When Russia glimpsed freedom – for a moment


In the years since the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, Russians experienced the longest period of freedom in their thousand-year history — and then lost it, notes David E. Hoffman, author of The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal.

It is an inspiring, tragic story that still demands investigation and exploration: how a great and mighty nation threw off the shackles, without a violent revolution, and then wound up with them back on again, he writes for The Washington Post:

Arkady Ostrovsky’s life and career straddle this remarkable period. He was born and bred in the Soviet Union, studied at Cambridge, and later returned to Russia as a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and the Economist. In “The Invention of Russia,” he portrays the epoch as a series of waves, each filled with bright, confident people who are later marooned on their own islands of hope. While many previous authors have attempted detailed reconstructions of this history, Ostrovsky takes a different approach, focused more on why events turned out as they did. 

“The Soviet Union yoked together dreamers and strongmen—those who believed in an egalitarian ideal and those who pushed for an even more powerful state,” the book suggests. “The new Russia is a cynical operation, where perpetual fear and war are fueled by a web of lies, as television presenters peddle the invasion of Ukraine and goad Putin to go nuclear.”

Ostrovsky’s book explains today’s reinvention of Russia, says Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag, and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

When protests by the young and middle class broke out in Moscow against Putin in 2011, he was “angry and rattled,” Hoffman adds:

His subsequent war in Ukraine was accompanied by an ever-more-destructive propaganda campaign on television and elsewhere in which anti-Americanism was drilled into the minds of the Russian people. “This hell cannot end peacefully,” the reformer Boris Nemtsov (right), who opposed the war, wrote on Facebook in May 2014. Ten months later he was murdered, shot in the back, just beyond the Kremlin walls.

It is a terribly sad ending to the epoch of Russian freedom, but Ostrovsky asserts that this cannot be the last turn of events. He quotes the late economist Yegor Gaidar, who once said that “big changes happen later than we think but earlier than we expect.” In Russia, certainly. RTWT

Russia’s surprisingly free media were once a powerful instrument of reform. …Ostrovsky tells how all but a very few have turned instead—deliberately, cynically, and on behalf of the state—to creating the distorted image of reality which shapes the country today, notes Rodric Braithwaite, British Ambassador to the USSR 1988–1992 and author of Moscow 1941. 

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