In Putin’s Footsteps is Nina Khrushcheva and Jeffrey Tayler’s unique combination of travelogue, current affairs, and history, showing how Russia’s dimensions have shaped its identity and culture through the decades.
With exclusive insider status as Nikita Khrushchev’s great grand-daughter, and an ex-pat living and reporting on Russia and the Soviet Union since 1993, Nina Khrushcheva and Jeffrey Tayler offer a poignant exploration of the largest country on earth through their recreation of Vladimir Putin’s fabled New Year’s Eve speech planned across all eleven time zones.
After taking over from Yeltsin in 1999, and then being elected president in a landslide, Putin traveled to almost two dozen countries and a quarter of Russia’s eighty-nine regions to connect with ordinary Russians. His travels inspired the idea of a rousing New Year’s Eve address delivered every hour at midnight throughout Russia’s eleven time zones. The idea was beautiful, but quickly abandoned as an impossible feat. He correctly intuited, however, that the success of his presidency would rest on how the country’s outback citizens viewed their place on the world stage.
Today more than ever, Putin is even more determined to present Russia as a formidable nation. We need to understand why Russia has for centuries been an adversary of the West. Its size, nuclear arsenal, arms industry, and scientific community (including cyber-experts), guarantees its influence.
Khrushcheva (The Lost Khrushchev), Russian-born professor of international affairs at the New School, and Tayler (Siberian Dawn), a Moscow-based American journalist married to a Russian, recount a cross-country journey they undertook in 2017 "to see and understand... Russia beyond the capital's bounds." They pose many fascinating questions whether Putin's plan to make Russia great again is reaching its hinterlands; how faith, myth, and geography shape national identity; whether the West can influence Russia's future that this charming travelogue with a dash of history can't really answer. Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, for example, on the Sea of Okhotsk in the Pacific, is rendered in terms of its eateries and grocery stores, and the chapter on Ulyanovsk details uncomfortable encounters with evasive museum guides and "grumpy" attendants. The result reads like a travel guide, with descriptions of historical monuments and anecdotal brushes with border guards, but little deeper substance. Readers accustomed to the Western press portraying Putin as a dictator might find it illuminating to learn that Russians say positive things about him for example, that he has decreased unemployment, bolstered pensions, and revitalized the nation which the authors receive with skepticism. Readers looking for a comprehensive understanding of the country will be disappointed, but the authors' observations on Russian provincial culture are undoubtedly entertaining.