant. The closer you creep to the end of the book, the more you want to go back in time and warn Anna to leave! Stop! Get out! ...But she knew the whole time. She wasn't caught off guard. While covering the war in Chechnya she was poisoned in an assassination attempt. She was aware of the dangers, and expressed it throughout her books. That somehow brought me comfort. She wasn't willing to quiet up or go away. She may have been scared, but she was mad enough to put those thoughts away and soldier on. Sometime between the first page and the last, you realize that most Russians don't even know this book exists. She was writing it for her people, and yet some white girl from the USA, me, is the one sobbing in her bath tub, wishing change for a country I've never been to.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Declan

    I expect little has changed since Anna Politkovskaya wrote about the extent of the corruption, and the bullying, that was, when she wrote for the newspaper Novaya gazeta, an everyday feature of Putin's Russia. Exposing the use, and more often the abuse, of power was the very reason for being a reporter as far as Politkovskaya was concerned. She was brave to an extent that is almost difficult to comprehend because she must have known that her life was at risk and yet - a terrible question this - I expect little has changed since Anna Politkovskaya wrote about the extent of the corruption, and the bullying, that was, when she wrote for the newspaper Novaya gazeta, an everyday feature of Putin's Russia. Exposing the use, and more often the abuse, of power was the very reason for being a reporter as far as Politkovskaya was concerned. She was brave to an extent that is almost difficult to comprehend because she must have known that her life was at risk and yet - a terrible question this - you have to wonder whether the pursuit of truth was worth the loss of her life? Nothing has changed in Russia. Putin is more powerful than ever. What, if only she could tell us, would Anna Politkovskaya say now?

