Russia inspires fear. For decades, American presidents viewed the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” and now, the Ukrainian crisis has added a new chapter to this narrative inherited from the Cold War. Russia’s behavior is regarded with distrust and its “nuisance power” arouses frustration. The country’s image has not been so negative since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But at the same time—and this is a key point of this book—Russia is fearful, too. Thirty years after the end of the Soviet Union, multiple ghosts haunt the country, its elites, and its society, from concern over demographic and economic decline to worry about the country’s vulnerability to external intervention, reviving the old notion of Russia as a “besieged fortress.” Opened up practically overnight under President Boris Yeltsin, the country had to deal with a rapid and violent globalization. Faced with both a West that emerged victorious from the Cold War and a shockingly dynamic China, Russia constantly questions its identity and the notion that its fate is to bridge East and West. Vacillating between reformist aspirations and a fear of liberal society, which is often portrayed as amoral and perverse, the country, and certainly its leader Vladamir Putin, sometimes seems tempted to take refuge in a new isolation.
This book is more than timely: no other book offers a comprehensive overview of Russia’s fears and challenges that could help the American public to understand how the country deals with its own issues and how this influences Russia’s foreign policy, including the ongoing war in Ukraine. This in-out aspect is critical to understand the country’s international stance and therefore directly US policy and security.
Marlene Laruelle is research professor of international affairs and associate director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University. She is codirector of PONARS-Eurasia and director of the Central Asia Program at GW. Her books include Russian Eurasianism: An Ideology of Empire (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), In the Name of the Nation: Nationalism and Politics in Contemporary Russia (Palgrave, 2009), and Russia’s Strategies in the Arctic and the Future of the Far North (M.E. Sharpe, 2013).
Jean Radvanyi is professor of Russian Studies and Geography at the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Cultures in Paris. He directed the French-Russian Center for Social Sciences and Humanities located in Moscow for four year, between 2008 and 2012. His books include four editions of (in French) The New Russia (Armand Colin), and Geopolitical Atlas of the Caucasus (Autrement).
Explaining Russia in the midst of a war that's convulsing the world order is not a task for the faint-hearted, but Laruelle and Radvanyi have done just that. With trenchant analysis of aspects as diverse as Russia's war economy, Moscow's romance with the Global South and the origins of "Putinism," the authors make sense of Russia's retrenchment, even as it builds coalitions to resist U.S. hegemony.