Anne Applebaum has an outstanding piece in NYRB about why it is so hard to fathom the Russian leadership:
[T]hat is exactly the point about contemporary Russia: there is no proof of anything that happened. Documents are missing. People have disappeared or changed their identities. Major companies are owned by nonexistent shell companies, and they mysteriously do the president’s bidding. After Putin’s government arrested him in 2003, Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s company, Yukos, was driven into bankruptcy and its enormous assets were sold at auction. Only one buyer turned up to bid at that auction: a previously unknown company called Baikal Finance Group, whose listed address turned out to belong to a vodka bar in the provincial town of Tver. That company then sold those assets for a pittance to Rosneft, another oil company whose major shareholder is the Russian government. Rosneft’s CEO, in addition to his business career, also held down a second job as President Putin’s deputy chief of staff.
Rosneft subsequently received the imprimatur of the international financial establishment and sold its shares on the London Stock Exchange. Yukos’s former owners and shareholders are now in jail or in exile, reduced to filing endless lawsuits against the Russian government. At times, some of them do seem a little hysterical. So does William Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital, who launched a personal and political vendetta against the Russian government after the FSB tortured and murdered his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in a Russian prison. Before her death, the journalist Anna Politkovskaya could also seem a little hysterical. … Politkovskaya was murdered in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment building in 2006, and that murder has never been solved either. As the corpses pile up, as the capital flows out of the country, as colonies of Russians pop up like mushrooms in London, Nice, and Courcheval, where they busily launder themselves into respectability, it’s hard not to develop a conspiracy theory, or even a set of conspiracy theories, to explain what is going on.
Click here to read the full story.