Russia Analytical Report, Sept. 17-24, 2018

This Week’s Highlights:

  • The Chinese-Russian security partnership has its limits, and it is important not to lose sight of them, writes Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow and the chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. Moscow and Beijing aren’t seeking a formal alliance, at least for now, Gabuev writes; however, at a minimum, Russian and Chinese counterintelligence agencies are now believed to share sensitive information on CIA operations that are being conducted against them.
  • Less than two weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin touted to an audience of Asian leaders the success of his policies in revitalizing Russia’s Far East. Since then, however, Kremlin-backed candidates failed to win gubernatorial elections in Russia’s two biggest Far Eastern regions, suggesting that something about the Kremlin’s approach to the Far East isn’t working, writes Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky. The distance between Putin’s great-power rhetoric, his view that the Russian economy is stable, his huge government investment programs and the way people actually lead their daily lives is huge throughout Russia, Bershidsky notes. While in most places, apathy fills that gap, he writes, in Russia’s Far East, there’s a lively sense of being on the empire’s edge, a frontier where obedience isn’t a virtue.
  • While last week the dispute over the Kuril Islands between Russia and Japan seemed closer to resolution, Putin's remarks at the Eastern Economic Forum dashed those prospects. One reason why resolving the dispute remains out of reach is that Russian hopes for an influx of investment from Japan have not been realized. According to the Japan External Trade Organization, Japanese companies accounted for just 0.03 percent of direct foreign investments in Russia in 2017, writes Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs.
  • Russia is in a position to be a kingpin for stability in the Middle East and a price-maker in oil markets, a position it has never held, writes Ronald Smith, a Moscow-based senior Russian oil and gas analyst for Citi Research.

I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

  • No significant commentary.

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant commentary.


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

“Why Putin Has Suddenly Turned Dovish on Syria,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg/The Moscow Times, 09.20.18The author, a journalist and veteran Russia watcher, writes: “All of a sudden, President Vladimir Putin is a soft touch on Syria. First, he let President Recep Tayyip Erdogan … persuade him not to begin a huge attack on the Syrian opposition in Idlib. Then he defused a conflict with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel over a downed Russian military plane. … The change should probably be credited to President Donald Trump. Unlike President Barack Obama, Trump has not hesitated to use force against the Assad regime. … The last thing Putin wants is for the U.S., flanked by Turkey and Israel, to attack the Assad regime. He’d be pitted against three major military powers with only Iran and the feckless Assad forces as his allies. … To hold on to the gains Putin made jointly with Assad, he needs to exercise caution. On the one hand, he’s winning points by showing a willingness to compromise; on the other hand, though, he can’t be seen as showing weakness. This is perhaps the most difficult position for the Russian leader in Syria since 2015. Whether Putin can wiggle out of it without losing face will have important consequences for Russia’s role in the Middle East.”

“Russia’s Bitter Reality Check in Syria,” Yury Barmin, The Moscow Times, 09.21.18The author, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, writes: “The deal that Putin and Erdogan struck in Sochi is a win-win arrangement for Moscow and Ankara. Its benefits for Syria, however, are questionable. … In the short term … this deal will help avert a full-scale Syrian offensive and maintain the illusion of calm in Syria ... The seeming triumph of the Idlib deal was overshadowed by the incident over Syrian [skies] just one day [later] … [A] Russian IL-20 reconnaissance jet was shot down by Syria over the Mediterranean, killing all 15 on board. The incident occurred when an Israeli F-16 jet was on a mission to bomb a Syrian weapons production facility in Latakia province. … [T]he shoot-down was an inconvenient disruption to the cozy Syrian peace narrative pedaled by the Russian leadership and media. It exposes that the Syrian war is far from over, that coordination between Russia and its allies is extremely weak and … that the Syrian government is still very much on the defensive. The most surprising part of the incident … is Russia’s reaction that was incoherent at best. … [T]he Russian Defense Ministry came out with harsh criticism of Israel … The Russian President, however, took a conciliatory stance on the incident … In a rush to engineer a political solution to the crisis, Moscow is finding it increasingly hard to keep both its allies and opponents in line.”

