David Satter: Understanding Putin

In its September 2009 number GQ carried an interesting article by Scott Anderson on the September 1999 apartment bombings in Russia that left hundreds dead and led to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power. The piece profiled former Russian FSB officer Mikhail Trepashkin and collected evidence suggesting that the bombings were perpetrated by the FSB rather than by Chechen terrorists.

It was the kind of intriguing investigative piece that most publications would have featured prominently, but GQ buried it. Purchasing a copy of the magazine, I first spent several minutes trying to find the issue’s table of contents (I gave up), and then the article itself, afraid I’d blown $4.50 on the wrong issue of the magazine. I found the article at page 246 of the September issue. NPR explained the mystery behind GQ’s treatment of the story.

I have wondered about the story over the years. Now David Satter, the scrupulous former Financial Times Moscow correspondent, has turned his attention to the subject in a new book on the bombings: The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep. Satter’s National Review article “The unsolved mystery behind the act of terror that brought Vladimir Putin to power” provides a good summary. David Pryce-Jones reviewed the book for National Review in “Russia moves toward a reckoning.”

You may recall that Putin had Satter banned from Russia in December 2013. Satter is therefore the first American journalist to be accorded the expulsion treatment since the fall of the Soviet Union. Satter now holds appointments as a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a fellow of the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

In the video below, Satter talks about his new book in a presentation at the Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse in Washington. The video dates to this past August. He discusses the November 2010 WikiLeaks release of United States diplomatic cables to the State Department at about 45:00. At about 1:00:00 he discusses the hacking of the DNC. Highly recommended.