In this penetrating exploration of contemporary Russia, Joshua Yaffa meets a variety of Russians – from politicians and entrepreneurs to artists and historians – who have built their careers and constructed their identities in the shadow of the Putin system. Torn between their own ambitions and the omnipresent demands of the state, each has found that compromise is essential for survival and success. Some extract benefits and privileges through cunning and cynicism, others less adept at navigating the system are left broken and demoralized.
With sensitivity and depth, Yaffa profiles Russians from institutions such as the Bolshoi and Channel 1, from the major cities, and from regions such as Chechnya, post-annexation Crimea, and the Urals, including an Orthodox priest at war with the church hierarchy and a Chechen humanitarian who turns a blind eye to persecutions. The result is an intimate and probing portrait of a nation much discussed but little understood. And by showing how citizens shape their lives around the demands of a capricious and repressive state, Yaffa offers urgent lessons about the nature of modern authoritarianism.