In his book, Fragile Empire, Ben Judah attempted to explain the popularity cult surrounding Vladimir Putin and succeeded. His reporting effort published by the Yale University Press in 2013 and still relevant got praised, so I’m currently reading its so far best chapter called “Dizzy with Success” about Russia’s astonishing economic turnaround under Putin. When Ruth & I went to St. Petersburg a few years ago, I went into an urban market in this city and was amazed at the amount of space filled with vodka.
I wrote about it under the title “A Russian Supermarket” and was surprised by the positive response to it. I now know that this blog written in Putin’s 2nd year as President was rather naive. Despite vodka, male life expectancy has steadily risen. Putin is popular partially because Russia under him has become a financial powerhouse, and Ben Judah’s carefully researched Chapter 6 explores this phenomenon.
Below are some of Judah’s more interesting thoughts about this important world country. Russia, he observes, is “economically dependent on China” and Asiatic settlers are everywhere in Siberia. They “dominate commerce even in Moscow”. He goes on to say that Russians now shrug off creeping authoritarianism that can be clearly seen in…supermarkets. I remember seeing pictures of long lines of Russians before the Putin years standing in lines for hours hoping to get food. According to Judah, Russia stopped being a shortage economy in 2008 when it became a consumer economy. He notes that Russia has become a middle class country armed with cheap mobile phones. He says that the metro system in Moscow was once where the homeless usually went to die in the winter. Judah reported that 20 years ago Russia was the world’s 10th largest economy by average value of GDP measured by purchasing power. Ten years later it was #6 and healthier than Great Britain. Russians living below the poverty line 21 years ago, 30% of the population, dropped to 13% only 9 years later. During that time IKEA entered the Russian market and earned record profits. A few pages later, Judah makes this observation, “Russia is now the second most popular country for migrants in the world after the United States”. I can also attest to the fact that many Russians are now living in the State of Washington.
This author’s wise observations about how Russia has changed under Putin go on and on. He even explains why Russia is so shocked by the troubles it’s having in Ukraine and currently Belarus. This is an excellent read.