An exemplary study in story management: Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (2015)


A July 13, 2018 Atlantic article is entitled: “The Russians Who Hacked the 2016 Election: Robert Mueller’s latest indictment reaches back to the origin story for the investigation into interference.”


I’ve been reading with interest a Brookings Institution study entitled: Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (2015).

The way the book itself is constructed is a study in effective story management. As well, the contents of the book – featuring a cogent overview of the past and current impact of Russian history – constitute an exemplary study in story management, as demonstrated in the authors’ timely narrative of the life and times of the current Russian president.

I’ve outlined reasons for my interest in the Brookings study at a previous post:

Mr. Putin (2015) illustrates that story management is possible even in the absence of evidence-based biographical details

I have an interest in this study in particular because it have given rise to many insights for me, regarding how stories work, and how they are managed.

I have a strong interest in the fact that so much can be explained regarding the past and present of Vladimir Putin even in the absence of solid biographical data.

I am impressed, as well, with how this Brookings study has been able to draw out information related to people’s formative life experiences, and in that process arrive at a coherent story about what a given person’s mind-set and world view happens to be, with particular relevance to what is happening in the news right now, on any given day.

Colonel Samuel Smith and the management of organized violence

I can connect to the strategy that Fiona Hill and Clifford Caddy, the authors of the study in question, have adopted. Some years ago, I developed an interest in the story of Colonel Samuel Smith, about whom I have written at some length in years past, at this website. There is relatively little known, by way of archival and historical evidence, regarding the colonel, who in the late 1700s and early 1800s owned all of the land that is now known as Long Branch, the Toronto neighbourhood where I have lived for 20 years, and who owned land beyond the borders of Long Branch as well.

Because little is known about the colonel, in the historical record, I began to read about the history of the British empire, First Nations history, and the world history of warfare. Such reading has enabled me to get a good understanding of what the colonel’s life and career – and the life and career of a friend of his, John Graves Simcoe, about whom more biographical details are known – were about. Biography can only explain a finite amount about a person’s life and behaviour. That’s a key insight that I have gained, from my study of the context of Colonel Samuel Smith’s life, and from my study of Fiona Hill and Clifford Caddy’s excellent overview of Mr. Putin’s mind-set and world view.

The Story of Mississauga

This personal study has proceeded within the context of a wider area of study, namely the study of what stories are about, and how they work. The concept of story management, as distinct from storytelling, is of particular relevance for me, at this stage of my reading and thinking about these topics. The Story of Mississauga project has in particular prompted my interest in understanding how story management  – as a concept and practice related to heritage management – works.


The foregoing comments are a preamble to the following quotation (p. 183) from Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (2015).

Having closely read all of the rest of the book, this is a passage that really stands out for me:

The les­sons Putin then learned during his time in St. Petersburg in dealing with businesses propelled him to Moscow in 1996. He came to Moscow and embarked on a mission that did not require the application of his lim­ited economic or political skills. He was not supposed to provide input into policy or deal with mobs. He was called up almost as a “sleeper operative” to work for people in the Kremlin and eventually deal with businesses and businessmen, as he had done in St. Petersburg. The methods for exerting leverage he had developed in St. Petersburg were his key strengths. The other tools at his disposal would become relevant later when he began to move rapidly up the leadership ladder in Mos­cow. Only when he got to the top would some of his weaknesses – like dealing with hostile crowds – prove problematic.



An April 13, 2016 (note it’s 2016) Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article by Fiona Hill is entitled: “The one-man show the West doesn’t understand.”

An April 13, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “British spies were first to spot Trump team’s links with Russia: Exclusive: GCHQ is said to have alerted US agencies after becoming aware of contacts in 2015.”

An April 16, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Hungary’s liberals find a hero in their battle against Viktor Orbán: Academic Michael Ignatieff’s stand for academic freedom has gained attention.”

An April 19, 2017 Reuters article is entitled: “Exclusive: Putin-linked think tank drew up plan to sway 2016 U.S. election – documents.”

