The title of the book—probably foisted on the author by the publisher—includes ‘Putin’, ‘clash’, ‘war’, ‘civilization’ and ‘nexus’, so readers may be excused for thinking that this is yet another exercise in Russia bashing: long on emotions and speculation but short on facts and analysis. This is certainly not the case. There are not many authors who are as well qualified to cover the subject of Crimea as Constantine Pleshakov. He is a third-generation Crimean. After graduating from Moscow State University's department of Chinese history, Pleshakov joined the Institute for US and Canadian Studies in 1982. In 1995 he was invited to teach in one of the US colleges and subsequently became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In his new book, Pleshakov pursues two principal subjects, namely an in-depth description of Crimea, providing a good coverage of all relevant elements and, equally well presented, a devastating evaluation of western, particularly US, policies in the region. The numerous embarrassing statements and policies of western politicians quoted by the author are revealing and well footnoted. Pleshakov's matter of fact criticism of the US and its exceptionalism is fair. In chapter two, he addresses the issue of the alleged promises made by western leaders not to operate militarily beyond the 1989 internal German border. Promises were made, although they were not legally binding, and Russia never forgot them. NATO's enlargement eastwards guaranteed that its relationship with Moscow got progressively worse. When Russia reacted to some of the West's policies and interventions, western countries were usually annoyed and almost always surprised. If Russia were to ‘invest’ US$5 billion in Mexico—the amount Washington ‘invested’ in Ukraine, according to Victoria Nuland (p. 54)—to improve its democracy, US politicians would most probably become hysterical. Pleshakov is much kinder to European politicians, maybe because he is based in the US and maybe because he would have had to spend too much time identifying them and their policies. The Crimean nexus goes on to discuss the ‘Agreement on the settlement of crisis in Ukraine’, which was signed on 21 February 2014 by Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine, and three opposition leaders, and was witnessed by the EU. The agreement was instantly violated by the opposition, but the EU would not criticize it because that would have pleased Moscow. It is very likely that, if the US and the EU ‘had been willing to enforce the February 21 agreement, Ukraine would have a new government without providing the Kremlin a pretext to seize Crimea’ (p. 160). This is the best book so far about the recent Russian–Ukrainian conflict, although it does not mention several important issues, possibly because in the institutionalized anti-Russian atmosphere of the West, with his own background, the author did not want be accused of lobbying for Russia. Thus The Crimean nexus does not discuss the Crimean referendum of 20 January 1991—seven months before the failed coup against Gorbachev and the ‘Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine’. Neither does Pleshakov mention the referendum of 27 March 1994, although he touches on the unsuccessful attempt of Yury Meshkov, a brutal but democratically elected leader of Crimea, to seek Russian support for independence. Neither referendum might have met legal standards but they represented important political and ethnic trends in the peninsula. The delicate matter of the legality of President Yanukovych's electoral victory in 2010 has also been ignored by the author—although the final report of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe observer mission, released on 28 April 2010, does make it clear that Yanukovych was legally elected. Furthermore, the questions about the legality of Yanukovych's removal could provoke questions about the maturity of the present elected leaders and, more importantly, of Ukrainian voters. Yanukovych is gone, the voters are still there. The last, excellent but brief, chapter covers reactions in the US to the conflict. The picture painted by the author is fair but not pretty. This is maybe the reason why he does not offer any suggestions as to what can be done about the conflict or try to predict the future. The future, at this stage, looks simple but not pleasant. Moscow will not give up Crimea. The West can grudgingly accept the present state of affairs, prolong and possibly widen the sanctions or embark on a suicidal military confrontation. Finally, the author uses very few Russian or Ukrainian sources, but that seems to be deliberate. The English-language sources are good and the book is as much about western policies as it is about Crimea. The Crimean nexus is excellent and informative. It covers all the angles of the Crimean conflict and it is a pleasure to read. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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