Russia transfixes the American imagination like no other country, and Moscow’s aggressive authoritarianism has prompted divergent assessments of its causes. Some see it as provoked by Western policies, whether supposedly insufficient aid provided to Russia to overcome Communist legacies in the 1990s or an unnecessarily confrontational expansion of NATO. Others assign primary responsibility to Russian president Vladimir Putin, pointing to either his lust for power and empire or his pique and revanchism.
Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist, adopted the second approach in “The Man Without a Face” (2012), which portrayed the strongman as simultaneously lacking talent and lording over all. In her new book, “The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia,” she attempts to reconcile this contradiction, now blaming what she calls Russia’s “totalitarian society.” Her parents fled the Soviet Union with their children in 1981; Ms. Gessen, who had moved back to Moscow 10 years later, fled Russia with her own children in 2013, and here she crafts an indignant lamentation. “I have been told many stories about Russia, and I have told a few myself,” she observes, offering a tale of the “freedom that was not embraced and democracy that was not desired.”
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