  5. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    In trying to describe this book and the work of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the first thing that came to my mind was the words of poet Dylan Thomas. Watching Russia’s barely-worthy-of-the-term democracy steadily crumble, Politkovskaya stubbornly refused to let it go gentle into that good night. A Russian Diary is a rage against the dying of the light. It is a brilliant and sobering piece of work that should be required reading for anyone with an interest in current world politics, and In trying to describe this book and the work of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the first thing that came to my mind was the words of poet Dylan Thomas. Watching Russia’s barely-worthy-of-the-term democracy steadily crumble, Politkovskaya stubbornly refused to let it go gentle into that good night. A Russian Diary is a rage against the dying of the light. It is a brilliant and sobering piece of work that should be required reading for anyone with an interest in current world politics, and for anyone who believes in the critical role of a free press in keeping governments honest. Politkovskaya takes your breath away with her unblinking look at the many, many wrongs of Russian politics and society, and with her determination to continue to expose all she can, albeit at tremendous risk to herself. For those who don’t follow world politics or who don't know much about Russia, a brief introduction may be in order. Former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin enjoys support within Russia and stature amongst leaders internationally, but it is also well known that the life-long KGB man (who later headed the Federal Security Bureau, successor to the KGB) rules in a way that echoes darker times in Russia’s past. The country is governed through strongman tactics and corruption abounds. Journalists and human rights defenders face pressure and intimidation, and several – including Politkovskaya herself – have been assassinated. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia waged two wars against the breakaway region of Chechnya (located at the southern edge of Russia, near Georgia and Turkey), and other regions in the area have been the site of violent conflict in recent years. Numerous terrorist attacks have occurred in Russia during this time as well, in connection with those conflicts. No matter how much you know about Russia and its recent history, though, A Russian Diary is sure to be an eye-opener. The book, covering the period from the Russian parliamentary elections in late 2003 until the end of 2005, is Politkovskaya’s diary-style reflection on contemporary events in Russia as they happened. (She also includes additional commentary for context or when later events clarify earlier events.) This period sees the solidification of Vladimir Putin’s strong-armed rule; ongoing human rights abuses in Chechnya and other southern territories; the stifling and gradual cooptation of human rights activists by the Putin government; the continuing impoverishment of the population throughout Russia, and especially in the smaller villages and peripheral provinces; and a devastating number of deadly terrorist attacks, including, most tragically, the September 2004 siege of an elementary school in the town of Beslan in North Ossetia. To put it bluntly, Politkovskaya’s Russia is one scary place. The first part of the book is entitled “The Death of Russian Parliamentary Democracy,” an ominous title that is shown to be only too true. From the outset, when the pro-Putin United Russia party sweeps to power in the Duma (the Russian parliament), it seems Putin is fated to win re-election to a second term as president, and the parties of Russia’s “democrats” seem completely unable – and/or unwilling – to do anything other than squabble amongst themselves. In the end they are totally unable to raise any realistic opposition against the Putin machine. Eventually, first one then another and another democrat crosses over to Putin’s party. Soon it is patently clear that the choice is to join forces with Putin, or watch your political career disappear. One presidential candidate does actually disappear, his whereabouts unknown until he resurfaces with a stranger-than-fiction tale of being kidnapped, smuggled by government forces over the border to a secret service site in Ukraine, and drugged to extract information. After the incident he withdraws his candidacy and travels to London, from whence he announces he will not return to Russia: a defection by a presidential candidate from a democratic country. The book is replete with these and many other jaw-dropping details of life in contemporary Russia. It becomes incontrovertibly clear that the notion of “democracy” in Russia is a pathetic sham. Politkovskaya paints a portrait of Russia as a place where only power and influence and money speak – and money only sometimes. Reading A Russian Diary, one is struck by a sense of gaping disbelief at the parade of calamities that occur day by day, which Politkovskaya recounts with a quiet, steely outrage. In most other places in the world, just one out of the litany of crises she documents would be considered a disaster or an atrocity. In Russia, they are received with a sort of numbed horror at best, or with numb acceptance at worst. Sometimes a few brave souls rise up to fight against whatever new indignity Russia has heaped upon them but their efforts seem doomed. The politicians are no help. Putin and his men keep a stranglehold on the country, through the media, through manipulation, through influence peddling. In the face of this level of control, the ability of ordinary people to get redress is practically non-existent. And this is a society where almost no ordinary person gets off easy. Soldiers are haphazardly sacrificed by feuding commanders in Chechnya. That is, if they make it that far: scores of young recruits die just from the unbelievably harsh treatment they receive in basic training. Veterans are so abandoned to poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, drug addiction, and post-traumatic stress that in one town alone, a 200-member Association of Servicemen of the Chechen Wars has been established – inside the prison. Pensioners can barely survive on their paltry pensions, and face losing in-kind benefits in place of laughably inadequate monetary “replacement” payments. Orphanages struggle with dwindling resources – especially after charitable donations from the wealthy dry up when tax credits for them are abolished. Ordinary workers are routinely underpaid, or paid in goods only. And, in a country where the threat of terrorism is a true constant, investigations are stonewalled in order to protect government officials. Politkovskaya tells heartbreaking stories of the families of Beslan. Not just about the loss of their children in the 2004 school attack, but of the horrors those in the school suffered during both the siege and the criminally botched assault on the school by government forces, as well as of the ongoing suffering of the survivors as they are ignored and misled by the authorities and forgotten by the pubic at large in the months after the attack. (On December 11, 2004, four months after the attack, Politkovskaya writes, “As for Beslan, the town is quietly going out of its mind." And she means it. ) Given all that Politkovskaya so unflinchingly reveals in this book, two questions must inevitably stand out in the reader’s mind. One, in light of what ultimately happened to her, how did Anna Politkovskaya manage to stay alive and publish all that she did as long as she did? She could not but have been one of the worst thorns in the side of Russia’s powerful. Knowing her final end, reading what she wrote, it seems so tragically inevitable that someone would try to silence her permanently. The second question is, what are the democratic governments of the West doing, carrying on relations with Putin’s Russia as if it were a normal country? Perhaps it is no more than the idea that in its current state, it’s safer to keep Russia within the fold, rather than outside it. There is no reason to suspect anything has changed since the book’s publication. Putin has managed to keep himself in power, while formally leaving the office of President in the proper way, by anointing a loyal protégé as his successor as president and becoming prime minister himself. Human rights forces continue to face pressure and opposition (a few years ago, the Moscow office of the international organization I worked for had to go through a confounding process of “re-registration” suddenly required for all human rights organizations operating in Russia). And terrorism remains a constant in Russia, with the most recent examples, as I write this, of a bombing at a theatre in Stavropol on May 26, 2010, and two subway bombings in Moscow in March 2010. As I mentioned at the outset, A Russian Diary should be required reading for anyone with an interest in current world politics. However, last and absolutely not least, the book is a critical statement of the indispensability of a free press in any society. It is a powerful testimony to the fierce heroism of tenacious and committed journalists around the world, who never cease to amaze me with their unwillingness to let go of the story of abuse of power, even at the cost of extreme risk to themselves. The lack of an adequate press in Russia has to be included among the reasons for its current condition, and Politkovskaya’s book shows how desperately a strong, free press is needed. While successive waves of formerly “opposition” politicians – erstwhile champions of democracy – gave in to political pressure to join the pro-Putin choir, and other journalists and news outlets self-censored and shrank away from reporting facts uncomfortable to the Putin administration, Anna Politkovskaya relentlessly continued to pull back the curtain on the Great and Powerful Oz every chance she got. A Russian Diary shows her to be uncompromising and unstoppable – until, that is, someone found a way to stop her forever, with an assassin’s bullet, on October 7, 2006. Her work and life demonstrate the power of the pen to strike fear in to the hearts of dictators and tyrants of all stripes. A year before his defection to the West in 1951, the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz wrote, “Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.” In this case, it's the journalist. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ You Who Wronged Czeslaw Milosz You who wronged a simple man Bursting into laughter at the crime, And kept a pack of fools around you To mix good and evil, to blur the line, Though everyone bowed down before you, Saying virtue and wisdom lit your way, Striking gold medals in your honor, Glad to have survived another day, Do not feel safe. The poet remembers. You can kill one, but another is born. The words are written down, the deed, the date. And you’d have done better with a winter dawn, A rope, and a branch bowed beneath your weight. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Quotes As long as this review is, I can't help making it even longer by including some quotes. There are so many I didn't know where to begin -- or where to stop, evidently... p. 107:"This whole system of thieving judges, rigged elections, presidents who have only contempt for the needs of their people can operate only if nobody protests." p. 110: [Politkovskaya published frames a from a video made by a Russian soldier in Chechnya in 2000, showing Russian soldiers tormenting a group of prisoners of war they had already beaten horribly.:] "What happened when the frames from this record of our own Abu Ghraib were published? Nothing. Nobody turned a hair, neither the public, nor the media, nor the Procurator’s Office. Many foreign journalists borrowed the video from me, and in Poland the headline over the pictures was “The Russian Abu Ghraib.” In Russia there was silence." p. 156:"What is emerging in Russia is not a stabilizing middle class, but a new class consisting of parents whose children have died in terrorist acts." p. 184: "People didn’t elect Yeltsin in 1996 because they believed in his prescription for taking the country forward, but because they feared what might happen if the Communists got back in. Government resources were shamelessly exploited, national television stations broadcast only in favor of Yeltsin and were in effect his campaign cheerleaders. People turned away in disgust when they saw how the ‘democratic’ parties kept silent about this travesty of democracy. A number of democrats even stated openly that it was reasonable to sacrifice the truth in order to save democracy. This enthusiasm for sacrificing the truth caught on, and became the main force propelling Putin to power after Yeltsin proclaimed him is successor. The Kremlin took control of all television news coverage, with independent stations allowed only to provide entertainment, even when hundreds were being killed in Chechnya. And that was the end of that. The election was based on trickery, fraudulence, and state coercion. The democrats kept mum, trying to cling to their vestiges of power in the Duma and locally. They forfeited whatever was left of their authority, and the Russian people are now profoundly indifferent to all things political. That is the terrible legacy of 13 years of Russian democracy. p. 246: [In June 2005, the trial begins a group of young pro-democracy activists arrested after a demonstration in December 2004. The are charged with "organizing mass disorder." They are led into the courtroom chained together, and placed into barred “cages” for the accused.:] "It has to be said that putting as-yet-unconvicted people in chains and cages seems something of an overreaction; not even terrorists and serial rapists are brought to court in chains. As we can see, those whom the state authorities really fear today are dissidents." p. 287: "Officially, 58 percent of those surveyed approve of the slogan ‘Russia for the Russians.’ Another 58 percent, when asked what they would do if they earned a decent salary, said they would immediately buy property abroad and emigrate."