“Syria Is a Lost Cause and America Must Move On,” Doug Bandow, The National Interest, 09.23.18The author, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writes: “Candidate Donald Trump … criticized endless war-making in the Middle East and wanted U.S. forces out of Syria. But U.S. administration officials recently said they are in no hurry to exit the Syrian civil war … The seven-year conflict is in its endgame. … Only Idlib province remains under insurgent control, and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are preparing what may be the final offensive. … Overall, U.S. policy [in Syria] was not just a failure, but a disaster. Washington managed to do little more than raise expectations among Assad’s opponents, prolonging the war and increasing its toll. … It is this record which candidate Trump understandably criticized for good reason. But President Trump’s Syria policy has turned into that of his predecessor. … The Islamic State is largely defeated, but America is unwilling to shift responsibility back to [Middle Eastern nations] … Syria does not threaten the United States, or Israel, which is more than capable of deterring Damascus. Brutal authoritarian governments are unpleasant, but common in the Middle East. … Iran is a malign actor but is overstretched, and its alliance with Syria is defensive. … He [Assad] won't leave because Washington wants him to. Nor is there any chance that Moscow will oust its ally. … America, with very little at stake in Syria, wants to dictate Syria's future and limit or exclude countries with far greater interests at stake than America has. … Even if … objectives were realistic, the gain wouldn't be worth the effort.”

Cyber security:

“President Loosens Secretive Restraints on Ordering Cyberattacks,” David Sanger, New York Times, 09.21.18The author, a national security correspondent for the news outlet, writes: “President Trump has authorized new, classified orders for the Pentagon's cyberwarriors to conduct offensive attacks against adversaries more freely and frequently … [John] Bolton rewrote a draft of the [cyber] strategy … in April. Many of his remarks … focused on a secret order … that appears to give far more latitude for the newly elevated United States Cyber Command to act with minimal consultation from a number of other government agencies. … It is not clear whether Mr. Trump must still approve every major offensive online operation … Much of the strategy that was made public … strongly echoes similar documents issued by Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush. 'Russia, Iran and North Korea conducted reckless cyberattacks that harmed American and international businesses and our allies and partners without paying costs likely to deter future cyberaggression,' the strategy read. … Bolton, whose concepts of deterrence were formed in the Cold War, is likely to discover what his predecessors learned: Almost every strategy that worked in deterring nuclear attacks does not fit the digital era … The government has grown more skilled at attributing the source of a cyberattack, but the process remains lengthy. By the time a conclusion is reached, it is often too late to mount a successful counterstrike.”

Elections interference:

“The Plot to Subvert an Election: Unraveling the Russia Story So Far,” Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane, New York Times, 09.20.18The authors, reporters for the news outlet, write: “The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come. Acting on the personal animus of Mr. Putin, public and private instruments of Russian power moved with daring and skill to harness the currents of American politics. Well-connected Russians worked aggressively to recruit or influence people inside the Trump campaign. … To many Americans, the intervention seemed to be a surprise attack … carried out by an inexplicably sinister Russia. For Mr. Putin, however, it was long-overdue payback … And there is a plausible case that Mr. Putin succeeded in delivering the presidency to his admirer, Mr. Trump, though it cannot be proved or disproved. … [T]he repeated disruption of the Clinton campaign by emails published on WikiLeaks and the anti-Clinton, pro-Trump messages shared with millions of voters by Russia could have made the difference, a possibility Mr. Trump flatly rejects.”

