David Satter

David A. Satter (born August 1, 1947) is an American journalist who writes about Russia and the Soviet Union. He has authored books and articles about the decline and fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of post-Soviet Russia. Satter was expelled from Russia by the government in 2013. He is perhaps best known as the first researcher who claimed that Vladimir Putin and Russia's Federal Security Service were behind the 1999 Russian apartment bombings and is particularly critical of Putin's rise to the Russian presidency.[1]

David Satter
David A. Satter

(1947-08-01) August 1, 1947
Chicago, Illinois
Alma materUniversity of Chicago
University of Oxford

Life and career

Satter was born in Chicago, the son of Clarice Komsky, a homemaker, and Mark Satter, a well-regarded attorney and civil rights activist.[2] He graduated from the University of Chicago and from the University of Oxford where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

From 1976 to 1982, he was the Moscow correspondent of the Financial Times of London. He then became a special correspondent on Soviet affairs of The Wall Street Journal. He is currently a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute[3] and a fellow of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He has been a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a visiting professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Post-Soviet Russia

In the 1990s, Satter wrote extensively about post-Soviet Russia. In an article in The Wall Street Journal Europe, April 2, 1997, he wrote: "When the Soviet Union fell… the moral impulse motivating the democratic movement had to become the basis of Russia’s political practices. The tragedy of the present situation is that Russian gangsters are cutting off this development before it has a chance to take root."

His books

David Satter is the author of four non-fiction books about Russia, It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past (2011), Age of Delirium: the Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union (1996), Darkness at Dawn: the Rise of the Russian Criminal State (2003), and The Less You Know,The Better You Sleep (2016).


Jack Matlock, the former U.S. ambassador in Moscow, writing in The Washington Post, said that Age of Delirium was "spellbinding" and gave "a visceral sense of what it felt like to be trapped in the communist system." The Virginia Quarterly Review wrote, "The brilliance of this book lies in its eccentricity and in the author’s profound knowledge of and sympathy for the suffering of the Russian people under communism."

Martin Sieff, writing in the Canadian National Post, wrote that Darkness at Dawn was "Vivid, impeccably researched and truly frightening." Angus Macqueen, writing in The Guardian, compared Darkness at Dawn to Putin’s Russia by Anna Politkovskaya. Sieff wrote: "Both of these books underline the moral vacuum that the destruction of the Soviet Union has left."[4][5][6][7]

1999 Russian apartment bombings

In his book, Darkness at Dawn, Satter charged that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) was responsible for the bombings of Russian apartment buildings in 1999 that claimed nearly 300 lives and provided the justification for a second Chechen War. He argued that this was part of a conspiracy to bring Putin to power as Boris Yeltsin was fading. During testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, Satter stated:

With Yeltsin and his family facing possible criminal prosecution… a plan was put into motion to put in place a successor who would guarantee that Yeltsin and his family would be safe from prosecution and the criminal division of property in the country would not be subject to reexamination. For 'Operation Successor' to succeed, however, it was necessary to have a massive provocation. In my view, this provocation was the bombing in September, 1999 of the apartment buildings in Moscow, Buinaksk and Volgodonsk. In the aftermath of these attacks, which claimed 300 lives, a new war was launched against Chechnya, Putin, the newly appointed prime minister who was put in charge of that war achieved overnight popularity. Yeltsin resigned early. Putin was elected president and his first act was to guarantee Yeltsin immunity from prosecution[8]

On 14 July 2016, David Satter filed a request to obtain official assessment of who was responsible for the bombings from the State Department, the CIA and the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act. He received response that all documents were classified by US government because "that information had the potential ... to cause serious damage to the relationship with the Russian government". CIA refused even to acknowledge the existence of any relevant records because doing so would reveal "very specific aspects of the Agency's intelligence interest, or lack thereof, in the Russian bombings."[9]

According to a cable on the Ryazan incident from the U.S. embassy in Moscow, on 24 March 2000, cited by Satter, "a former Russian intelligence officer, apparently one of the embassy's principal informants, said that the real story about the Ryazan incident could never be known because it "would destroy the country." The informant said the FSB had "a specially trained team of men" whose mission was "to carry out this type of urban warfare"[10] and Viktor Cherkesov, the FSB's first deputy director and an interrogator of Soviet dissidents was "exactly the right person to order and carry out such actions.".[11]

The latest book by Satter on this subject was The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin[12]

Documentary films

A documentary film about the fall of the Soviet Union based on Satter's book Age of Delirium was completed in 2011. Satter also appears in the 2004 documentary Disbelief[13][14] about the Russian apartment bombings made by director Andrei Nekrasov.

Expulsion from Russia

In December 2013, the Russian government expelled Satter from the country for allegedly committing "multiple gross violations" of Russian migration law;[15] Satter said he followed the procedures the Russian Foreign Ministry set out for him[15] and said that the manner of his expulsion was a formula reserved for spies.[16][17] Luke Harding suggested that Satter's expulsion from the Russian Federation was part of a wider trend by the FSB that is, "increasingly rejecting visa applications from Western academics seeking to visit Russia if their publications are deemed hostile."[16]


  • Age of Delirium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union, Yale University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-300-08705-5
  • Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State. Yale University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-300-09892-8
  • It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past. Yale University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-300-11145-2
  • The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin. Yale University Press, 2016, ISBN 0-300-21142-2


  1. Satter, David (August 17, 2016). "The Unsolved Mystery Behind the Act of Terror That Brought Putin to Power". National Review. Retrieved June 4, 2017.
  2. Satter, Beryl. "Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America" (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009)
  3. David Satter Biography Archived 2006-12-01 at the Wayback Machine, Hudson Institute, USA.
  4. Jack F. Matlock, "The God That Deserved to Fail," review of Age of Delirium: the Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union by David Satter, The Washington Post Book World, June 9, 1996
  5. Notes on Current Books Archived 2005-05-08 at the Wayback Machine, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter, 1997.
  6. Martin Sieff, Russia’s darkness is rising, The National Post.
  7. Angus Macqueen, Nothing left but theft, The Guardian, 18 December 2004.
  8. Satter House Testimony Archived 2011-09-27 at the Wayback Machine, 2007.
  9. "The Mystery of Russia's 1999 Apartment Bombings Lingers — the CIA Could Clear It Up – National Review". 2 February 2017.
  10. "U.S. Senator Ben Cardin Releases Report Detailing Two Decades of Putin's Attacks on Democracy, Calling for Policy Changes to Counter Kremlin Threat Ahead of 2018, 2020 Elections | U.S. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland". www.cardin.senate.gov. Archived from the original on 14 February 2018. Retrieved 17 January 2018., pages 165-171.
  11. How America Helped Make Vladimir Putin Dictator for Life Archived 18 September 2017 at the Wayback Machine by David Satter, 29 August 2017
  12. The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin by David Satter, Reviewed by Giles Whittell, The Times
  13. Disbelief. The record in IMDB.
  14. Google Video
  15. Lally, Kathy (January 14, 2014). "U.S. journalist David Satter, a Putin critic, is barred from returning to Russia". Washington Post.
  16. Harding, Luke (January 13, 2014). "Russia expels US journalist David Satter without explanation". The Guardian.
  17. "American journalist David Satter kicked out of Russia". CNN. January 14, 2014.
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