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    " To my way of thinking, a mushroom growing under a large leaf cannot just hope to sit it out. Almost certainly someone is going to spot it, cut it out, and devour it. If you were born a human being, you cannot behave like a mushroom." Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in her apartment building in 2006. By all accounts it was a state contracted murder. "A Russian Diary" was her final book detailing the horrors she witnessed during the years 2004-2005. These were years of brutal repression in Che " To my way of thinking, a mushroom growing under a large leaf cannot just hope to sit it out. Almost certainly someone is going to spot it, cut it out, and devour it. If you were born a human being, you cannot behave like a mushroom." Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in her apartment building in 2006. By all accounts it was a state contracted murder. "A Russian Diary" was her final book detailing the horrors she witnessed during the years 2004-2005. These were years of brutal repression in Chechnya, the gassing of a Russian theater under siege, and the Beslan school attack which left scores of teachers and children dead. Most importantly it was the start of the second term of Vladimir Putin and the death of parliamentary democracy. The outside world occasionally hears horror stories of vague atrocities happening in Russia but quite honestly, nothing can prepare you for the depth and scope of what is really happening here. Extrajudicial paramilitary groups kidnap and torture with the sanction of the government, war heroes are cast into the street, old women are burned alive in their apartments so oligarchs can develop the properties, political opponents are routinely either co-opted or simply executed, and so much more. These are dark and horrible stories. Stories which Politkovskaya fearlessly detailed, at the cost of her own life. Politkovskaya's contempt for Putin and his sycophants is clear throughout but even more so is her disgust with everyday Russians who refuse to stand up and take back their country. Those with which she describes as "...a lazy refusal to take your backside off a chair in a warm kitchen until they take the warm kitchen away from you. At that point you may join a revolution, but not before." This isn't a book I would "recommend" but it is a very important book that anyone who fears democracy sliding into an authoritarian state has to read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ren

    Fantastic book. Very very sad. I don't really have the words to capture the emotions contained within this book. If you think the US sucks, check this out. I mean, I know it's useless to compare apples to oranges, but it certainly helps to put things in perspective.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    This book is indeed Anna Politkovskaya's diary; a depressing story of life in Russia during the Putin years. Politkovskaya was a journalist prior to her assassination (which occurred shortly after this book was published). She details the break down of democracy in Russia, with close attention to the role of both state-sponsored and terrorist violence. She includes much detail not available elsewhere about life in Russia in the early 21st century.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kim M-M

    It is her diary that spanned the time period December 2003 to summer 2005. She barely speaks about herself, only about the policies and its effects, the people crushed under a heartless regime. One by one she speaks about the disappearing freedoms and a return to the political tactics of the USSR. Unbelieveable, the extreme that the russian people live under. It is not a democracy, it is a farce. The sad part is, it is the grim truth. It also covers the period of time during the Beslan school mass It is her diary that spanned the time period December 2003 to summer 2005. She barely speaks about herself, only about the policies and its effects, the people crushed under a heartless regime. One by one she speaks about the disappearing freedoms and a return to the political tactics of the USSR. Unbelieveable, the extreme that the russian people live under. It is not a democracy, it is a farce. The sad part is, it is the grim truth. It also covers the period of time during the Beslan school massacre. I remember looking in horror at it in those days... she tells the unheard stories, the total disregard of survivors and victims families by the state. All they seem to expend energy on is covering their asses, trying to shift blame to others. With such power and wealth, what have the russian leaders done? what do any leaders with such a monopoly of power do? why do the people not stand up? I find echoes of this attitude everywhere in the world. Why do poeple who could influence those in power- why don't they say something, apply positive pressure? It's a bully mentality taken to the national level... why do people believe propaganda and settle for crumbs?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ava Anderson