“How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump,” Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, Oct. 1, 2018 issue: The author, a correspondent for the publication, writes: “Trump dismisses the idea that Russian interference affected the outcome of the 2016 election … ‘Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President—What We Don’t, Can’t and Do Know,’ by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania, dares to ask—and even attempts to answer—whether Russian meddling had a decisive impact in 2016. … [Jamieson] expressed confidence that unbiased readers would accept her conclusion that it is not just plausible that Russia changed the outcome of the 2016 election—it is ‘likely that it did.’ … Jamieson said … ‘I’m not arguing that Russians pulled the voting levers. I’m arguing that they persuaded enough people to either vote a certain way or not vote at all.’ … Philip Howard, the Oxford professor … thinks that, if there was any collusion between the St. Petersburg trolls and the Trump campaign, Facebook’s internal data could document it, by revealing coordination on political posts. … Facebook has so far resisted divulging such data to researchers, claiming that doing so would be a breach of its user agreement. … Regardless of her findings about the Russian scheme, she [Jamieson] writes that, ‘barring evidence of tampering’ with voting machines or ballot boxes, ‘Trump is the duly elected President of the United States.’ She says that she will leave it to others to decide whether Trump should remain in office if conclusive evidence emerges that he colluded with the Kremlin in order to win the election.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“Russia Has Positioned Itself to Be a Global Oil Price-Maker,” Ronald Smith, Financial Times, 09.20.18The author, Citi Research’s Moscow-based senior Russian oil and gas analyst, writes: “The resurgence in Russia’s oil industry has been little understood by the market. … When Russia added nearly 300,000 barrels a day to markets in June … all of that output came from new ‘green field’ discoveries. … With higher oil prices Russia is in a position to add 3 percent annually to the country’s production base, up from 1 percent annually previously, and this new level of growth looks like it can be sustained for at least the next few years. … Russia is essentially taking the lead in managing the market. … Russia’s invitation to join [OPEC and allies] was at the behest of Saudi Arabia, which recognized that it alone was incapable of affecting global markets as effectively as it could in the past. OPEC had quite simply lost its market clout. … Adding Russia’s more than 11 million barrels per day of capacity has helped OPEC regain influence. In the process, Russia has achieved two big foreign policy objectives … Russia is in a position to be a kingpin for stability in the Middle East and a price-maker in oil markets, a position it has never held.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Washington’s Endless Sanctions Are Finally Backfiring: They've always been ineffective. What's different now is that they're threatening to undermine American strength,” Doug Bandow, American Conservative, 09.20.18The author, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writes: “Washington is filled with talk of American exceptionalism. … This hubris has become the foundation of American foreign policy, especially when it comes to economic sanctions. … Studies have found that sanctions are most likely to work when restrictions are international, applied to a limited number of products and intended to achieve modest goals. Even then, governments rarely sacrifice fundamental interests … Last year, the Treasury Department added roughly 1,000 people and organizations to the Specially Designated Nationals List. Yet even such enhanced penalties rarely change the governments they target. … Sanctions are worse than ineffective: they have potentially far-reaching economic impacts. … Washington’s promiscuous use of economic sanctions has moved the global economy away from the liberal marketplace. … [For Europe,] Iran is different. America abandoned an international agreement, dismissed European interests, disrupted burgeoning commerce, further destabilized the Middle East and demanded humiliating obedience. Europeans, used to giving in, now are angrier and less willing to accept the Trump administration’s fait accompli. … Candidate Trump promised a change in policy. President Trump should turn that change into a reality. He can begin by introducing a touch of humility and prudence into America’s foreign policy.”

“US Sanctions Are Driving Russian Billionaires Into Putin’s Arms,” Yuliya Fedorinova, Ilya Arkhipov and Evgenia Pismennaya, Bloomberg, 09.21.18The authors, reporters for the news outlet, write: “The Trump administration is helping Vladimir Putin achieve a goal that’s eluded him for almost two decades—getting Russia’s billionaires to start repatriating some of their assets. … The unpredictability of both the White House and Congress is forcing Russians to move money into state-run banks and rejig the offshore superstructure that’s sheltered fortunes here since communism’s collapse. … [T]he rush to move assets beyond the reach of the U.S. Treasury started … when Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg and their companies lost billions within hours of being hit with the harshest penalties to date. Now the trend is accelerating, spurred by the threat of even more draconian measures over Russia’s alleged election meddling and nerve-agent attack on a turncoat spy in England. … Moving corporate registrations home is becoming a lucrative business. Alexey Mordashov and Alisher Usmanov are just two of the billionaires who’ve transferred stakes in major enterprises to Russia-registered companies in the last few months.”

