“Those who see Putin as the cause of the problem refuse to concede that he might also be a part of the solution” was perhaps my favourite line in Frontline Ukraine; an intelligent and beautifully-written summary of the Ukrainian crisis of 2013/14.
In 250 pages, Professor Richard Sakwa (lecturer at the University of Kent and probably Britain’s most interesting and articulate voice on European politics) managed to contextualise, rationalise and even simplify one of the most interesting and misrepresented conflicts of our time.
As noted in the title of the post, anybody interested in Russia, Crimea, Ukraine or foreign policy in general would benefit from reading this book. Such a well-researched and thoughtful account deserves the eyes of both the west and its misguided politicians.
Drawing on conveniently forgotten historical foundations, ruthlessly sourced statistical evidence and political meddling, sensible conclusions are arrived at relating to the causes, belligerents and development of the crisis. Yet more striking is Sakwa’s neutrality and ability to provide us with a healthily balanced and unbiased view of events which are often twisted through selective foreign media coverage.
What I found most startling about reading Frontline Ukraine was discovering the extent to which both Brussels and Washington managed, often with shocking subtlety, to significantly influence domestic Ukrainian affairs, laying the groundwork for a crisis I now know to have been an inevitable one.
Sakwa explains in rigorous and thought-provoking detail just how Russia came to annex the Crimean peninsula, how they can justify doing so, and why it was a mistake all along to externalise Ukraine’s internal demons, and frame the country’s problems as evidence of a new Cold War.
Rooted at the very core of the book is the rather accurate notion that the events of 2013 and 2014 can be explained by separating the Ukraine crisis and the Ukrainian crisis; one related to ethnic and culture divisions, the other characterised by political pointscoring and international intervention.
European Union and NATO expansion, driven by a desire to create a ‘Wider Europe’ based on western ideals and political institutions, played a huge role in the exacerbating of Ukraine’s problems. Fundamental too is the now glaring fact that through the tabling of the European Association Agreement in November 2013, the EU displayed astounding ignorance towards Russian economic interests, as well as the prominence of the existing Eurasian Customs Union.
Frontline Ukraine directly challenges the lazy argument that the European Union is a bastion of international peace and stability. It outlines crucially just how taken aback Russia was by the events of the Ukrainian revolution, and provides a powerfully contrasting case against the idea that the conflict can be frame in terms of Russian imperialism.
Furthermore, I was impressed by how acutely the inner workings of the Maidan revolution were documented. Vital distinctions were made between the two competing ideologies surrounding Ukrainian statehood; monist and pluralist. It was interesting to see just how deeply rooted social friction and tribalism were across Ukraine, and why internal sects must be diluted and managed responsibly if the country is to rebuild itself as a prosperous and productive nation.
Naive is the argument that Russia’s invasion of the Crimea is emblematic of a country seeking to re-establish the construct of the Soviet Union, and lazy too are those fronting it. For a thorough understanding of the political climate across Eurasia, Sakwa educates those reading by encompassing multiple perspectives of events throughout the book.
His summaries of American geopolitical objectives are sensible, his explanation of Russia’s annexation is rationally-argued and represents a refreshingly open-minded outlook, and his description of Ukraine’s more internal challenges (both in terms of its societal structure and its ethnic segmentation) make this book such a fascinating read.
Please do give it a go.