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More Letters of Dostoevsky

Translated from the Russian and Edited by S.S. Koteliansky

I

One of Dostoevsky's early letters has recently been published in Russia. It gives quite a clear picture of his state of mind during the first years of his literary activity.

With his "Poor Folk," completed by him in the spring of 1845 (when he was 24), and published in January, 1846, in Nekrasov's Peterburgsky Sbornik, Dostoevsky all at once became a literary celebrity. The manuscript of "Poor Folk" was taken by a friend of his to Belinsky, the leading critic, who was so enthusiastic over it that he declared that a new genius had arisen in Russian literature, and prophesied a brilliant future for Dostoevsky. Belinsky also published an article in the Otechestvennya Zapiski in 1845 praising Dostoevsky to the skies.

<i>Putin’s Labyrinth: Spies, Murder, and the Dark Heart of the New Russia</i>, by Steve LeVine. Random House, June 2008. $26

Devilish Forces

In early October 2007, almost three years to the day after I began my career as a journalist in Russia, a conversation with a former CIA agent brought it to an end. 

Russia after Beslan

American coverage of the monstrous hostage-taking at Beslan’s School No. 1 in the Russian republic of North Ossetia and the ensuing controversy over President Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of power in ostensible response to the terrorist threat was hampered by many factors, not the least of which has been our election-season anxiety about the health of our own democracy. The superficial correspondences are everywhere: between what many consider to be Putin’s reckless and unwinnable war of choice in Chechnya and President Bush’s reckless war of choice and thus-far-unwinnable peace in Iraq; between Putin’s claims that his war is a vital part of the fight against international terrorism, while it has in fact spurred radical Islamism and been the occasion for a wave of horrific terrorist acts, and Bush’s identical claims about the war in Iraq, while jihadists from throughout the Arab world pour over Iraqi borders and the death toll mounts more steeply every month; between Putin’s use of undemocratic and arguably anticonstitutional measures in the name of making Russia safer and the Bush administration’s use of the same while obvious and easily implemented antiterrorist measures have yet to be taken; the list goes on.

Will the Real Mr. Putin Please Stand Up?

The four authors under review here lead us, through a variety of perspectives, from obscure confusion to plausible conclusions. Appropriately, they tell us that to understand the nature of Putin's politics, we must understand the nature of the challenges that face him, and those challenges consist most immediately of the legacy of Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin's legacy is made up largely of four defining moments: (1) the robber-baron style of voucher privatization of 1992, when the apparatchiki/nomenklatura of the doomed Communist Party exploited their threatened positions in the old regime to seize the most advantageous economic assets of the new one; (2) the October 1993 attack on the Duma/parliament, the West's indifference (approval?), and the subsequent design and ratification of the superpresidential constitution; (3) the so-called "loans for shares" compact of 1995–96, whereby the oligarchs/plutocrats/new Russian capitalists financed Yeltsin's reelection campaign with large loans secured by the collateral of still more state property; and finally, (4) the apparently disastrous financial meltdown, default, and currency devaluation of August 1998, which actually served as the bottoming-out base of a lively economic rebound. 

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