“Capital Flight Figures To Make Your Eyes Water,” Ben Aris,, 09.22.18The author, a freelance reporter, writes: “Since 1994, when the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) started publishing capital flight data, a total of $581 billion has left Russia as private sector outflows. … [I]n the last decade and half there were only two years, 2006 and 2007, when there was a net inflow of capital. Those years were the height of Russia's boom when Russian businessmen finally became optimistic about the future of the country … Bloomberg ran a story this week entitled ‘US Sanctions Driving Russian billionaires Into Putin's Arms’ … [T]he piece turned out to be controversial. Tim Ash, senior sovereign strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, said in an email to clients: ‘The data just does not show this. Look at private sector capital flow data from the CBR. It's shows the opposite, private sector flight capital increasing, if anything.’ … CBR data shows that private capital outflows from Russia have fallen over the last year … Putin's deoffshorization campaign has encouraged some oligarchs to bring their money home. But at the same time there are oligarchs that are more scared of a Kremlin appropriation than U.S. sanctions and are sending money out in large amounts.”

“The Dance of the Ghosts: A New Cold War with Russia Will Not Serve Western Interests,” Anatol Lievin, Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, October-November 2018: The author, a professor of international politics at Georgetown University in Qatar, writes: “Nurturing a fear of Russia does not merely distract attention from the problems that are weakening and dividing the West, but by doing so helps to make them worse. A new Cold War with Russia will do nothing either to restrict migrant numbers or to develop new strategies for their integration. Nor will it suggest solutions to the structural unemployment and semiemployment occasioned by deindustrialisation and the rapidly increasing pressure of automation. It will do nothing to deal with the structural problems of the EU and the Euro, nor the looming threat of climate change and its consequences. This may be why stoking fears of Russia is such a popular activity among Western politicians. … But it is only in the meeting of these challenges that the democratic West will stand or fall. What happens in Tskhinvali or Donetsk is far less important. … In their nostalgia for the Cold War, Western elites may also be trying to revive the comforting ghosts of the past to cope with a frightening present.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

“Russia-Japan—Peace Can Wait,” Fyodor Lukyanov, Russia in Global Affairs, 09.20.18The author, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs, writes: “For a moment last week it seemed that Russian President Vladimir Putin was ushering in a bright new era in relations with Japan, with the surprise offer of a post-Second World War peace treaty. But a deeper look into Putin's remarks at the Eastern Economic Forum … revealed the opposite. He has effectively ruled out further discussion on the issue … [of] Japan's claim to four small islands that the Soviet Union occupied in 1945. … [W]hile Putin remains Russia's unquestioned leader, his time in office is drawing to an end … Political consolidation is a priority, and territorial concessions are hardly the best way forward. … [H]opes for a Japanese investment influx have not materialized. … [Tokyo] must listen to Washington, its top political and security partner. … According to the Japan External Trade Organization, Japanese companies accounted for just 0.03 percent of direct foreign investments in Russia in 2017. … [T]he U.S. administration's pressure on allies and opponents in Asia has accelerated political shifts. … There is no question of a full-blown alliance [between Russia and China], but cooperation is increasingly close, the latest example being the large-scale joint Vostok 2018 military exercises. … Many Russian officials consider that … a deal with Tokyo could turn Japan into a hostile force.”