    This book is horrifying and deeply tragic. It is also a lucid, intelligent account of the unravelling of the future of Russia. A must-read, and it is even more relevant now that we are a few years further into Putin's takeover.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    Four stars not because of the particularly fantastic writing (it's a diary obviously), but because of the level of consistent coverage of Putin's and his mafia-like government's contempt for human life, and critique of the Russian political scene. After having read the book, I can only imagine the enormous political and social pressure Anna must have been under throughout her career. The book reveals some of the most heinous crimes committed against the people, especially the poor and ethnic min Four stars not because of the particularly fantastic writing (it's a diary obviously), but because of the level of consistent coverage of Putin's and his mafia-like government's contempt for human life, and critique of the Russian political scene. After having read the book, I can only imagine the enormous political and social pressure Anna must have been under throughout her career. The book reveals some of the most heinous crimes committed against the people, especially the poor and ethnic minorities by the Russia State apparatus with the Kremlin's direct approval. In this book, she provided consistent accounts of the arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and murder of people living in the south of Russia, especially the Chechen and Ingush people by government backed militias and the FSB. Their victims include children, men and women of all ages and occupations. The book documents some of the most horrendous cases of abuse and murder committed against young men conscripted to the Russian Army (which I previously had no idea about). Throughout her diary, Anna expresses her disheartened regret at her fellow Russians who have emerged from socialism as thoroughly self-centred people who only react when something affects them personally. Her argument reminds me of what Vasily Aksyonov wrote in his novel, Generations of Winter - 'Nothing special is happening. The only thing that's happening is a silent conspiracy of millions upon millions of people who have reached a tacit agreement that nothing is happening. Anything unusual that is happening is to the guilty, but we're all right, everything is normal. And yet it is not only the arrest victims who are being tortured, but all of us'. It seems like things have changed very little in Russia since the days of the Soviet Union, except now the West legitimacies Putin's actions. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in human rights, Russia or would like to open their eyes to a harrowing life of struggle, sadness, lies and lack of human dignity.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Irisheyz77

    When I read the back of this book I was intrigued. A Russian Diary is a non-fiction work by a journalist who lived, worked and was murdered in Russia. As Russia is not a place that I know too much about I was eager to learn more of its history and politics. This work was set up in the form of a diary. However, once you start to read it its clear that this is no actual diary. While I wasn't expecting any fluffy words along the lines of 'had tea with Aunt Svetlana today' I was expecting more real t When I read the back of this book I was intrigued. A Russian Diary is a non-fiction work by a journalist who lived, worked and was murdered in Russia. As Russia is not a place that I know too much about I was eager to learn more of its history and politics. This work was set up in the form of a diary. However, once you start to read it its clear that this is no actual diary. While I wasn't expecting any fluffy words along the lines of 'had tea with Aunt Svetlana today' I was expecting more real time entries. This was not the case. Its clear upon reading this 'diary' that the information recorded under each date was added long after the fact and events that happen later are often mentioned before their time. As I mentioned I was eager to read this book. In the end though I was only able to make it through the first 100 pages before calling it quits. And just getting through those pages was a chore. Politkovskaya may have been a journalist but she tossed out any objectivity that she may have had out the window when writing this book. What I managed to read was filled with such hate against President Vladimir Putin and his regime that it was almost impossible to separate the facts from Politkovskaya's personal beliefs. To read her version Putin almost single handly ruined all that was good about Russia to serve his own needs. Politkovskaya's may well be the way things really happened but I just couldn't bear to read the venom that was in her words. As much as I would like to know more about Russia and her history I think that I will have to search for another book to learn it from. In the end, this book was filled with too much bias and hate for me to be able to enjoy myself. It was hard to separate the facts from the authors beliefs. tickettoanywhere.blogspot.com

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ayushman

    A Russian Diary presents a view of Russian society that would be intimately familiar to Winston Smith. It describes a war in Chechnya is fought against an unknown enemy by government forces seeking to expand their authority and influence and thus frequently at war against themselves. Bombings in apartments in Moscow are indicated to have been carried out by the security services at the behest of a leader looking to gain and consolidate power and to appeal to the people as the only one willing an A Russian Diary presents a view of Russian society that would be intimately familiar to Winston Smith. It describes a war in Chechnya is fought against an unknown enemy by government forces seeking to expand their authority and influence and thus frequently at war against themselves. Bombings in apartments in Moscow are indicated to have been carried out by the security services at the behest of a leader looking to gain and consolidate power and to appeal to the people as the only one willing and able to defeat this unknown enemy. The handling of theatre and school sieges, with death tolls in the hundreds, are bungled by the same security apparatus looking to expand its own powers and hide any evidence of its own involvement. People are frequently picked up by armed militia and never heard from again. Journalists and political opponents are bought and those who resist or attempt to maintain any semblance of independence are arrested on trumped up charges- former oligarchs being no exception. Parliament is a sham, openly described as a means for consolidation of power for the supreme leader. Elections are orchestrated with a shocking boldness, leaving ordinary Russians to be completely disillusioned by the political system, causing them to give up any interest in political involvement , thus further consolidating the leader’s power. Politkovskaya's insight into the thoughts of these Russians, reminiscing the good old days of the Soviet Union, while waiting for a revolution but uninterested in the starting their own, is horrifying. A Russian Diary is a representation of a society as close to Orwell's 1984 as possible.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sydney

