Who Lost Russia?: How the World Entered a New Cold War Peter Conradi (Oneworld; £18.99)
By the end of 1991, three totally unexpected and very dramatic events had occurred in eastern europe. the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain had collapsed and the more than 40-year-long Cold War had effectively been won by the West. the Soviet Union had ceased to be a Communist country and reverted to being Russia. Its extended empire had retracted within its frontiers with the breakaway independence of many of the peripheral regions of Central Asia, Ukraine and the Baltic States.
the question that Peter Conradi addresses in this book has dominated the past 25 years: how is it that, with the dismantling of a hostile super-power and all the defence-budget sav- ings that this provided for the West, we still feel threatened and the world does not seem a safer place? What went wrong? the author is well qualified to answer these questions as he spent seven years as a foreign correspondent in Moscow over the key period.
Who Lost Russia? is also a very timely book. With the election of a new president in the USA, who professes a respect verging at times on admiration for Vladimir Putin, the strong man in the Kremlin, it’s a moment for reassessment of east-west relations and a chance to correct some of the mistakes of the past. And what a lot of mistakes there were!
they started with the failure to realise the need for a Marshall Plan-scale package of practical help for the emerging Russian Republic, which might have prevented its lapse into Mafia-like practices (which are, incidentally, brilliantly analysed here).
At first, the good relations between Bill Clinton and Boris yeltsin promised well, but the West failed to realise early enough that any expansion of NATO eastwards was seen as a threat by Russia.
When east Germany, Poland, hungary and the Czech Republic (all formerly members of the Warsaw Pact) and then the three Baltic States (all formerly part of the Soviet Union itself) joined the Western alliance, it was understandably seen in Moscow as ‘tickling the Russian bear’s nose’.
the West also failed to appreciate that the Crimea had been part of Russia since the time of Catherine the Great (until it was moved to Ukraine as an internal administrative measure in 1954) and was the home port of the Russian Black Sea fleet. Once Ukraine started to look westwards, Russia felt bound and determined to reoccupy its former province.
As one crisis succeeded another—chechnya, Georgia, the Crimea, Ukraine, Syria— and the friendly, alcoholic yeltsin was replaced by the stern, sober Putin, it became clear that Russia was not prepared to see itself as a junior partner in the war on terror, or in anything else.
Respect and international status became increasingly important to Mr Putin as the Russian economy, beset by falling oil prices and sanctions, faltered. By continually flexing his muscles, Mr Putin also made himself responsible for the continued eastWest confrontation.
the last word of wisdom in this exhaustingly detailed, but profoundly important survey is with henry Kissinger: the disputed areas must become a bridge not a battlefield. Let us hope his extremely sensible advice prevails. John Ure