“Who Putin Is Not: Falsely demonizing Russia's leader has made the new Cold War even more dangerous,” Stephen F. Cohen, The Nation, 09.20.18The author, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at Princeton and NYU, writes: “Henry Kissinger deserves credit for having warned … against this badly distorted image of Russia's leader since 2000: ‘The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy. It is an alibi for not having one.’ But Kissinger was also wrong. Washington has made many policies strongly influenced by the demonizing of Putin … Political scientists generally agree that Putin has been a ‘soft authoritarian’ leader governing a system that has authoritarian and democratic components inherited from the past. … [M]ost would also generally agree with … eminent diplomat-scholar Jack Matlock: ‘Putin … is not the absolute dictator some have pictured him. His power seems to be based on balancing various patronage networks, some of which are still criminal. … Therefore he cannot admit publicly that [criminal acts] happened without his approval since this would indicate that he is not completely in charge.’ … In 2000, a young and little-experienced man became the leader of a vast state that had precipitously disintegrated … twice in the 20th century … with disastrous consequences for its people. And in both instances, it had lost its ‘sovereignty’ and thus its security in fundamental ways. These have been recurring themes in Putin's words and deeds.”


“Why Russia and China Are Strengthening Security Ties. Is the US Driving Them Closer Together?” Alexander Gabuev, Foreign Affairs, 09.24.18The author, a senior fellow and the chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes: “For the first time in history, 3,200 Chinese troops trained alongside some 300,000 Russians in eastern Siberia … Vostok-2018 was the culmination of a shift in Russian strategic thinking about China that gained momentum after 2014. Even before that, however, Moscow saw clear reasons for deeper engagement with Beijing. … Despite these shared interests, the Kremlin continued to view China with apprehension until quite recently … The 2014 annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine … dampened these concerns dramatically. … Russia’s economic dependence on China has been growing since 2014 … The Chinese-Russian security partnership has its limits, and it is important not to lose sight of them. Moscow and Beijing aren’t seeking a formal alliance, at least for now. … [H]owever, it would be a mistake for Washington and its allies to ignore the consequences of increased military partnership. … At a minimum, Russian and Chinese counterintelligence agencies are now believed to share sensitive information on CIA operations that are being conducted against them. … Now would be a good time for U.S. policymakers to rethink a policy that antagonizes—at times needlessly—both of the United States’ principal geopolitical rivals and to think more creatively about how to manage a new era of increased competition among great powers.”


  • No significant commentary.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant commentary.

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Why Russia’s Crimean Consensus Is Over (And What Comes Next),” Konstantin Gaaze, Carnegie Moscow Center, 09.21.18.

The author, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes: “General elections this month have revealed that the Russian public is frustrated, uncertain about the future and electrified with protest sentiments. … Political analysts chalk this situation up to Kremlin errors. … But, in truth, this is bigger than a simple miscalculation or poor execution by the regime. This election represents an important moment for Russia … The notorious Crimean consensus is dead. The period after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea can be called the golden age of Russian authoritarianism. … During the Crimean consensus, society treated Putin as an outside force separate from the massive capital that propels the nation toward historic goals. But by around 2016, Russia no longer had the comprador class. … Thus, the ubiquitous Putin has become synonymous with capital. … After eliminating all outside forces, the Kremlin itself has become them. It has become capital. … Russia has no one left to blame for mass poverty. And the fusion of the ruling elite and business is starting to resemble a serious political problem. But the government likely still has one trick up its sleeve. It has yet to crack down on Russia’s enemies and stage show trials against the country’s vigorous ‘fifth column.’ That showdown seems to be coming this fall.”

“Putin Is Losing Russia’s Far East,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 09.24.18The author, a journalist and veteran Russia watcher, writes: “Less than two weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin touted to an audience of Asian leaders the success of his policies in revitalizing Russia’s Far East. Since that speech, Kremlin-backed candidates have failed to win gubernatorial elections in the two biggest Far Eastern regions … The centralization of power has been Putin’s trademark ever since he became president in 2000, and the effort he’s put into Far Eastern projects is understandable given the almost 4,000 miles between Vladivostok and Moscow; it's just 830 miles to Beijing. Russia’s break with the West following its attack on Ukraine has boosted the Far East’s strategic importance … On Sept. 16, the Maritime Territory … held a runoff vote in the gubernatorial race between Putin’s appointee, Andrei Tarasenko, and his Communist challenger, Andrey Ishchenko. The latter led with 95 percent of the vote counted, but then the official vote count suddenly showed Tarasenko gaining. … The region will go to the polls again … but the Kremlin doesn’t have a strong candidate. … Vyacheslav Shport, the Putin-appointed governor in the Khabarovsk region … lost by a landslide to Sergei Furgal of the nationalist, misnamed Liberal Democratic Party. … [T]heir success signifies an important breakdown of the political machinery … The distance between Putin’s great-power rhetoric, his view that the Russian economy is stable, his huge government investment programs and the way people lead their daily lives is huge throughout Russia. … In the Far East … there’s a lively sense of being on the empire’s edge, a frontier where obedience isn’t a virtue. There’s only a short distance from that to resistance, if not yet to separatism.”

