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Putin's People

How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West

Catherine Belton


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ISBN10: 1250787327
ISBN13: 9781250787323

Trade Paperback

656 Pages



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Interference in American elections. The sponsorship of extremist politics in Europe. War in Ukraine. In recent years, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has waged a concerted campaign to expand its influence and undermine Western institutions. But how and why did all this come about, and who has orchestrated it?

In Putin’s People, the investigative journalist and former Moscow correspondent Catherine Belton reveals the untold story of how Vladimir Putin and the small group of KGB men surrounding him rose to power and looted their country. Delving deep into the workings of Putin’s Kremlin, Belton accesses key inside players to reveal how Putin replaced the freewheeling tycoons of the Yeltsin era with a new generation of loyal oligarchs, who in turn subverted Russia’s economy and legal system and extended the Kremlin's reach into the United States and Europe. The result is a chilling and revelatory exposé of the KGB’s revanche—a story that begins in the murk of the Soviet collapse, when networks of operatives were able to siphon billions of dollars out of state enterprises and move their spoils into the West. Putin and his allies subsequently completed the agenda, reasserting Russian power while taking control of the economy for themselves, suppressing independent voices, and launching covert influence operations abroad.

Ranging from Moscow and London to Switzerland and Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach—and assembling a colorful cast of characters to match—Putin’s People is the definitive account of how hopes for the new Russia went astray, with stark consequences for its inhabitants and, increasingly, the world.


Praise for Putin's People

"The cast of supporting characters in Catherine Belton’s study of the Russia of Vladimir Putin is extraordinary and worthy of a Netflix mini-series . . . This is modern Russia in full, horrifying technicolour. In Putin’s People, Belton, a former Financial Times Moscow correspondent, leaves no stone unturned in her exposition of how the Russian president and his ‘people’ dominate the largest country on Earth and how they have come to do so."—Peter Frankopan, Financial Times

"A fearless, fascinating account of the emergence of the Putin regime . . . [Belton] has an unrivalled command of the labyrinthine history of share schemes, refinancing packages, mergers, shell companies, and offshore accounts that lay bare the stealthy capture of the post-Soviet economy and state institutions by a coterie of former KGB officers . . . The result reads at times like a John le Carré novel . . . [Belton] gives a granular account of Putin’s early years as an agent in Dresden not simply as an ominous feature of his biography but as the seedbed of the regime over which he would preside . . . A groundbreaking and meticulously researched anatomy of the Putin regime, Belton’s book shines a light on the pernicious threats Russian money and influence now pose to the west."—Daniel Beer, The Guardian

"Relentless and convincing . . . This is the most remarkable account so far of Putin's rise . . . Belton offers the most detailed and compelling version [of this story] yet, based on dozens of interviews with oligarchs and Kremlin insiders, as well as former KGB operatives and Swiss and Russian bankers . . . Gobsmacking . . . A superb book."—Luke Harding, The Guardian

"As Catherine Belton's powerful and meticulously reported new book shows, the apparent anarchy of the post-Soviet world has instead given way to a massive concentration of wealth and power, which is used by the new Russian elite to quash dissent at home and project force abroad . . . A narrative tour de force."The Economist

"[Catherine Belton's] book is fast-paced, thoroughly researched and packed with new—or at least not widely known—facts . . . This is the best kind of journalist's book, written with an eye for a well-turned story and compelling characters, and steering mercifully clear of academic theorizing. And what tales Belton has to tell."—Owen Matthews, Spectator

"A staggering achievement of reporting . . . The level of depth [Belton] reaches, and the analysis of the details which are, by design, entirely opaque transactions and financial arrangements, is simply incredible. Belton follows the money. She unravels the complex financial relationships but marries these up with insider accounts from nearly every part of the Russian ecosystem—from intelligence officers to bankers, politicians to prosecutors, and the oligarchs themselves. That she can do this and make it a thrilling read at the same time is nothing short of astonishing. After reading this, one can only hope that Netflix or Amazon will option it as a documentary or series—a process made all the easier by Belton’s fluid writing . . . Belton is perhaps the best guide to understanding how Putin came to the presidency and how those surrounding him operate. Washington policymakers would be well served by reading this book."—Joshua Huminski, Diplomatic Courier

“The plot sounds like a geopolitical thriller. Amid an empire’s collapse, the secret police funnel money out of the country, creating a slush fund to rebuild their old networks. They regain power, become spectacularly rich and turn on their enemies, first at home—and then abroad.”—Edward Lucas, The Times (London)

"Relentless and magnificently detailed . . . Putin’s People is a serious, absolutely timely warning. No book has documented the Russian president’s leadership so indefatigably and compellingly. If you want to grasp in full how Russia has become the nation it has in the last 20 years, this is the book you’ve been waiting for."—Julian Evans, The Telegraph

"Catherine Belton is quite simply the most detailed and best-informed journalist covering Russia. One hears so much grand punditry about the country, but if you want to know the terrifying facts, from the nexus of KGB, business, and crime which was Putin's petri dish to the complex reality of the relationship with Trump—and if you want to see how all this combines into a whole new system—then this is the book for you."—Peter Pomerantsev, author of This Is Not Propaganda and Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible

"Putin's People is meticulously researched and superbly written, terrifying in its scope and utterly convincing in its argument. It is a portrait of a group of men ruthless in their power and careless of anyone else. This is the Putin book that we've been waiting for."—Oliver Bullough, author of Moneyland and The Last Man in Russia

Putin’s People is a ground-breaking investigative history of the rise of Vladimir Putin and a revealing examination of how power and money intersect in today’s Russia. Catherine Belton has pulled away the curtain on two decades of hidden financial networks and lucrative secret deals, exposing the inner workings of Putin & Co. in remarkable and disturbing detail. A real eye-opener.”—David E. Hoffman, author of The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia

“Catherine Belton deftly tackles one of Russia’s biggest mysteries—how did an undistinguished, mid-level former intelligence operative like Vladimir Putin catapult himself to such lofty heights? Her deeply researched account digs into unexplored aspects of Putin’s rise to power as well as the experiences of longtime Putin friends and allies who have harvested most of the benefits from his 20 year reign.”—Andrew S. Weiss, James Family Chair and vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment

"Drawing on extensive interviews with Kremlin insiders and dispossessed oligarchs such as Sergei Pugachev and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Belton paints a richly detailed portrait of the Putin regime’s tangled conspiracies and thefts . . . A lucid, page-turning account of the sinister mix of authoritarian state power and gangster lawlessness that rules Russia."Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Catherine Belton

Catherine Belton reports on Russia for The Washington Post. She worked from 2007 to 2013 as the Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, and in 2016 as the newspaper’s legal correspondent. She has previously reported on Russia for The Moscow Times and BusinessWeek and served as an investigative correspondent for Reuters. In 2009, she was short-listed for the British Press Awards’ Business and Finance Journalist of the Year prize. She lives in London.


Catherine Belton

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