Alexander Riley, Senior Fellow of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, delves into “Who Is Vladimir Putin” in the June 7th issue of Public Discourse:  The Journal of the Witherspoon Institute.  Dr. Riley reviewed Le Livre noir de Vladimir Poutine (The Black Book of Vladimir Putin), an anthology under the editorship of Gaila Ackerman and Stéphane Courtois.

Dr. Riley does not mince words when it comes to Putin: “[A]ny pretense to reality cannot deny that Putin’s regime is brutal, deceitful, corrupt, and unworthy of even mild admiration.”

A professor of sociology at Bucknell University, Dr. Riley describes French historian Stéphane Courtois, the driving force behind this anthology, as “perhaps the world’s foremost historian of the Bolshevik revolution and Soviet communism” and author of “the finest biography of Lenin.” His penetrating contributions to this collection make clear that Vladimir Putin is quintessentially marked by his socialization and advancement within the “brutal and amoral” bureaucracy of the KGB.

How indeed did this modest lieutenant-colonel rise to the top of hierarchy in post-Soviet Russia?  “The vast majority of those who had participated in its structures and atrocities escaped punishment [after the fall of the Soviet Empire], and many of them created political careers in the post-communist era.”  In this milieu, Putin got high marks for duplicity and ruthlessness.

Evidence exists that as a freshly minted prime minister, Putin and the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB, the successor organization to KGB) were behind the car bomb that struck the city of Buynaksk in Dagestan in 1999.  The bombing was attributed to Islamicist Chechens, but Putin used it to consolidate power.   As a result, Putin gave the go-ahead to invade Chechyna, and amid Russian nationalist fervor, he was elected president.  His efforts to reconstitute the Soviet Union are no less striking. “Such efforts have included the overt subversion of political process in those countries, the crushing of political movements inside them hostile to his administration, and outright war, occupation, and annexation.”

One of the contributors, Antoine Arjakovsky, Research Director at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris, has an unusually good discussion of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and his furtherance of Putin’s rise to power.  “This book,” says Dr. Riley, also “offers a healthy corrective for the portion of the American right that’s become frustrated with liberalism and has turned to Putin’s Russia as a viable alternative.”

All in all, Courtois and his collaborators deserve credit for this timely and effective anthology.  For the most part, it succeeds in laying bare Putin’s atrocities.