The Wizard of the Kremlin by Giuliano da Empoli, translated by Willard Wood, is a scary book both for what it represents and for what it seems to be trying to do. It has been described as quasi-fiction as its main character is very heavily based on real person and all of the other characters in the book are real people. In The Wizard of the Kremlin da Empoli is trying to understand and explain the rise of Valdimir Putin, but in doing so many see a more positive portrait of the man than certainly recent events might suggest.
The wizard of the title in a man called Vadim Baranov, a PR expert who tells his story to a student ver the course of a single night. Baranov was on the ground floor when his boss, an oligarch who ran Russian TV, suggested to KGB supremo Vladimir Putin that he run for office. Putin quickly goes out on his own, taking Baranov and a group of loyalists with him. Baranov then charts the rise of Putin and the way in which his strongman tactics won over Russia and then allowed him to put Russia back at the table of world affairs. While Baranov, as a PR expert takes some credit for the strategies that Putin executed, the thrust of the narrative is that Putin himself was always in control and used his understanding of both the Russian people and the West to boost his power.
The Wizard of the Kremlin gives another view of world affairs, including matters like election interference in the US, and the way in which global power can be used. But given the events since – the failed invasion in Ukraine, the failed coup attempt by Prigozhin (whose rise is chronicled in the book) – maybe a more rose coloured view of Putin’s savvy than is warranted. Taken with a few grains of salt though, The Wizard of the Kremlin gives a fascinating insight into the way in which Russian politics might work and certainly how it differs markedly from the politics of the West.