A May 6, 2017 Los Angeles Review of Books article is entitled: “Protest Tea: Victoria Lomasko’s ‘Other Russias'”.

A May 11, 2017 Boston Review article is entitled: “Understanding Populist Challenges to the Global Order.”

A May 22, 2017 Center for European Policy Analysis article is entitled: “The dangerous appeal of the Russian regime.”

A June 2017 Global Dialogue article is entitled: “Duterte’s Revolt against Liberal Democracy.”

A June 18, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “Civilian oversight key to offensive cyber operations, says expert: ‘When you use malware against someone, they can reverse engineer it,’ expert says about cyber bombs.”

A Best of 2016 Longreads article is entitled: “Theorizing the Drone: What does the rise of the drone mean for justice, for the ethics of heroism, for psychology? Most important of all, who is dying and why?”

A July 2017 Longreads article is entitled: “A Heart That Watches and Receives: ‘Please don’t give up on the truth.’ A commencement address by author and historian Hampton Sides.”

A July 4, 2017 London School of Economics article is entitled: “Book Review: Russia: What Everyone Needs to Know by Timothy J. Colton.”

A July 18, 2017 Politico article is entitled: “How the GOP Became the Party of Putin: Republicans have sold their souls to Russia. And Trump isn’t the only reason why.”

A July 24, 2017 BBC article is entitled: “The writers who defied Soviet censors: Underground publishers in the USSR broke rules in ingenious ways – such as hiding books in fake binding and making records on X-ray film, writes Benjamin Ramm.”

An Aug. 3, 2017 Dallas News article is entitled: “Tangled web connects Russian oligarch money to GOP campaigns.”

A March 29, 2018 Atlantic article is entitled: “The Shadowy Operative at the Center of the Russia Scandal: Court documents call him Person A, but descriptions match the officer to Russian intelligence and to Paul Manafort and Rick Gates.”

A March 30, 2018 Scientific American article is entitled: “Cambridge Analytica and Online Manipulation: It’s not just about data protection; it’s about strategies designed to induce addictive behavior, and thus to manipulate.”

Magnitsky Act

A July 25, 2017 Atlantic article is entitled: “Bill Browder’s Testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee: “I hope that my story will help you understand the methods of Russian operatives in Washington and how they use U.S. enablers to achieve major foreign policy goals without disclosing those interests,” Browder writes.”

A July 27, 2017 Atlantic article is entitled: “Why Does the Kremlin Care So Much About the Magnitsky Act? What Russian officials mean when they talk about ‘adoptions'”.

Richard Rorty

A July 2017 Los Angeles Review of Books article is entitled: “Conversational Philosophy: A Forum on Richard Rorty.”

The introduction reads:

AFTER DONALD J. TRUMP was elected president of the United States, the American philosopher Richard Rorty (1931–2007) returned to the pages of many of the major newspapers of the world as one of the few thinkers who had predicted the election of a “strongman” with Trump’s homophobic and racist features. The relevant passage can be found in the lectures Rorty delivered on the history of leftist thought in 20th-century America at Harvard University in 1997, and published as Achieving Our Country a year later. While reprints of this book were hitting several political philosophy best seller lists, Rorty’s Page-Barbour lectures — titled Philosophy as Poetry — were also released. If in Achieving Our Country, Rorty predicted the election of a right-wing populist, in the latter he stresses how valuable the imagination is for the future of philosophy, which is, in many ways, an imperiled discipline. Although these are not his most important books, they indicate that Rorty was a philosopher ahead of his time, a philosopher for the future.

The goal of this forum is not simply to remember Rorty 10 years after he passed away on the June 8, 2007, but also to continue the conversation which he urged all philosophers to pursue. I have invited Marianne Janack, María Pía Lara, Eduardo Mendieta, and Martin Woessner to cover specific aspects of Rorty’s thought, including feminism, social hope, and post-truth. Their concise contributions underscore the significance of Rorty’s writings for the 21st century. My introduction recalls important moments of the American thinker’s life as well as his outstanding contribution to continental philosophy.

— Santiago Zabala

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