Longtime Russia watcher Andrew Weiss took an unconventional approach to his new biography, Accidental Czar: The Life and Lies of Vladimir Putin. Teaming up with illustrator Box Brown, Weiss wrote a graphic novel that tells the story of Putin’s rise from an impoverished childhood in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) to the undisputed authoritarian ruler of Russia.
A big theme of the book is how Putin imagined an idea of himself as a strongman through spy movies and pulp novels that he devoured as a young person. The graphic novel seems a particularly fitting format for exploring Putin, who has successfully cultivated a caricature of himself in the West as a cunning, sophisticated, hypermasculine leader. But, as Weiss writes, “seeing Putin as he wants us to see him, rather than as he is,” makes it harder to confront the challenge Russia poses to Western interests and security in Europe.
Shane talked to Weiss about his own childhood in California and why he was drawn at an early age to studying Russia. Weiss previously served as director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council staff, as a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, and as a policy assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy during the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. He’s now the James Family Chair and vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, where he oversees research on Russia and Eurasia.
Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad. See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
Among the works mentioned in this episode:
Andrew Weiss’ graphic novel on Putin
Weiss on Twitter
Illustrator Brian “Box” Brown
The TV series The Shield and the Sword
The TV series Seventeen Moments of Spring