Vladimir Putin has laid out his plans to compile a canon of 100 Russian books “that every Russian school leaver will be required to read” in an attempt to preserve the “dominance of Russian culture”.

In an article running to more than 4,500 words in Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, the Russian prime minister writes that “in the 1920s, some leading universities in the United States advocated something referred to as the Western Canon, a canon of books regarded as the most important and influential in shaping Western culture”, adding that “each self-respecting student was required to read 100 books from a specially compiled list of the greatest books of the Western world”.

Mr. Putin, who is running for a third term as president in March, says that Russia has “always been described as a ‘reading nation'”, and proposes taking a survey of the country's “most influential cultural figures” and compiling “a 100-book canon that every Russian school leaver will be required to read — that is, to read at home rather than study in class or memorise. And then they would be asked to write an essay on one of them in their final exams. Or at least let us give young Russians a chance to demonstrate their knowledge and world outlook in various student competitions.” Journalist Alexander Nazaryan, who is writing a novel about Russian immigrants in New York, called Mr. Putin's “cultural-unity-through-literature proposal” the Russian leader's “most chilling [plan] of all”.

“Social engineering through state mandated literature: Nothing else that Mr. Putin has done has been quite so nakedly Soviet in its desire to manipulate the human intellect into docility,” writes Mr. Nazaryan, predicting that “the books that will benefit from Putin's new cultural policy will almost certainly be Soviet-era schlock churned out by Writers' Union foot soldiers who glorified their compatriots' miserable existence”.

To be called Slova — Russian for “words” — the store within the Waterstones' bookshop will stock nearly 5,000 Russian language titles as well as Russian books in translation, covering areas from history to children's books and run by Russian-speaking booksellers. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012