    The Russian Diaries chronicles the declining political situation in Russia. After Politkovskaya’s violent death in October 2006, her editor published her personal journal documenting Russian political developments; presumably these notes were reference points for her various articles and projects. Politkovskaya assesses the Putin regime and how it survives, detailing its political ploys and strategies. She analyzes the Russian political environment that gave rise to the Putin and his power base. The Russian Diaries chronicles the declining political situation in Russia. After Politkovskaya’s violent death in October 2006, her editor published her personal journal documenting Russian political developments; presumably these notes were reference points for her various articles and projects. Politkovskaya assesses the Putin regime and how it survives, detailing its political ploys and strategies. She analyzes the Russian political environment that gave rise to the Putin and his power base. She insists that the Russian people are responsible for the current situation and the political change that must come if it is to change. At times the book is very difficult to read because Politkovskaya is relentless in her bleak documentation and analysis. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the situation demands a voice like hers. She is a patriot who perseveres, even as she acknowledges that her efforts will have little effect on the situation. On a personal note - It is easy to get frustrated with U.S. government and politics. This book reminded me how lucky I am to live in a country with a functional political system, however flawed it may be.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    A detailed look at the thuggery that takes place on a daily basis in Russia. Written in diary format, it is a tallying of the devastation of families, abductions, murders, corruption, and political indifference. Anna Politkovskaya must have been made of steel to look into the eyes of madmen and call their bluff. She was killed in a contract killing in 2006. Many people had encouraged her to flee Russia but she refused. This book is one hard hitting horror after another. It is very similar to wat A detailed look at the thuggery that takes place on a daily basis in Russia. Written in diary format, it is a tallying of the devastation of families, abductions, murders, corruption, and political indifference. Anna Politkovskaya must have been made of steel to look into the eyes of madmen and call their bluff. She was killed in a contract killing in 2006. Many people had encouraged her to flee Russia but she refused. This book is one hard hitting horror after another. It is very similar to watching an accident....you want to look away yet you want to bear witness...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Amazing. She did not pull any punches, she was so brave. This is an eye-opening account of Putin's Russia, of the heinous crimes committed under his rule, the horrors inflicted upon the Russian people themselves and, the pervasiveness of corruption & fear that keeps Putin in power. I am keen to try to read Anna's other books on Russia, though I imagine they will also be hard going. You seriously can't believe what people have turned a blind eye to, until you read this yourself. Amazing. She did not pull any punches, she was so brave. This is an eye-opening account of Putin's Russia, of the heinous crimes committed under his rule, the horrors inflicted upon the Russian people themselves and, the pervasiveness of corruption & fear that keeps Putin in power. I am keen to try to read Anna's other books on Russia, though I imagine they will also be hard going. You seriously can't believe what people have turned a blind eye to, until you read this yourself.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Petra

    You can tell that the book is written by a journalist, and what a journalist she was! Reading this book I can only conclude that unlike many other journalists she understood and valued the importance of really good journalism. In a state where power is being used against the own population she dared to question and criticize an elite that most people don't dare to stand up againt. This is the moost needed and important kind of journalism for sure. All I wonder is "how did she dare?"

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alla

    Ah the great Anna Politkovskaya, a paragon of journalist's integrity... Puts to shame her so-called colleagues on both sides of the ocean - both in America for reporting on irrelevant crap like home tanning and calling it news, and in Russia for selling their souls to the devil VVP. Funny that this book is still not sold in Russia..

  19. 4 out of 5

    Erik Aukland

    A bit dense Lots of detailed information but somewhat randomly organized. More like collection of notes than a coherent narrative. Descriptive account of internal politics and changes under Putin regime.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tattered Cover Book Store

    Recently murdered Russian journalist who defied the authoritarian creep of Putin's Russia.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Although I mourn her death and still consider her one of my personal heroes for her work in exposing truth in Russia, particularly Chechnya, this was poorly written and poorly edited.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cornelia Ghetu

    You cherish more your liberty when you remember some don't have it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Martinxo

