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Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin | Spring 2015

Book Reviews Robert R. Kracke Book Reviews SECRETS: NOW AND THEN Th e Man Without A Face Th e Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen Riverhead Books (Penguin Group) | New York, NY, 2012, 314 pages Vladimir Putin was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was educated in St. Petersburg schools and his parents were somewhat middle class Russians with bureaucratic jobs. In his youth, Putin was a scrapper and a fi ghter, or bully, at times. It should be noted that he is about 5 feet 5-6 inches tall and today wears built-up shoes. He has recently had two treatments of plastic surgery and divorced his wife. He has two daughters who are both very attractive, but who are kept out of the limelight. Putin studied at the University in St. Petersburg and upon graduation became a low level functionary with the KGB, assigned to Berlin where he learned to speak fl uent German. In Berlin, he was a low level bureaucrat who wrote a lot of reports during the day. Th e author, Masha Gessen, is a Russian journalist who was born and raised in Russia. She and her parents immigrated to the United States and then Ms. Gessen returned to Russia to continue her role as a very controversial, almost belligerent writer, one who relishes her role as the antagonist and nemesis of Vladimir Putin. Putin has always maintained a low profi le and has appeared to be non-confrontational in his political activities. He obtained the position of Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg as an Assistant to Mayor Anatoly Sobchak. Sobchak was a somewhat charismatic individual “on the take,” as many politicians are. When Boris Yeltsin became President of Russia, a virtual coup occurred after Yeltsin succeeded Mikhail Gorbachev, who had pushed Perestroika, or a softening of the Communist line toward Democracy. When Sobchak was being accused of certain crimes as Mayor of St. Petersburg, somehow none of this seemed to implicate Deputy Mayor Putin. Yeltsin apparently took a liking to this quiet KGB operative and, to make a long story short, when President Yeltsin was forced out of offi ce, he appointed Putin to be his successor. Sobchak, who was being persecuted, fl ed Russia on a pretense of traveling to France for health reasons, and when Putin became President, the persecution of Sobchak ceased. All of this occurred during the 1990 - 1991 “change” from Communism to a “Democracy.” Th e Hammer and Sickle was changed to a fl ag of red, white and blue, but most of the changes were cosmetic. Th is book is almost a history book of Russia from 1990 to 2012, and at times becomes tedious in telling the reader more than they need to know about the minutiae of events that took place during that time. It is, however, a fascinating resource should one begin a study of the character and personality of Vladimir Putin. Th is reviewer recently had a conversation on this subject with Birmingham Bar Member Richard E. Smith of Christian & Small and some other lawyers. Richard’s son has studied at various universities, but at one time was in St. Petersburg studying international diplomatic relations. Richard knows second-hand some of the material covered in this book. He pointed out that his son told him that Putin is a collector of expensive watches. We all agreed that Putin is a billionaire today (about 40 billion), and has eight or ten homes, airplanes and yachts at his disposal. Also, that behind the scenes, Putin is no shrinking violet. Apparently, the Perestroika (“restructuring”) dreamed of by Gorbachev along with Glasnost (“openness”) has been altered by Putin. While it is true that Putin must run for election and re-election, it is common knowledge that he maintained political dominance when his immediate predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, appointed him to be Prime Minister. Gessen’s book points out that in March, 2004, when Putin stood for re-election, he had fi ve opponents. Each candidate had a few weeks to collect two million signatures and many of those were thrown out by the Central Elec- 28 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin | Spring 2015
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