Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Eurasian Disunion

Soon after I returned from my mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to St. Petersburg, Russia, I remember looking through an issue of National Geographic and seeing some pictures from Central Asia.  The pictures were mostly from some of the bigger cities there, so there was a heavy Russian influence visible thanks to Russia’s imperial and then Soviet colonization efforts.  The pictures made me wax nostalgic for my time in Russia.  As it is now closing in on almost twenty years since my time in Russia, it has been interesting to see, although rarely up close and personal, the changes in those countries, as well as the other countries that were formerly part of Russia or under a great deal of Russian influence, like a lot of Eastern Europe was.  To differing degrees, they have moved away from Russia and worked to chart their own path, often to Russia’s consternation.

Book cover.Eurasian Disunion: Russia’s Vulnerable Flanks by Janusz Bugajski and Margarita Assenova (ISBN: 978-0-9855045-5-7) takes a look, region by region, those parts of the world that used to be part of the Soviet bloc and explores their struggles, their ties to Russia, and possible scenarios regarding their futures.  Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia are all examined.  Russia is of the opinion that it has and should maintain strategic interest in all these regions and works to maintain a certain level of influence in those areas.  It does this through diplomacy, through international organizations, through intelligence operations, through propaganda, through its involvement and control of energy markets, and through supporting general conditions of uncertainty and unrest.  (To be fair, other countries and international organizations are involved in the same or similar activities, although motivations may be different.)  The authors examine the responses and defenses of the various countries and regions to Russia’s many efforts (the authors identify what they determine to be sixty-eight unique methods Russia tries to project its will on the former Soviet bloc) to protect its influence in those same regions.  As noted above, the past twenty or so years have shown that, to varying degrees, the former Soviet countries want to distance themselves from that past and from Russia being their only powerful partner.  Most would be happy with engaging with Russia, but not at the expense of other opportunities in the West and in Asia.  The authors examine responses to Russia’s efforts and give some brief thoughts on how things might play out given varying scenarios, largely calling for a cross-Atlantic approach that builds on multi-lateral international relations to provide Russia’s flanks with viable alternatives until Russia decides to play by the rules of the game.

The book is heavy on current events with a hearty serving of realist-style political science.  Given the subject matter, I found it interesting, but those who are interested in other parts of the world may not be quiet as keen on it.  However, it seems that Russia really never goes out of style.  I found the overview of Russia’s influence efforts in the various countries and regions to be interesting.  Even for someone who enjoys reading the news, there’s too much to keep up with, so this was a nice survey of that.  Hacking and spying make the headlines, so it was nice to move away from that and read about diplomatic efforts, the energy field, propaganda, and even criminal tie-ins.  As with many publications more academic in nature, I thought the conclusion section was maybe a little hasty and probably not specific enough even though they were likely solid proposals.

Creative Commons License
This work, including all text, photographs, and other original work, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 License and is copyrighted © MMXIV John Pruess.

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