Here’s the problem. It’s hard to deny that Vladimir Putin is one of the architects – for better or, most of the time, worse – of the modern world. The direct impacts of his rule are obvious and manifold, from the ruins of Aleppo and Mariupol to the steadily rising prices of fuel and energy and looming hunger in the Global South. But that is only part of his legacy. The corrosive flow of often dirty money into London’s banks and property market, the digital banditry of Russian hackers confident that they are safe so long as they avoid targets within the motherland: these are side effects of his rule.
The regime Putin established after coming to power in 2000 was of a particular kind. Although now sliding into straightforward tyranny, his Russia was once a distinctive, postmodern mix, perhaps 40 per cent kleptocracy, 40 per cent authoritarianism and yet 20 per cent free. As a result, for all its limitations, Russia was until relatively recently diverse and dynamic, a place where cultural experimentation and cutting-edge entrepreneurialism could coexist, more or less, with crony capitalism and sharp-toothed repression – a place fascinating, lively, surprising and paradoxical.
Yet Putin himself, the man who presided over all this, seems, frankly, so very boring. I say this as someone who has been watching him since before he became president, who reads every line of his speeches and essays (and tries to read between them, too), devours every factoid