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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > February 2017 > Books in brief

Books in brief

Who Lost Russia?

by Peter Conradi (Oneworld, £18.99)

The year 1991 was a turning point for global politics: it saw both the disbanding of the Warsaw Pact, as well as the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The narrative western politicians and intellectuals told at the time was a simple one: communism had failed and western liberal capitalism had won. Consequently, so the story went, Russia would gladly turn its head westwards and in time become a liberal democracy. Central and Eastern European states, meanwhile, would finally get to choose their own destinies.

However, as Peter Conradi’s Who Lost Russia? explains, that simple narrative dramatically changed once Boris Yeltsin left the Kremlin at the turn of the Millennium. Ever since Vladimir Putin’s rise, the west has been trying to work out how to cool its relations with Russia without starting a new Cold War.

United States presidents from Bill Clinton onwards, Conradi argues, have been confused by how to deal with Russia, and Putin’s strange hybrid of paternalism, authoritarianism, conservatism and nationalism. Equally troubling has been his ambition to reclaim Russia’s former satellite states from Soviet times: namely, Ukraine, and then eventually, the Baltic States, and perhaps further afield.

Conradi’s narrative manages to tell a complex story—about a global balance of power, international conflict and diplomacy, and a series of Machiavellian political mind games—with a much-needed sense of balance. The author’s skill in seamlessly linking historical events to present-day international relations makes this book an insightful and rewarding read.

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In Prospect’s February issue: Tom Clark and Luke Harding examine the attacks facing democracy. Clark reviews two books on democracy and suggests a new intellectual assault may be on the horizon. Harding looks at Russia’s attempts to derail the democratic process by focussing on its technical frailty. Melissa Deckman asks why women voted for Trump, while Duncan Bell charts the story of the Anglosphere and suggests Brexiteers are indulging in an old fantasy. Also in this issue: Matthew Harries asks if it’s time to ban the nuclear bomb, Adam Mars-Jones looks at the way we perceive aliens in films and Elizabeth Pisani explores the role of activists in changing the perception of Aids and its pushing for treatment.