Book Reviews

Book review: The Return – Russia’s Journey From Gorbachev to Medvedev.


Russia, before the 1917 revolution and after it, has puzzled western leaders and analysts.

Daniel Treisman, a political scientists specializing in modern Russian politics, has in this book shed light on how politics in the biggest land of the world, covering 11 times zones, works.

The author ravelled to Russia several times, interviewed many Russian intellectuals, politicians and ordinary citizens to write this illuminating account on what M. Gorbachev intended, and what happened while trying to accomplish his objective. Gorbachev anted to freeform Communism, make it more “liveable”, increase productivity, and eliminate rampant alcoholism. We all now know what happened.

In this book, theories are advanced, and many have proved to be correct after reading the outcomes of interviews.

The author consulted many books, the notes at the end run 99 pages. Imagine the thoroughness of the research.

The public in the West gets only information that has been “filtered” through many agencies, but in this book myths and misinformation are shattered.

Gorbachev’s background, as well as those of Boris Yeltsin’s, Vladimir Putin’s, and Dmitri Medevedev’s is thoroughly explored, and conclusions draw for their decisions each one has made.

Professor Treisman believes Boris Yeltsin to be the real democrat who actually brought the “Empire” back from the abyss by reforming the system sometimes through coercion, at other times by convincing his opponents, and yet on occasion by reassuring them. He started the “New” Russia as a republic of relatively free market economy.

His mistakes are revealed, but his strengths as well. Many believe Yeltsin to have been an alcoholic all along, but according to the author it was after becoming president he took to drinking, first flavoured-vodka, then cognac.

An extensive chapter also depicts how Yeltsin got involved with Chechnya, and what he did to keep or force the region back into the fold.

Putin’s policies and style of governing are scrutinized, and analysed, including his frame of mind, which undoubtedly reflects his KGB training. His youth was “tumultuous” to say the least, but his law degree from St. Petersburg University seems to have helped his understanding of life in the Soviet Union, and later Russia, in transition to a relatively free market economy.

To be sure, Russia’s economy is still not fully free, but close to what        it should be. What it will eventually become is still another question altogether.

After “smart” people  – both government officials and those with ‘connections” stripped the state of its best and most financially lucrative assets, they transferred the ill-gotten funds to offshore accounts. They had no confidence in their own government and country.

It is highly interesting to read how vulnerable the Russian economy has become, relying on natural resources. But serious efforts have been made and are still being made to encourage industries to develop.

Medvedev, a professor of law, is an interesting choice by Putin. But, here again, the true Russian thinking becomes clear how nepotism dominates politics in this vast, naturally endowed country, with highly desirable resources.

The style lucid, flows well, contains a lot of first hand information and would be an excellent asset for all those involved in world politics, agencies in charge of gathering intelligence, students of eastern European politics and history.

The Return is a fascinating book for all those interested in politics, especially Russian politics and recent history.

Highly recommended!

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