The Russia Conundrum by Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 I’ve been devouring audiobooks on Russian history. I’ve been naïve and ignorant: I couldn’t fathom why, in this day and age, we could have large scale war and conflict on our continent. I’m sure that casually interested people can cite basic reasons about geo-politics and historical boundaries etc. But I felt compelled to go deep.

I think my audio book journey has ended for now with this (relatively lightweight) assessment from a native Russian. Albeit a Russian living in exile, with an axe to grind… and an ex-Oligarch – but he used to regularly chat and meet with Putin. So it’s an interesting insight of money, greed, botched principles of privatisation at the end of the Yeltsin period and the need for ‘The West’ to be portrayed as the ‘enemy’ in order to perpetuate the need for the ‘strong man’ state of authoritarianism.

And Mikhail corroborates the words of the other authors I’ve read. What is the Russian Conundrum?

Is it a ‘politics of eternity’ verses a ‘politics of inevitability’ compounded by a lack of succession principles? Timothy Snyder and ‘The Road To Unfreedom’.

Is it the complex history, Tsars, the loss of empire, revolutions, the loss of the Soviet Union that forces Putin to mourn those losses? Or is Russia too big and lacking strong and the well established local governments that are needed to facilitate anything other than authoritarianism ? Orlando Figes and ‘The Story of Russia’.

Is authoritarianism the consequence when ordinary people don’t uphold and pursue basic principles – such as supporting quality journalism and not being blindly obedient. Timothy Snyder and ‘On Tyranny and On Ukraine’.

And what was it like living and working in Russian under Putin. Media manipulation, propaganda, ‘narratives’, state intervention, businesses seized, charges falsified, bribery and so on. Peter Pomerantsev and ‘Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible’.

Are there answers? Is there any hope? I haven’t a clue.