    Horrifying and depressing and nothing has changed since the book was published. Anna Politkovskaya was murdered shortly afterwards.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    This book really opened my eyes to what Russia is really like under Putin. There is massive corruption, repression, all kinds of injustices, no free press and a complete lack of concern for ordinary Russian people! There is no real democracy but a faux democracy where, for example, governors are chosen by Putin rather than elected by the people. People brave enough to speak out about the injustices there are attacked, imprisoned, or in the author’s case, killed for writing about life in Russia tod This book really opened my eyes to what Russia is really like under Putin. There is massive corruption, repression, all kinds of injustices, no free press and a complete lack of concern for ordinary Russian people! There is no real democracy but a faux democracy where, for example, governors are chosen by Putin rather than elected by the people. People brave enough to speak out about the injustices there are attacked, imprisoned, or in the author’s case, killed for writing about life in Russia today. Government-sanctioned criminals get away with murder of innocent people as the courts just do whatever they are told. Newspapers and TV stations are shut down and many journalists killed for reporting anything critical of the government. The country is a police state run by a dictator. The Russian people deserve true freedoms such as the right to vote for their chosen leaders rather than being told who to vote for in local, regional and federal elections. The truth about Russia today is becoming public knowledge thanks to author Anna Politkovskaya. She paid with her life to bring the sad, sorry, deeply disturbing story of present day Russia to us. The least we can do is read her book and make sure it is read by thousands of other people both in Russia and around the world. Nobody should be supporting the current Russian government, especially not the President of the United States!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    A Russian Diary by Anna Politkovskaya takes us into the Russia dominated by Vladimir Putin between 2003 through August 2005. Politkovskaya was a distinguished journalist by the time she began keeping this diaries, and she was murdered before the pre-publication editing process was complete. These are not self-oriented diaries in the least; they more closely resemble a reporter’s notebooks. The dominant theme is how Putin turned Russia into a FSB-state; the FSB, of course, is the successor to the A Russian Diary by Anna Politkovskaya takes us into the Russia dominated by Vladimir Putin between 2003 through August 2005. Politkovskaya was a distinguished journalist by the time she began keeping this diaries, and she was murdered before the pre-publication editing process was complete. These are not self-oriented diaries in the least; they more closely resemble a reporter’s notebooks. The dominant theme is how Putin turned Russia into a FSB-state; the FSB, of course, is the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, of which Putin was an officer. Thus Putin turned the Russia duma, its parliament, into his puppet, the regional governors into his puppets, the courts into his puppets, and Chechnya into an overarching rationale for such fierce, mean-spirited oppression. We know this not only through Politkovskaya’s diaries, but the grinding, ludicrous, cynical behavior Putin exhibited during his first tours in power--following Yeltsin--is made brutally clear here. Entry after entry recounts arbitrary arrests, arbitrary torture, arbitrary judicial processes and a double-edged process in which Putin reduced social benefits on the one hand while pulling privatized corporations back into governmental control on the other. His aim was to undo the kleptocratic enrichment of Russian mega-billionaires under Yeltsin and add the spoils to his crony-government’s treasury along with dollars and sometimes pennies pulled out of the pockets of disabled war veterans, their widows, and families. This makes for discouraging but fascinating reading. There are stories told here that remind me of Solzhenitsyn. For instance, consider the conscript who was crippled by being forced to wear size ten boots when he had size thirteen feet. Or consider the judicial process in which lawyers were never given official, accurate transcripts of trial documents with which to prepare their clients’ defense. Or consider Russian brutality and corruption in Chechnya and the suggestion, time and again, that certain terrorist acts attributed to Chechnyan “terrorists” were perpetrated by various secret Russian services, not always Putin’s FSB. Again and again Politkovskaya surveys the landscape for some kind of effective political opposition. There isn’t any. Putin crushes real opponents, creates phony opponents, and has, it would seem only one ineffective but notable critic, Gary Kasparov, the former world champion grand chess master. The same situation prevails in the media. Only Politkovskaya’s newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, reports the truth, but of course, that is stopped when she is shot to death in an elevator, a story she obviously would have reported with her succinct, ironic candor had she survived to write it. But she didn’t survive, and her international fame didn’t protect her any more than hundreds of Russians in search of freedom and democracy were protected. There are some issues in this book that warrant broader reflection. As a diary, it’s full of stories and anecdotes and reports that are not sourced. I have no doubt there’s little here that is inaccurate, but you’d like to know more about how Politkovskaya obtained her information. Naturally that would put sources’s lives at risk, so it’s understandable that many sources wouldn’t want to be named, but still, this is journalism, so every once in a while you do scratch your head. The overall picture Politkovskaya paints, however, is remarkably consistent with what we know through thousands of sources going back through the entire communist era and deep into the times of the tzars. She often notes this, and she also often notes that autocratic rule is largely accepted by Russians. The idea that George W. Bush could look into Putin’s eyes and recognize a well-intentioned man is hilarious in this context. Three previous Russian writers come to mind when considering Politkovskaya’s diaries. Dostoevsky published massive diaries that were, like hers, intensely focused on issues of public import. LIke her he castigated the judicial system; but he was a nationalist and found ways to forgive Russia while condemning enemies of its autocratic character and rule. Tolstoy kept eloquent diaries that brooded on his sins and the general sin of inequality throughout Russian society. Like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy had deep religious preoccupations and could not reconcile the precepts of Christianity with the masses living in abject poverty while a few danced minuets in grand ballrooms. The Russian voice closest to Politkovskaya’s among the great Russian writers is that of Chekhov, particularly his account of visiting the prison colony on the island of Sakhalin at the far edge of Siberia. The BIG question is how a nation as rich in natural resources and brilliant people and splendid cultural and intellectual institutions can be so insecure, cruel, and suspicious of its own population. We now have seen Putin surrender the Russian presidency and resume it yet again. He was “elected” but he’s the anti-democrat’s anti-democrat. There’s zero chance that he’s changed since Politkovskaya wrote about him. Do you have to ask whether her assassins were ever convicted? For more of my comments on contemporary literature, see Tuppence Reviews (Kindle).

