The cast of supporting characters in Catherine Belton’s study of the Russia of Vladimir Putin is extraordinary and worthy of a Netflix mini-series ... This is modern Russia in full, horrifying technicolour ... Belton does not explain how to engage with Russia or how to stop making the same mistakes when doing so. But this riveting, immaculately researched book is arguably the best single volume written about Putin, the people around him and perhaps even about contemporary Russia itself in the past three decades.
The plot sounds like a geopolitical thriller. Amid an empire’s collapse, the secret police funnel money out of the country, creating a slush fund to rebuild their old networks. They regain power, become spectacularly rich and turn on their enemies, first at home — and then abroad ... That is fact, not fiction. Catherine Belton, for years a Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, relates it with clarity, detail, insight and bravery ... Belton has surpassed them all. Her much-awaited book is the best and most important on modern Russia. It benefits from a meticulous compilation of open sources, but also from the accounts of disillusioned Kremlin insiders, former business cronies and some remarkably candid people still high up in the system. The result is hair-raising ... Belton’s passages about Donald Trump’s business ties with Russia during the 1990s are particularly thought-provoking. It is tempting to speculate how much more she could have said about some other prominent people were it not for the constraints of English libel laws. But what she does describe is convincing, particular because of the careful sourcing from numerous witnesses and insiders.
A renowned business journalist who spent years covering Russia for the Financial Times, Belton follows the money. She has an unrivalled command of the labyrinthine history of share schemes, refinancing packages, mergers, shell companies, and offshore accounts that lay bare the stealthy capture of the post-Soviet economy and state institutions by a coterie of former KGB officers, or siloviki. Belton combines this financial history with testimony from a dazzling array of Kremlin insiders, diplomats, intelligence officers, prosecutors, mobsters and oligarchs. The result reads at times like a John le Carré novel ... Putin does not emerge from these pages as an evil, cat-stroking mastermind plotting his moves years in advance. Rather he appears an unscrupulous and resourceful operator, ready to deploy any weapon, break any rule and subvert any system to consolidate his power, wealth and international prestige ... A groundbreaking and meticulously researched anatomy of the Putin regime, Belton’s book shines a light on the pernicious threats Russian money and influence now pose to the west ... Putin’s People lays bare the scale of the challenge if the west is to decontaminate its politics.
In the years that it took the journalist Catherine Belton to research and write Putin’s People, her voluminous yet elegant account of money and power in the Kremlin, a number of her interview subjects tried various tactics to undermine her work. The dauntless Belton, currently an investigative reporter for Reuters who previously served as the Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, allowed neither approach to deter her, talking to figures with disparate interests on all sides, tracking down documents, following the money. The result is a meticulously assembled portrait of Putin’s circle, and of the emergence of what she calls 'K.G.B. capitalism” — a form of ruthless wealth accumulation designed to serve the interests of a Russian state that she calls 'relentless in its reach' ... to read this book is to wonder whether a cynicism has embedded itself so deeply into the Anglo-American political classes that even the incriminating information it documents won’t make an actionable difference.
Belton does not prove Putin’s personal involvement in any of these projects, which isn’t surprising. The Russian leader has gone to great lengths to conceal his real role during the four and a half years he spent in Dresden. But throughout her book, which will surely now become the definitive account of the rise of Putin and Putinism, she adds enough new details to establish beyond doubt that the future Russian president was working alongside the people who set up the secret bank accounts and held the meetings with subversives and terrorists. More important, she establishes how, years later, these kinds of projects came to benefit him and shape his worldview. Building on the work of others, Belton incorporates crucial new material from interviews with former KGB operatives, Kremlin insiders, and bankers in various countries. She shows that Putin may have been burning documents in Dresden, but he never lost touch with the people, the tactics, or the operations launched by the KGB at that time ... While many of these stories have been written before, Belton puts them in the larger context.
Few people have told the story of how the KGB shaped Putin and modern Russia as well as journalist Catherine Belton in her new book ... Belton’s analysis is a fascinating window into the group of men (they are almost all men) who wield power in the Kremlin. Compellingly written and meticulously researched, Putin’s People looks set to become the definitive work on the enduring influence of Russia’s spies.
Belton devotes an entire chapter to the cultivation of Donald J. Trump by a loosely affiliated network of businessmen and brokers who all share links to the Russian intelligence agencies and criminal underworld ... But the author exercises welcome restraint in what could easily descend into a futile dot-connecting exercise. She swats away suggestions that the courting of Trump could have been a more sophisticated and long-term planned operation ...
But it is exactly the subtlety of Belton’s analysis that makes Putin’s People an almost faultless book – and an instant classic. She succeeds in legitimizing certain truths which have long been the preserve of fringe oppositionists. With her unwavering regard for fact, Belton has made the truth unassailable.
Belton’s work on the financial dealings of Putin’s team is the most valuable aspect of Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West and it should be required reading, as it reveals their political implications and the West’s inadequate regulation of and occasional complicity in them ... The picture that emerges from Putin’s People is of a corrupt regime, hostile to the West and ready to use its enormous wealth to undermine it.
In her deeply researched new book, Catherine Belton tells a dark tale of Vladimir Putin’s rise to power and his 20 years as leader of Russia ... Hers is a story about Putin, his KGB colleagues, businessmen and mobsters pieced together though interviews with many relevant players. Belton’s access to prominent personalities is impressive, perhaps unmatched, though her interlocutors also steer the direction of her story ... Belton builds a strong case against Putin’s corruption and the bald hypocrisy of his propaganda ... Belton’s book is an outstanding account of Putin’s Russia, and elegantly told.
Drawing on extensive interviews with Kremlin insiders and dispossessed oligarchs such as Sergei Pugachev and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Belton paints a richly detailed portrait of the Putin regime’s tangled conspiracies and thefts. Sometimes her more explosive claims—charges that Russia’s FSB police agency was behind Chechen terrorist attacks, for instance—cite dubious sources and insinuate more than they prove. Still, Belton gives a lucid, page-turning account of the sinister mix of authoritarian state power and gangster lawlessness that rules Russia.
Carefully detailed account of the rise of Vladimir Putin and the restoration of Russia to Soviet-era power ...
According to Belton, while the extent of the connection will likely never be known, Trump has been the beneficiary of Russian cash since at least 1990, when Russian banks floated funds to extract his organization from bankruptcy. One Russian executive has claimed that Trump has received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian funders who will likely never see the money again, all in the interest of providing 'an opportunity to further compromise the future president' and, as a larger goal, 'to undermine and corrupt the institutions and democracies of the West.' All that, of course, is straight out of the KGB playbook as enacted by Putin’s lieutenants around the world, with the state’s extensive financial resources at their disposal. Much of Belton’s story has been related in earlier books, but none with so specific a focus on those shadowy aides and their actions ... An eyebrow-raising book that, among other things, helps connect some of the dots of the Mueller Report.