The End of the Cold War 1985-1991 by Robert Service: A Book Review Essay

Robert Service’s The End of the Cold War 1985-1991 is foremost a retelling of the nuclear arms control negotiations between the US and the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era. Service, a long time British scholar at Oxford, is most comfortable and at his best in recounting the details of the rarefied nuclear arms reduction negotiations and does so in admirable English – without a non-specialist forced to consult a glossary of arms control terms. I, however, think that the Soviet Union fell apart as a result of its crumbling economic system brought to a head by the plummeting price of petroleum on the world market upon which the country was far too dependent. This combined with unsustainable military overreach based on decisions by a geriatric leadership that had been dying like flies in the proverbial pot full of honey prior to Gorbachev’s selection as Secretary General in 1985. Read more »

Russia and Syria: What pull-out?

know it may be hard to believe after reading multiple media reports about Putin’s latest “surprise pull out from Syria” but the Kremlin did not, repeat, not, really pull its military out of Syria last week. So what were Putin's motives? Read more »

Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War by Svetlana Alexievich – a Book Review Essay

On January 17, I heard Shostakovich’s “Fifth Symphony” performed by the Santa Fe Symphony under the baton of guest conductor Brian McAdams. The performance was excellent; the piece - by its nature - disturbing. It is a powerful, troubled and mostly discordant piece in the key of D minor. Shostakovich wrote the symphony in 1937 just as his country was enduring Stalin’s purges and Hitler was on the march in Europe. As the symphony nears its conclusion, the timpanist emits - not the familiar drum roll - but a desperately loud and throbbing solo of one solitary note after another pounding into the listener like the sound of a death-knell or a chorus of jack-boots smashing down in unison on hard cobblestone pavement. Perhaps a harbinger for the years to come. This is the same emotional pounding I experienced reading Zinky Boys – one tragic story after another proceeding in rapid-fire succession until the book finally ends in exhausted relief. Read more »

National Minorities in Putin’s Russia: Diversity and Assimilation by Federica Prino – A Book Review Essay

Since National Minorities in Putin's Russia is based on Prino's doctoral dissertation perhaps she might wish to expand her research to explore the question of emigration versus assimilation (as opposed to diversity and assimilation) for members of ethnic minorities living in the former Soviet Union. Data for the Finno-Ugrics should be easy to access from Finnish, Estonian and Swedish statistical services which is lively where many of the Karelians and Ingrains now live. Read more »

Montenegro’s NATO Membership a Threat to Whom?

Last week, Montenegro, that tiny mountainous country, population of about 662,000 on the Adriatic Coast between Bosnia and Albania, was invited to join NATO. The invitation had been nine years in the making. Whereupon the Kremlin threw a hissy-fit. Ever since this outsized reaction, I’ve been puzzling as to why the Kremlin should care whether NATO offers membership to a “mouse that roared” – especially one that should be of no consequence to almost anyone – except for possible smugglers and gun runners surreptitiously moving contraband and perhaps humans across the Adriatic to Italy or travel agencies bringing Europeans to its spectacular coast on holidays. The closest I can come to an answer – besides the well-known argument that the Russian Federation somehow thinks that not getting along with NATO is better for the country than working with NATO – is that Montenegro was one of the last parts of Yugoslavia to separate from the rump state of Serbia; that its multi-religious population includes a substantial Serbian minority (28.7%); and that Russia and Serbia still seem to retain a special relationship with Russia acting as the protector of the latter. Read more »

Turkey – Russia

Actually, it would be easy for the Russians to keep their two bases on the Mediterranean if that's their bottom line - as it should be. However, it would mean a focus on real ISIS targets while dropping their fealty to Assad (and other dictators) in return for retention of those bases. Moreover, Moscow could offer Assad and family a safe haven somewhere in Russia – complete with a luxurious villa on a coast – and turn its military's attention and fire power to its real enemy - and I don't mean Ukraine. Read more »

Putin’s Birthday Presents

Didn’t Vladimir Putin turn 63 on October 7? Didn’t the Russian military provide him with a spectacular birthday present – the launch of 26 cruise missiles from the country’s flotilla in the landlocked Caspian Sea that very same day? It was an impressive display of night time fire power in honor of the President in Chief (or Perpetuity). . . .The increasingly likely downing of Russia’s Metrojet filled with mostly Russian holiday makers by some kind of incendiary device planted by an ISIS-affiliated terrorist group is just the latest example of how barging into someone else's conflict can have unexpected and tragic results. Russians may love spectacles – but this is not one either they or their leader bargained for. Read more »

David Brooks’ Romanticized Dream that Never Was

n his NYT column “The Russia I Miss” on September 11, 2015, David Brooks decries the loss of a Russian counterculture based on the vision of the Russian soul with its roots in the visuality of Russian Orthodoxy and the simple, monotonous lifestyle and superstitious mentality of the Russian peasant. . . . Read more »

Third Greek Loan Progamme Takes Its Toll

It is August 15th, 2015. The third Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in as many years was approved yesterday by the Greek parliament and the Eurogroup – the unelected European finance ministers organization to which most European political leaders have abdicated their power. In antithesis to the past six months, hardly anyone I have met in the last weeks in Athens or on the island Kythera is talking about it. What is going on? Though I am no psychologist, what I believe to have observed over the past three weeks is a generalized sense of burn-out induced depression. Read more »