Business Insider interviewed Bill Browder, author of Red Notice. Browder was a heavyweight investor in Russia until he ran into trouble with Putin's government. After he left Russia, his Russian lawyer was jailed and murdered. Excerpt:
Jeff Schechtman: Have we all gone a little crazy with our obsession with Russia of late or are there really things happening that we should genuinely be concerned about?
Bill Browder: Well, there’s been stuff that we should’ve been genuinely concerned about for the last 15 years while Vladimir Putin has been running Russia and it’s been a slow catchup from perception to reality. Putin is a different type of leader than any other head of state in that Putin has been stealing money hand over fist to the tune of 200 billion dollars* for himself in his presidency. Russia is effectively a mafia organization in which he’s the capo and the only difference between this mafia organization and the Colombian mafia or the Italian mafia is that Vladimir Putin controls thousands of nuclear warheads.
Jeff Schechtman: Is this all about the money for Putin? Is there a grander foreign policy vision? Is there a grander plan for greater Russia or is it really just about the money?
Bill Browder: Well, it replays with itself. Putin started out just for the money. So, when he first came into power, he wanted to get as much money as he could as quickly as he could. To do so, he had to put a lot of people in jail, he had a lot of people arrested, he had a lot of people killed. Over the course of time, he created a lot of enemies and one thing he also did was, while he was stealing money for himself and the people around him, the top people in Russia were stealing money as well, the average Russian was basically getting nothing. If you were a regular middle class Russian, they don’t have medicine in the hospitals, the teachers aren’t being paid at the schools, there’s huge holes in the roads because they’re not filling them. The country was basically crumbling while Putin and his cronies and his oligarchs were sailing around on superyachts or flying around on Boeing business jets and so on and so forth. After a while, people started to get upset and Putin said to himself, what am I going to do to make sure these people don’t overthrow me? And so that’s when he started this whole idea of creating foreign enemies, invading foreign countries and creating this false scenario that Russia is being surrounded and potentially invaded so they need to fight all these enemies. This grand plan of fighting in Ukraine and fighting in Syria is all a huge distraction strategy to keep people from turning on Putin and saying why don’t we have medicine and you’re rich?
This reminds me of an investigation of Putin aired by Frontline 2 years ago.
*Estimates of Putin's wealth range from $40bn to $200bn.