Books: Russia’s revenge for West’s paternalism

Written By: Charlie Beaumont
Published: July 29, 2017 Last modified: July 29, 2017

Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War
by Peter Conradi
OneWorld £18.99

Peter Conradi, a foreign correspondent in Moscow for seven years, has written a well sourced and very readable history of the changing nature in the relationships, primarily those between the United States and the Soviet Union, prior to and during the break up of the latter, and then those between America and Russia up until the recent election of Donald Trump as President.

The book leaves the impression, given the current tensions and mistrust between Russia and the West, of missed opportunities to firmly establish and then maintain a close degree of co-operation. The analysis identifies the failings as being mainly due, firstly, to a paternalist attitude by political leaders in the West towards the economically weak and newly established Russia, and, secondly, the ambitions of NATO to include former Warsaw Pact countries, other than Russia, as a means of sustaining a dominant military control, so avoiding a return to the political uncertainties that had existed during the Cold War. The outcome from these approaches was an aggrieved Russia due to a sense of being both belittled and of lacking influence on the world stage.

This overall strategy by the West remained feasible, the book suggests, without any overt negative consequences resulting, while the Russian economy remained weak. However it became, and has remained, increasingly problematic as the latter grew in strength. Yeltsin, Putin, during his first and second terms as President, and Medvedev, as leaders of the new Russia, are recorded as demonstrating considerable willingness to work with the West despite receiving, from their perspectives, little of positive value in return. The perception by Vladimir Putin, of the failure by the West to show respect for Russia is presented as a key factor in his adoption, both internally and in his relations with the West and its allies, of a more aggressive stance.

Putin’s actions following his return to the Presidency for a third term, including the armed conflicts in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, and the increasing centralisation of political power within the country in the role of President, are identified as the fight back of the Great Bear. They are also viewed as the cause of a re-emergence of the old Cold War tensions and the development of an obvious wedge between Russia and the West.

It is the motivations, informed by insights into the personalities of the key leaders involved in this period and these geopolitical conflicts that add both interest and value to the overall understanding provided by this excellent book.