Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War – by Peter Conradi
If you were to ask a random individual on the street to describe the relationship between Russia and the U.S. in the past 80 years, they would probably state something such as:
“Russia became an enemy with the U.S. after World War II because of communism. When communism self-destructed in 1991, Russia then became one of the “good” guys. Lately, though, the relationship between Russia and the U.S. has seemed to have gotten worse. Although I’m not entirely sure why.”
That person would be mostly correct. What this book does so well, is explain why the euphoria of the early 1990s deteriorated around the relationship between the superpowers, and why things have regressed since then. In other words, this book is an excellent resource for those who don’t read about world news that often, and tend to read the Sports page first when they open their newspaper.
This book was very well written and very easy to follow. It’s not a book that you “give up on” because it’s too detailed, too scholarly, or too long. The author does an outstanding job balancing how to present enough crucial material for one to digest without putting them to sleep or overwhelming them with details ad nauseum. This is one of the books that I finished in only a few days because it was so well written, interesting, and informative.
A key point when discussing foreign relations is that other countries and other cultures think and behave differently. Most of us are unaware of this. We can’t understand why, for example, when we topple a brutal dictator such as Saddam Hussein, there’s dancing and singing in the streets of Baghdad for a few days, but then things seem to go back to exactly how they were before. So when the Cold War ended and the Communist regime was toppled in 1991, there were many in the West that thought all they needed was a few more shopping malls and trendy restaurants, and Russia would magically transform to a peaceful place that looked and acted just like the state of Vermont.
The author reminds us though, that even though Russia “lost” the Cold War, they have always been a proud country. For the United States to start dictating how they run their country, and more importantly, the relationship with subjugated neighbors such as Ukraine and Georgia, there are going to be problems. There is a lot of focus on the relationships between the leaders of the two countries. First, Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin. Then, Bush and Putin, followed by Obama and Medvedev (later, back to Putin). None of the leaders of the West seem to perfectly play their cards, and whatever methods are tried, it seems as though relationships between the two simply become worse. How does one maintain a healthy relationship with a country when it has such a cruel demeanor with places such as Crimea and Syria?
Old habits die hard, and Putin and his cronies are no choirboys. We read about a lot of rigged elections, under-the-table deals, and poisoned enemies that allow the country to climb back to the top and retain its former glory. They may not be “Communist” anymore, but the author successfully argues that the cruelty that has been there since the Revolution in 1917 hasn’t abated. It may have taken a brief sojourn, but the nothing has really changed that much since the days of well-documented infamy.
The author does reveal who he thinks actually “lost” Russia in the last few pages. I’m not sure I completely agree with him. For something to be “lost” it must first be “owned” or “possessed” and I’m not sure the U.S., or anyone else, ever had a firm grasp on the country to begin with. We may have thought we did 25 years ago, but smarter heads (i.e. Henry Kissinger) have always told us otherwise. We just never wanted to listen. Why listen to people tell you things aren’t that great when they feel so good?
The book does talk a bit about the Clinton-Trump presidential race. The author makes no accusations, but it’s clear that Russia would much prefer a Trump president than a Clinton one. In fact, there are several references to Clinton, as Obama’s Secretary of State, wanting her Commander and Chief to do things differently and have a firmer hand. It’s easy to speculate that if Hillary Clinton had won the election, things would finally move in the correct path, but one would have to be mightily optimistic to hold such a position. In fact, after reading this, my sad conclusion is that anytime we want something to be better, it sometimes must, first, get worse. Sometimes much worse. We can only hope and pray that things don’t deteriorate much more in the coming years. We should all pay attention to world news more often.