A slender, astute study of Russia’s nefarious modus operandi, evident especially in its treatment of smaller satellite countries in Eastern and central Europe.
Orenstein (Russian and East European Studies/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Privatizing Pensions: The Transnational Campaign for Social Security Reform, 2008, etc.) probes the contradictions inherent in the simultaneous lure of NATO, on the one hand, and Russian money and gas supplies, on the other, which has propelled poorer countries in between to play both sides. The author explores this situation, promising that when we “understand this paradox of politics in the lands in between, the seemingly upside-down politics of the West today will snap into focus.” Orenstein first looks at when and why Russia turned against the West: somewhere around 2000, when Vladimir Putin first assumed power and began to rue publicly the loss of Russia’s imperial greatness. To him, the West’s support of Kosovo’s secession from Serbia was against international law, and Russia retaliated by invading neighboring Georgia in 2008. Russia’s alarm at NATO’s expansion was largely ignored, and its annexation of Crimea took the West by surprise. The author believes Russia is acting out of paranoia and fear of European expansion, viewing the European Union as a “competitor for influence” in countries it views as part of its sphere and thus embarking on what the author defines as a “hybrid war” entailing more than just military might. These methods of covert action have become increasingly obvious—e.g., using agents of influence, funding extremist parties, spreading propaganda and disinformation, and engaging in cyberattacks, all with the aim of polarizing, destabilizing, and ultimately destroying European institutions. As Orenstein notes, the lands in between are vulnerable to influences both West and East, and they have elevated oligarchs in their governments to play both sides in what is increasingly becoming the politics of “civilizational choice.”
A scholar of the region clarifies many of the bewildering contradictions that directly affect European and American politics.