This is the first full biography of Putin and it is unlikely to be matched as a study of the man for some time. It is readable, judicious, critical but balanced, and focused on Putin the person, rather than on the Putin regime ... There is no ‘gotcha’ moment that explains Putin, no single childhood trauma or slight. Short builds up a picture of his character — enigmatic, a mixture of emotional coldness, fits of anger and epic grudge-bearing, and very much focused on himself — by telling his life story straightforwardly and without empty psychologising ... While Putin engages in deadly power games, his regime keeps ticking over. When Putin finally goes, this messy, corrupt, incompetent, and violent regime will live on after him for a long time as a problem for Russia and the world. There’s no better guide as to why this will be Putin’s fault than this exceptional book.
Although Putin stands accused of various forms of chicanery, Short almost always exonerates him, writing that much of what his critics have said about him is no more than hearsay or rumor...It is hard to say if Short is right in this compelling and nuanced biography ... Short does, however, have a dark story of deception to tell. He skillfully shows how Putin gained the confidence of Western leaders because of his criticism of the former Soviet Union, and because he welcomed foreign investment and seemed not all that concerned with the expansion of NATO — until, of course, he was ... As Short makes clear, the Russian military has never been able to fight a war without committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Nothing Putin did earlier in his career, or now, has done much to mitigate war by atrocity.
... this new biography should be compulsory reading ... Refreshingly, Short, in this meticulous biography of a man portrayed elsewhere as a 21st-century monster, refuses to moralise, opting instead to lay out how Putin’s recent actions can be seen as the consequence of the 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The former BBC correspondent is at his best when pushing us to see the world from a Russian perspective ... Short relentlessly traces the journey Putin has taken in rejecting that 'peace', the Pax Americana, the unipolar world in which, according to Russia expert Strobe Talbott, then US deputy secretary of state, 'the US was acting as though it had the right to impose its view on the world' ... Short is too astute to indulge in easy post-event speculation about different outcomes. Instead, he charts the inexorable march away from the genuine more liberal aspirations of Putin’s early days to the harsh autocratic isolated tsar of recent years ... There is a blank evenness to Short’s prose, a steady accumulation of information built through intelligence and concentration on detail with emotions coiled tight, which makes this book a perfect mirror to its subject. He calls Putin a liar, regularly, but again and again he pulls back from laying direct responsibility on him for some of the more egregious acts. 'Hard to judge' or 'Nothing concrete suggests' and other such qualifiers litter his accounts of critical moments. Sometimes, they usefully temper the more extreme personal charges against Putin. Overall, however, they let him escape true responsibility, not for individual crimes, but for failing to transform Russia, instead reaching back to an arthritic mythical past, not forward to a different future ... The result is a step-by-step journey, whose penultimate chapter is a little surprisingly called 'The Endgame', hobbled by being published as the climax approaches, not after the event. Short, let alone history, has not had time to judge the success or failure of the latest horrifying act in Putin’s astonishing drive to make Russia great again.