Book Review: In Putin’s Footsteps
Nina Krushcheva and Jeffrey Tayler write that the key to understanding Russia`s geopolitics, its people and its leaders, are the nation`s faith and giant territory. With respect to the former, when the era of the Tatar-Mongolian rule over Russia ended in the 1470s, Moscow declared itself the Byzantine Empire`s successor, the third Rome. The Russian Orthodox Church generated what has become a major part of Russian mythology, that of Russia`s superior soul, which comprises spiritual endurance, persevering patience, belief in miracles and material sacrifice.
Russia appropriated the double -headed eagle of Byzantium which looked to both Europe and Asia, which implies an imperial destiny. Krushcheva and Tayler argue that Russia esteems despots over reformers, the former seen as strong-willed for the good of the country, the latter as weak and self interested. The desire for a “strong leader”, which most Russians appear to have, transforms itself, in a country with a de facto absence of rule of law, into a search for the good czar.
Putin knows that Russians expect God-like status for their rulers, hence the glorified rituals in the Kremlin, though Putin, in deference to contemporary tastes, projects a James Bond image as well.
This is an excellent travel book. The authors` journey begins on the Baltic at Kaliningrad, for seven hundred years the German city of Konigsberg, and ends on the Pacific Ocean at Vladivostok, with its spectacular bridge like San Francisco`s. The roads in the provinces are terrible, but there is a good rail service with competitive prices, comfortable carriages and well-appointed stations. There is a great variety of locations, from islands in the White Sea where there have been monasteries and prisons, to a planned academic city east of the Ural Mountains, Novosibirsk, which has 37 research institutes.
Russia`s political future broods over the book. It was published in 2019, before the invasion of the Ukraine, but the authors` conclusion that the majority of Russians continue to applaud his [Putin`s] imperial ambitions, still seems to hold. The war dishonours Russia, and is particularly sad in Russia`s case because a strong sense of religious vocation is one of the strands in its culture, expressed in its literature. Russians are a God-bearing people, declared Dostoyevsky. One of
Russia`s greatest novels, Bulgakov`s The Master and Margarita, has as its main theme the interplay of innocence and political power, a Quaker theme if ever there was one. Moreover, Tolstoy`s work on non-violent resistance inspired Gandhi to show the world that de-colonisation did not have to be violent.
This book provides useful background and food for thought.
In Putin`s Footsteps. Searching for the Soul of an Empire Across Russia`s Eleven Time Zones. Published by St. Martin`s Press. New York. 2019. Pp.308. ISBN 9781250163233
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