At a book event sponsored by Columbia University, I asked the author David Satter, a journalist who writes critically about Russia, whether Vladimir Putin is capable of murder. Satter’s reply was, “Read my book.”
The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin is the history of Russia from the mid-1990s to the present, in which a corrupt president, Boris Yeltsin, and his successor, Putin, try to reconstruct the country as a world power. But it remains corrupt, with a bloated business class and, worst of all, a culture with no respect for human life. Satter demonstrates this with a series of massacres and murders, most of which are never solved nor adequately investigated.
In September 1999, a truck bomb blew up in Dagestan killing 64. A few days later, a bomb exploded in a Moscow basement killing 100. Next, an apartment building on a Moscow highway was reduced to rubble with 124 dead. On Oct. 1, Russian troops invaded Chechnya. According to Yeltsin and Putin, Chechen terrorists were responsible for these attacks; Satter and others argue the bombs were planted by Russia’s main intelligence agency, the F.S.B., in order to win public support for another war.
In Dubrovka, 40 heavily armed Chechen terrorists entered the theater and took the audience hostage to force an end to the war. After 48 hours, Putin said he sent an envoy to negotiate; but the F.S.B. forces pumped poison gas into the ventilation system, then swarmed in and killed all 40 terrorists, while 129 hostages died from the gas. Satter visited the scene, convinced that the authorities had facilitated the takeover. He concludes this demanding little volume by arguing that more than anything Russia needs a truth commission. Meanwhile, President Donald J. Trump should approach Putin with caution.