  26. 4 out of 5

    E.P.

    Reading Politkovskaya is always a draining experience, and this, the last complete book of her writings and released after her death, is particularly challenging. It is organized in the form of a diary, with daily entries compiled of Politkovskaya's notes, many of which later became articles--it includes, for example, the infamous interview with Ramzan Kadyrov, although missing the death threats made by him and his entourage, which are presented in the article itself published in Novaya Gazeta-- Reading Politkovskaya is always a draining experience, and this, the last complete book of her writings and released after her death, is particularly challenging. It is organized in the form of a diary, with daily entries compiled of Politkovskaya's notes, many of which later became articles--it includes, for example, the infamous interview with Ramzan Kadyrov, although missing the death threats made by him and his entourage, which are presented in the article itself published in Novaya Gazeta--and chronicles both her research and her growing despair over the state of Russia and its inability to change in the face of overwhelming evidence of corruption and human rights abuses. In response to allegations of vote-rigging in Ingushetia, brought by the parents of people who had been "disappeared," Politkovskaya states, half-furiously, half in resignation: "This whole system of thieving judges, rigged elections, presidents who have only contempt for the needs of their people, can operate only if nobody protests. That is the Kremlin's secret weapon and the most striking feature of life in Russia today. That is the secret of spin doctor Surkov's genius: apathy, rooted in an almost universal certainty among the populace that the state authorities will fix everything, including elections, to their own advantage. It is a vicious circle. People react only when something affects them personally: old Judge Boris Ozdoev when his son Rashid was abducted, the same as the Mutsolgovs. Until then, if my hut is out of harm's way, why worry? We have emerged from socialism as thoroughly self-centered people" (124-5). People looking for a light, upbeat read should probably keep looking, but Politkovskaya was the voice of conscience, and then the martyr, of her generation for a reason. These diary entries are not quite as "polished" on some levels as her articles, but they are an honest and compelling portrait of her own thoughts, as well as an insightful look into the Russia of the early 2000s, as she shreds both the growing authoritarianism of Putin and United Russia, and the dithering and self-centered jockeying for position amongst the liberal opposition. Bizarrely, she ends up sympathizing with the National Bolsheviks, the left-wing nationalist party, as being one of the few groups capable of producing an organized and vigorous resistance. What she would make of Russia today...can probably be guessed, but it wouldn't be pretty. I can't say it's good that she's not here to see it, because her voice is sorely missed, but it most likely would have confirmed all her most pessimistic speculations. Tellingly, the last entry is called "Am I Afraid?", in which she responds to accusations that she is indeed a pessimist with the words: "I see everything, and that is the whole problem. I see both what is good and what is bad. I see that people would like life to change for the better but are incapable of making that happen, and that in order to conceal this truth they concentrate on the positive and pretend the negative isn't there" (341). She ends with the warning that this is "a death sentence for our grandchildren" (342). Politkovskaya's warnings were often startlingly prescient, and could be applied not just to Russia but to the rest of the world. A keen observer of human nature, she was capable of facing what so many people could not, both when it came to grim conclusions and when it came to physical danger. It is tragic that her courage led, fairly directly, to her death, but she would not have been Anna Politkovskaya if she had taken the easy, safe way out.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    The late Anna Politkovskaya stares out from the photo on the cover the edition I read with a stare that is hard to gauge. In that photo, she has clear eyes, sensible glasses, gray hair combed in a functional way, and a certain tightness to the mouth that makes it look as if it had been a long time since she smiled. There was certainly not much to smile about in the years covered by the book--the steady march of Vladimir Putin and the party he created toward an electoral triumph: despite the bung The late Anna Politkovskaya stares out from the photo on the cover the edition I read with a stare that is hard to gauge. In that photo, she has clear eyes, sensible glasses, gray hair combed in a functional way, and a certain tightness to the mouth that makes it look as if it had been a long time since she smiled. There was certainly not much to smile about in the years covered by the book--the steady march of Vladimir Putin and the party he created toward an electoral triumph: despite the bungling of the Muslim attacks on a theater in Moscow and a school in Beslan, where a lot of children died; the despite, and because of, the steady pressure on the independent press and the democratic opposition that marginalized both; despite the dismantling of what is said to have been Russia's most transparent corporation and the arrest of its owner; despite, and because of, the deep and cynical corruption. All this Politkovskaya chronicled with a prose that in this translation is clear and only occasionally sardonic. In a postcript titled "Am I Afraid?" she takes up the question of seeing in the larger sense--as in witnessing--in a way that explains the straight yet enigmatic expression on the cover: "People often call me a pessimist; that I do not believe in the strength of the Russian people; that I am obsessive in my opposition to Putin and see nothing beyond that. I see everything, and that is the whole problem." She never answered the question of whether she was afraid, at least not in that postscript. In the book itself she admitted to fear only once, while being driven back from the compound of the Muslim warlord to whom Putin entrusted the pacification of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. And then she wrote that she dismissed the fear, however deep, because she believed that the Kadyrovites want her to tell their story. This was after death threats, a mock execution, and what was very likely an attempt to poison her. She was murdered outside her apartment in 2006. Four men were charged in her death; all four were acquitted. Prosecutors said that the case would be appealed, but little progress seems to have been reported. I write this several days after the murder of a second reporter for the Mexican news outlet Notiver, located in Veracruz, not untouched by the cartel wars but not at the center of them, either. May we someday live in a world where the reporting the truth is not a capital offense.

