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Book review: Putin's reign tenuous

Ben Judah examines Russian President Vladimir Putin's precarious hold on power in Fragile Empire.

Fragile Empire
Ben Judah
Yale University Press

To the casual observer, it seems Vladimir Putin has been running Russia for a long time and manipulating his hold on power by orchestrating a switch of positions with Dmitri Medvedev, the once puppet president and now sycophant prime minister. Despite the pretence of being an emerging democracy, Putin's Russia is far from that.

In Ben Judah's view, a former Reuters Moscow correspondent, Putin's policies and the country's oil wealth have brought economic gains and a growing middle class. But corruption, weak and incompetent governmental institutions and a protest movement, coupled with the power of the internet, make Putin's continued hold on power somewhat precarious.

"He had triumphed as a politician, but Putin's old model was bust, his old politics was bust, and this was exposed by the protest movement that erupted in Moscow over the winter of 2011-2012 to denounce the rigged elections of managed democracy," Judah writes in the meticulously researched Fragile Empire. "The movement did not mark the end of the regime. It exposed the regime's power for what it was - based on controlling gigantic assets, TV media and the security organs, not legitimacy and the acclaim of the elites."

* Richard Pretorius

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