His­tory

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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

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