It felt like a scene out of a James Bond movie. Six years ago Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian citizen and ex-KGB agent seeking asylum in the UK, died under mysterious circumstances in London. Later it was discovered, in a sensational case that brought back whiffs of the Cold War, that Litvinenko was poisoned by exposure to trace amounts of plutonium. While a direct connection between Litvinenko's murder and the Russian President Vladimir Putin was never made, enough evidence points in that direction, says journalist Masha Gessen in her scathing book, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
. Litvinenko had been unearthing and making public many illegal activities perpetrated by the FSB - the Russian Federal Security Service - and his findings were doubtless interfering with the goings on of the Russian authorities, Gessen argues.
In fact, Litvinenko...
Beyond the Book
It is during her reporting in Chechnya, during the separatist wars that ravaged the country, that journalist and author Masha Gessen got deeply involved in the larger political context of both the war and Russian President Vladimir Putin's handling of it.
Chechnya lies to the south of the Russian Republic and is bound by Russia on almost all sides - it shares a border with Georgia high in the Caucasus Mountains. The secession attempts following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 were just a couple of many periods of disturbance Chechnya has witnessed. The republic, whose population currently stands at around one million, has been in almost constant battle against foreign rule since at least the 15th century. In fact, the area's original conversion to...