There is a possibility that Vladimir Putin will be president of Russia until 2024. For a politician that has held the Russian presidency for eight years and the premiership for five, this would an impressively long reign. It is easy to interpret this as the mark of a popular politician, perhaps one that has served his country well. However, Ben Judah argues in his new book Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin that the overwhelming popularity he enjoyed during his first two terms was doomed to fail, as Putin inadequately handled the structure of the government at the critical time after the collapse of the Soviet Union by creating a “vertical of power.” Eventually, Judah writes, this morphed into a “vertical of corruption.”

Judah starts the book with description of Putin’s early career working in the Petersburg mayor’s office, laying the groundwork for his ascendency into the Kremlin and explaining his “court,” or the loyal people he brought with him to Moscow. He provides a useful explanation on several points: the conditions in which Putin took power; the poverty of the nation; and his war on the old oligarchs, including a detailed story of Putin’s battle with the former oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. It was easy to see how Putin became so popular in short period of time. During his first terms, the country experienced an economic boom. TV stations reported a flattering image of Putin, one of stability and strength that contrasted sharply with the weak and drunk Yeltsin. The public considered him to be a superhero. However, Judah argues, this perception of Putin was flawed. The increase in wealth was due to Khodorkovsky’s previous management of oil rather than Putin’s policies, and the TV stations were under state control through Putin’s oligarch friends.

But Fragile Empire is not only a biography of Putin’s career and policies. Judah has spent years traveling beyond Moscow to the expanses of Russia and spoken to its citizens about their attitudes toward the Kremlin. In many ways it is an account of the people, leading to a larger analysis of Putin’s popularity. Judah’s interviews include people from all walks of life, from the commanding, conservative Russian oligarchs and their families to the popular opposition blogger Alexei Navalny and his fellow protesters.

Also included are those in rural villages who, separated from the turbulence in Moscow, can still see the long-lasting effects of Putin’s rule soon eclipsed by the instability in urban areas. Judah has a talent of providing piercingly poignant quotes from these people. They focus on sentiment, bringing an earthy and relatable sense to a book that would otherwise consist solely of statistics and policy.

These interviews make the book an interesting read and understandable for anyone, even those without a strong background on the subjects; however, they also read as one-sided. Judah does provide an excellent review on Putin’s failures and power-hungry characteristics, but fails to examine his own successful initiatives or political philosophy. Nor, towards the end of the book, when Judah claims that Russia has had it with Putin and United Russia, does he give a single testimony from a non-governmental Russian who supports Putin. Thus, regardless of how many in the public oppose Putin, the book comes off as unbalanced.

On the other hand, Judah does an excellent job of examining the weakness in the opposition. Since the nineties, Moscow has transformed into an increasingly European city with a strong middle class. The city now houses the opposition movement. However, Judah argues, there is no leader and no goal—only anti-Putin sentiment. The opposition is too fragmented and disorganized to change the leadership. Furthermore, Moscow is not Russia, and the young Muscovites have consistently overlooked the rest of the country, dividing the opposition and allowing Putin to reject Moscow as elitist. He can then look to the rest of Russia for his support, tactically aligning his party with the church and bringing a moral element to the political debate.

Judah best illustrates this new campaign on Putin’s part with his explanation of the widely-publicized trial of Pussy Riot. When members of this feminist band were arrested for preforming an anti-Putin and anti-corruption protest piece in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the Kremlin was able to fashion this display into a new propaganda act. After the story was spun as an attack on the church, Russians outside of Moscow were further alienated from the centralized opposition.

Fragile Empire tests the myth of Putin’s supposed majority. However, even though many are discontent with the Kremlin, Putin is still in power. The opposition is splintered, and Russia does not want a costly revolution. Oil and people, two of Russia’s principal resources, are dwindling as oil grows more costly to extract and people are looking to emigrate. Putin may control Russia for years to come, but perhaps, Judah concludes, there may be change on the horizon. Either way, the state of Russia’s future is, indeed, fragile.