"History is made up of myths", writes the renowned Russian dissident journalist Mikhail Zygar. "Alas, our myths led us to the fascism of 2022. It is time to expose them." Drawing from his perilous career investigating the frontiers of the Russian empire, Zygar reveals how 350 years of propaganda, bad historical scholarship, folk tales and fantasy spurred his nation into war with Ukraine.
How did a German monk's fear of the Ottoman Empire drive him to invent the fiction of a united Russian world? How did corny spy novels about a 'Soviet James Bond' inspire Vladimir Putin to join the KGB? How did Alexander Pushkin's admiration for a poem by Lord Byron end with him slandering the legendary chief of the Cossacks? And how did Putin underestimate a rising TV comic named Volodymyr Zelensky, failing to see that his satire had become deadly serious, and that his country would be a joke no longer?
A noted expert on the Kremlin with unparalleled access to hundreds of players in the current conflict - from politicians to oligarchs, gangsters to comedians (not least Zelensky himself) - Zygar chronicles the power struggles from which today's politics grew, and digs out the essential truths from behind layers of seductive legend. By surveying the strange, complex record of Russo-Ukrainian relations, War and Punishment reveals exactly how the largest nation on Earth lost its senses. A work of history can't undo the past or transform the present, but sometimes it can shape the future.
In fact, that's how the story begins.