  28. 4 out of 5

    SPE

    I read this book after reading Red Notice and after reading notes and news on suspicions of Russian tampering with the US 2017 presidential election. There were times in the book where it seemed she was writing about the current situation in the US. Other times where I found myself hoping we can all be active and aware and NOT get complacent or apathetic about losing some of the freedoms America has enjoyed as a democracy. But as a realist, it seems the US needs to go through this phase, just as I read this book after reading Red Notice and after reading notes and news on suspicions of Russian tampering with the US 2017 presidential election. There were times in the book where it seemed she was writing about the current situation in the US. Other times where I found myself hoping we can all be active and aware and NOT get complacent or apathetic about losing some of the freedoms America has enjoyed as a democracy. But as a realist, it seems the US needs to go through this phase, just as all other democracies have had to go through different stages. Time will tell whether America can hold on to its constitutional rights and continue to keep the necessary checks and balances for a healthy democracy. Citizens United and the rise of the billionaires in positions of power and government suggests otherwise. Some quotes from the book that resonated: "The sad truth is that a lot of Western democracies like dealing with dictators. Tyrants can be tidy and reliable business partners." "the tyrants and thieves had no conscience, while the reformers were elitists with little conviction, or courage for confrontation." "The state authorities are rubbing their hands with glee, tuttutting and saying that “the democrats have only themselves to blame” for having lost their link with the people. " on the similarity between two leaders Putin and DT: "Putin, himself the incarnation of a stereotype" "it seemed he would surely express his condolences to the families of the dead. Perhaps even apologize for the fact that the government had once again failed to protect its citizens. Instead he told them how pleased he was about his Labrador's new puppies." "We like pariahs, but we also like winners. People admire Putin for the way he manages to cheat everybody else. Those in the middle lose out." The only thing that matters in Russia today is loyalty to Putin. Personal devotion gains an indulgence, an amnesty in advance, for all life's successes and failures. Competence and professionalism count for nothing."

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mari

    Every time I meet a person who supports Putin I will shove this book at their face. It took me a long time to read this book but I'm glad I did. It was a very, very hard read. Mostly for the fact that Anna was a human rights activist who was killed for writing these words. I have such a huge respect for this woman and everything she went through for exposing these truths. I will for sure read everything she's written. It is a known fact that Russia is corrupted. Very, very corrupted. But wait till Every time I meet a person who supports Putin I will shove this book at their face. It took me a long time to read this book but I'm glad I did. It was a very, very hard read. Mostly for the fact that Anna was a human rights activist who was killed for writing these words. I have such a huge respect for this woman and everything she went through for exposing these truths. I will for sure read everything she's written. It is a known fact that Russia is corrupted. Very, very corrupted. But wait till you learn the details. Putin is not the president of Russia because the people love him. No, he's a president because of rigged elections. This books emphasizes just how inhumane he really is and a war criminal no less. Wait till you read about everything that was done in his name, about just how many things he ignored. How people have to go on hunger strikes to be heard. I had no idea about the horrors people in Chechnya and Ingushetia to go through during the wars and after. Nor the aftermath of the Beslan school attack. Anna also writes about the conditions the Russian men have in the army. One soldier was killed in a supposed 'hazing accidents' because he had boots that were too small and he dared to request new ones. How inadequate their clothing, equipment and nutrition is. I really want to give this book to both of my brothers who went to army here in Finland. Just to show the how lucky and safe they were compared to these poor men. I have too many feelings. I really wonder what Anna would say if she knew that Putin is still the president today and Russia is not any less corrupted ten years later after she was killed.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Monty

    I read this book when it was first published, and I was reminded of this recently with the passing of Mike Wallace. Anna Politkovskaya seemed to be attempting to immitate the investigative style of Wallace in Putin's Russia. The Russian government was not amused. She was murdered in her apartment by a contract killer on Putin's birthday. So much for Glasnost. Politkovskaya's last journal reveals the Russia of 2005-2006 as one of great cynicism and corruption. The old Communists merely took off t I read this book when it was first published, and I was reminded of this recently with the passing of Mike Wallace. Anna Politkovskaya seemed to be attempting to immitate the investigative style of Wallace in Putin's Russia. The Russian government was not amused. She was murdered in her apartment by a contract killer on Putin's birthday. So much for Glasnost. Politkovskaya's last journal reveals the Russia of 2005-2006 as one of great cynicism and corruption. The old Communists merely took off their coats, turned them inside-out, and became the new mafia. The picture presented of the apparatchiks and mob-bureaucrats is remeniscent of the Thenardier's in Les Miserables...when the war (or Revolution) is over and the dust clears, the cockroaches are still alive. The sole purpose of these folks in leadership position seems to be to bleed the people dry, and scrape every Kopeck off the street...and they are protected by an army of thugs. This is a great irony, as it is the very caricature of Capitalism as presented by Lenin and Stalin.

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