During his nearly twenty years at the center of Russian political power, Vladimir Putin has transformed the vast country in many ways, not all of them for the better. The near-chaos of the early post-Soviet years has been replaced by an increasingly rigid authoritarianism, resembling a hard-fisted monarchy more than the previous communist dictatorship. Putin's early years in power saw rapid economic growth, averaging nearly 7 percent annually, and the rise of Moscow as a vibrant European-style city. But a slowdown during the second half of Putin's administration, since 2009, has resulted in the stagnation of the economy, especially in the hinterlands, with few signs of a possible turnaround.
What accounted for these changes in Russia? Sergey Aleksashenko, a former top Russian finance official and then private businessman, lays the blame squarely on Putin himself, even more than external factors such as the sharp fall in oil prices or Western sanctions after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
In his relentless drive to consolidate power in his own hands, Aleksashenko writes, Putin has destroyed the very idea of competition for political power. He has done so by systematically undercutting basic political institutions of the post-Soviet Russian state, including independent power centers such as the parliament, the judiciary, and a free media. In the economic realm, Putin effectively undermined Russia's still-emerging and very fragile system for protecting property rights—the basis of all economic activity. This in turn caused a sharp decline in private investment and thus contributed to the long-term economic slowdown.
One result of Putin's rule was the destruction of the emerging checks and balances system in Russia, and that would be a major problem for Russia if and when it decides to become a "normal" democratic country based on Western values. In describing how all this happened, Aleksashenko's book offers universal lessons in the necessity of checks and balances in any political system—as well as in the importance of vibrant political institutions for economic growth.
In Police State, legendary "country lawyer" Gerry Spence reveals the unnerving truth of our criminal justice system. In his more than sixty years in the courtroom, Spence has never represented a person charged with a crime in which the police hadn't themselves violated the law. Whether by hiding, tampering with, or manufacturing evidence; by gratuitous violence and even murder, those who are charged with upholding the law too often break it. Spence points to the explosion of brutality leading up to the murder of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, insisting that this is the way it has always been: cops get away with murder. Nothing changes.
Police State narrates the shocking account of the Madrid train bombings -how the FBI accused an innocent man of treasonous acts they knew he hadn't committed. It details the rampant racism within Chicago's police department, which landed teenager Dennis Williams on death row. It unveils the deliberately coercive efforts of two cops to extract a false murder confession from frightened and mentally fragile Albert Hancock, along with other appalling evidence from eight of Spence's most famous cases.
We all want to feel safe. But how can we be safe when the very police we pay to protect us instead kill us, maim us, and falsify evidence against us. Can we accept the argument that cops may occasionally overstep their boundaries, but only when handling guilty criminals and never with us? Can we expect them to investigate and prosecute themselves when faced with allegations of misconduct? Can we believe that they are acting for our own good? Too many innocent are convicted; too many are wrongly executed. The cost has become too high for a free people to bear.
In Police State, Spence issues a stinging indictment of the American justice system. Demonstrating that the way we select and train our police guarantees fatal abuses of justice, he also prescribes a challenging cure that stands to restore America's promise of liberty and justice for all.
The Eagle and the Trident provides the first comprehensive account of the development of U.S. diplomatic relations with an independent Ukraine, covering the years 1992 through 2004 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The United States devoted greater attention to Ukraine than any other post-Soviet state (except Russia) after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Steven Pifer, a career Foreign Service officer, worked on U.S.-Ukraine relations at the State Department and the White House during that period and also served as ambassador to Ukraine. With this volume he has written the definitive narrative of the ups and downs in the relationship between Washington and newly independent Ukraine.
The relationship between the two countries moved from heady days in the mid- 1990s, when they declared a strategic partnership, to troubled times after 2002. During the period covered by the book, the United States generally succeeded in its major goals in Ukraine, notably the safe transfer of nearly 2,000 strategic nuclear weapons left there after the Soviet collapse. Washington also provided robust support for Ukraine’s effort to develop into a modern, democratic, market-oriented state. But these efforts aimed at reforming the state proved only modestly successful, leaving a nation that was not resilient enough to stand up to Russian aggression in Crimea in 2014.
The author reflects on what worked and what did not work in the various U.S. approaches toward Ukraine. He also offers a practitioner’s recommendations for current U.S. policies in the context of ongoing uncertainty about the political stability of Ukraine and Russia’s long-term intentions toward its smaller but important neighbor.