Owen Matthews

Owen Matthews is the Spectator’s Russia correspondent and a former Moscow and Istanbul Bureau Chief for Newsweek. He is a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, BBC Radio 3, BBC World Service, Radio Five Live, NPR’s Talk of the Nation, CNN, NBC, GB News, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, as well as Russia’s Rossiya 1 and NTV.

A native Russian speaker, Owen was covering the present conflict from Moscow before catching one of the last flights out.

His first book, Stalin’s Children, a memoir of three generations of his family in Russia, was shortlisted for the 2008 Guardian First Book Award, the Orwell Prize for political writing, and France’s Prix Medicis Etranger. Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of Russian America (2013), a history of Imperial Russia’s doomed attempt to colonise America, was shortlisted for the 2014 Pushkin House Prize for books on Russia. An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent (2019), a biography of German Communist spy Richard Sorge – the first English language work written with extensive access to the Soviet archives – was chosen as a Book of the Year by the Economist magazine. Overreach (2022) was shortlisted for the 2022 Parliamentary Book Awards in the Best Political Book by a Non-Parliamentarian category.

Owen has also published a number of novels based on real-life events. He co-wrote the 2015 Russian television series Londongrad and played an episodic role in it, as well as playing the US Ambassador to Moscow in the 2017 Russian television series The Optimists. His books have been translated into 28 languages.

Photo credit James Hill

Links & Credits

BBC Ukrainecast

Owen explains why President Putin invaded Ukraine, and the reasons it isn't going well for him.



Owen Matthews

In Overreach, Owen Matthews draws on his unrivalled network of contacts to deliver unique insights into Putin’s administration, security services, armed forces and propaganda machine. He sheds light on the decision-making processes within the Kremlin, and the consequences that have shaken Europe to its core.

The book chronicles how Vladimir Putin lurched from calculating and subtle master of political opportunity to reckless gambler whose aggression threatens to destroy both the foundations of his own regime and of Russia itself. Overreach transports the reader into the Covid bubble where Putin conceived his invasion plans in a fog of nationalist fantasy and bad information – and into the inner circle around Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky, the TV star president who became the war’s most unexpected hero.

Testimonies of captured Russian conscripts, Ukrainian civilians who escaped from occupation, and of the last journalists in besieged Mariupol tell the story of the war as it unfolded on the ground. Matthews’ interviews with men who launched Putin’s career, and others who have worked with him for years, help the reader understand Putin’s motivations and get inside the head of the world’s most secretive and dangerous leader.

Overreach is an important and unparalleled piece of investigative journalism that will be the first to offer readers a panoramic view of how the most serious geopolitical crisis since World War II began – and how its endgame is likely to unfold.

‘Blending stories of soldiers from both sides, effortlessly moving from insiders’ accounts to historical background, Matthews’s book is as compellingly written as it is plausibly argued.’

— The Times

‘The best new book on Russia … Matthews has advantages over almost everyone else writing on this subject … a classic – as enduring as Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia.’

— Literary Review

‘Matthews writes with extraordinary vividness… a master craftsman.’

— Spectator

Overreach is a remarkable achievement, with Matthews’s expert eye like an all-seeing drone buzzing from one side of the conflict to the other.’

— The Telegraph

‘Everyone should read Overreach by the great Owen Matthews.’

— John Sweeney

‘Owen Matthews’ extraordinary perspective has produced an interim account of special value’

— The Daily Mail

‘A vivid snapshot of the [Russia-Ukraine] war … a fine blow-by-blow account … an excellent primer on the war’s historical roots.’

— Telegraph best books to understand the world in 2022

White Fox

Owen Matthews

1963. In a desolate Russian penal colony, the radio broadcasts news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy…

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vasin’s new posting as director of a gulag camp in the middle of the frozen tundra is far from a promotion. This is where disgraced agents, like Vasin, disappear – sent to die forgotten. And quietly. But tensions in the camp are running high and when a violent revolt breaks out, Vasin finds himself on the run. With him is a mysterious prisoner – who holds the key to the most dangerous secret in the world: who ordered Kennedy’s murder.

In a breathless race that takes them through the Soviet Union – from the barren Siberian wastelands to the stunning halls of the Katerina Palace and the grey streets of Leningrad and Moscow – Vasin must stay one step ahead of the most ruthless spy and police organizations in the world . . . and keep the most wanted man in Russia alive. It’s a journey that will push Vasin’s loyalty, morality and his patriotism to the limit. And he must confront the ultimate choice: fall in line, or die fighting the system.

‘Tense, exciting and authentic’ 

— Charles Cumming, author of Judas 62


— The Times

‘Brilliantly plotted’ 

— John Sweeney

‘Matthews skilfully balances the exhilarating thrill of the chase with the conflict between duty, self-interest and justice in his hero’s heart. A fine send-off for a well-accomplished series’

— The Times, best new thrillers for March 2023

‘A standout thriller’ 

— Financial Times

Red Traitor

Owen Matthews

One the least known but most terrifying moments in modern history – when the fate of the world lay with a lone, nervous Soviet naval officer one hundred meters under the Caribbean sea – lies at the heart of this breathtaking new Cold War thriller from the author of the acclaimed Black Sun.

The year is 1962, and KGB Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vasin is searching for ghosts: for evidence of the long-rumoured existence of an American spy embedded at the highest echelons of Soviet power. But it’s while on this wild goose chase, a high-stakes espionage race against a rival State agency, that Vasin first hears whispers of an ominous top-secret undertaking: Operation Anadyr.

As tensions flare between Nikita Khrushchev and President Kennedy over Russian missiles hidden in Cuba, four Soviet submarines – each carrying tactical ballistic missiles armed with thermonuclear warheads – are ordered to make a covert run at the U.S. blockade in the Caribbean . . .

‘This is Robert Harris storytelling territory and is told with equal panache and authenticity. There could be no higher praise’ 

— Daily Mail

Black Sun

Owen Matthews

1961. Hidden deep within central Soviet Russia is a place that doesn’t appear on any map: a city called Arzamas-16. Here dedicated scientists and technicians are building the most powerful nuclear device the world will ever see – three thousand times more powerful than Hiroshima.

But days before the bomb is to be tested, a young physicist is found dead. His body contains enough radioactive poison to kill thousands. The authorities believe it is suicide – they want the corpse disposed of, the incident filed and forgotten. But Moscow is alarmed by what’s going on in this strange, isolated place.

And so KGB major Alexander Vasin is sent to Arzamas to investigate. What he finds there is unlike anything he’s experienced before. His wits will be tested against some of the Soviet Union’s most brilliant minds – eccentrics, patriots and dissidents who, because their work is considered to be of such vital importance, have been granted the freedom to think and act, live and love as they wish. For in Arzamas, nothing can be allowed to get in the way of the project. Not even murder . . .


— Sunday Times

‘A stunning debut thriller . . . utterly terrifying . . . absolutely riveting’

— Daily Mail

‘Fascinating . . . fearsome’

— Frederick Forsyth


— Financial Times

‘Thrilling . . . compelling’

— Simon Sebag Montefiore