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“The Times: Book of the Week” | “Winter Is Coming” Book Review

Putin versus the pussyfooters

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 1.57.33 PMVladimir Putin’s foes are either dead, jailed, cowed into silence or — in the case of Garry Kasparov — in exile. That is bad enough. Even worse is that those who could stand up to the Kremlin fail to do so. The main target of this brave, trenchant and convincing book is not the thuggish and dangerous regime that misrules Russia, but the cowardly wishful thinking in the West that refuses to stop it.
The book is studded with allusions to the author’s beloved chess. If a player has a strong position—“attacking momentum” — but fails to use it, the other side’s counterattack is inevitable and will be very strong, he argues. For this reason the greatest mistake of the West, he claims, predates Putin’s rise to power in Russia in 1999. It was the failure to realise the scale and nature of the victory in 1991. Far from seeing the collapse of communism as the triumph of democracy, the rule of law and freedom, and a chance to advance our cause with redoubled energy, we instead settled down to make money.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 12.58.32 PMThat initial mistake has been compounded by our timidity and greed. We are unwilling to see the scope of the threat that we face from anti-western forces such as Putin. Kasparov notes blisteringly: “The western rhetoric of appeasement creates a self-reinforcing loop of mental and moral corruption: speaking the truth now would mean confessing to many months of lies.”

The book gallops through the collapse of the Soviet Union and the chaotic 1990s and then charges full tilt at Vladimir Putin: a former KGB man who is a far more dangerous adversary than most outsiders realise. His rise to power in 1999 should have been a deafening alarm call to the West: as shocking as an ex-Gestapo officer coming to power in Germany.

 

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