“Anyone but Putin: Russians Are Starting to Look for an Alternative,” Vladimir Kara-Murza, The Washington Post, 09.20.18The author, vice chairman of the Open Russia movement and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, writes: “It's hard to lose an election when you control ballot access, the government bureaucracy, the courts, the media and the votes of vast swathes of the population dependent on state support—and when you are personally endorsed by the supposedly admired national leader. Yet Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party still managed to come out on the wrong end of last week's gubernatorial election in Primorye region … The real winner, a 37-year-old construction executive and regional legislator by the name of Andrei Ishchenko, has no major political achievements, no charisma and no proposals worthy of note. His personality, his politics and his party affiliation did not matter. He had only one advantage in the eyes of voters: He was running against the candidate Putin endorsed. … The one issue that turned so many residents of Russia's Far East into protest voters was the pension reform … The significance of what happened in Russia's Far East on Sept. 16 [is that] it is a sign that Russians are beginning to look for any alternative to a regime increasingly seen as corrupt and out of touch.”

“Russia’s New Commanding Role in the Arctic: A new shipping corridor between Asia and Europe promises to strengthen Russia’s control over the Arctic,” Elizabeth Buchanan, The Moscow Times, 09.29.18The author, a research fellow with the Centre for European Studies at The Australian National University, writes: “Last month, Maersk, which is the world’s largest shipping firm, made headlines by sending its first cargo ship through Russia’s Northern Sea Route. The NSR links Asia to Europe, utilizing Russian waters in the Arctic Ocean. … Even though Russia has long used the route, the NSR is now attracting global attention due to climate change. Although it is only currently accessible for roughly three months of the year, this window — along with its global importance — is only expected to widen over the coming years … This new transport corridor … is already redefining the international flow of goods and services. Capitalizing on increasing Asian demand for Russian natural gas exports, Moscow will increasingly link its Yamal production directly to the growing North East Asian markets of South Korea and Japan. This is dire news for the shipping economies in the region, like Singapore … Despite the NSR tariff potential and windfalls for the Kremlin, the bigger prize for Russia is that it will facilitate Moscow’s control over a vast amount of global trade.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

“A Thrilling and True Cold War Story—and a Well-Timed History Lesson,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 09.22.18The author, a veteran foreign correspondent-turned-columnist, writes: “Russia and its ex-KGB president seem brutally dominant in the intelligence sphere. Ben Macintyre offers a refreshing reversal of that theme: In this story [Macintyre’s book, ‘The Spy and the Traitor’], it's the Russians who get turned inside out by a British mole. … The book narrates the astonishing tale of how Britain's Secret Intelligence Service recruited a KGB officer named Oleg Gordievsky in 1974 and ran him as its agent for 11 years … Then in 1985 … Gordievsky was exposed and recalled to Moscow to face almost certain death. … The book converges on a final plot twist so implausible that it could happen only in real life: Gordievsky was exfiltrated across the Finnish border in the trunk of a car by a plucky MI6 officer and his wife and brought back to London … He survives today in a protected location in Britain, and one suspects that he's quite careful about what doorknobs he touches. … Macintyre quotes President Vladimir Putin as saying that ‘there is no such thing as a former KGB man.’ How galling Putin will find this account of the ultimate KGB defector, who risked everything to break the tower of lies that was the Soviet Union. Putin has tried to build back that edifice of secret power, but this book is a reminder of why he's likely to fail.”