Frontline Ukraine

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The front cover of February’s issue of ‘The Week’ portrays Russian president Vladimir Putin as The Terminator, eyeing us menacingly while clutching a pistol.

Sakwa’s book is a necessary corrective not only to this kind of foolishness, but also to the dominant narratives on the crisis in Europe’s “borderlands”.

In place of Russo-phobic fears of a new empire, Sakwa conducts a critical examination of the role played by the EU and Washington hawks in provoking and deepening the crisis.

He offers a well-reasoned appraisal of Russia’s security concerns — this from a man whose Polish father did his military service in the kresy (Poland’s borderlands lost to the Soviets following the invasion of 1939) — and a critique of the post-Cold War US triumphalism.

Sakwa explores the historical background to the conflicting visions of Ukrainian statehood which lie behind the bloodletting in the south-east of the country.

The 2014 February revolution brought to power a Kiev regime which sought to align the country with the European Union and NATO and which denies legitimacy to the culture, language and historical experience of the Russophone population.

He explains in detail how Ukrainian domestic contradictions became internationalised in the context of the asymmetrical end of the Cold War. The US has exploited the crisis in an attempt to dislodge the country from Moscow’s orbit and incorporate it fully within the West.

Sakwa issues a warning over the militarisation of the EU, pointing out that since 2008, all new members are obliged to co-ordinate their security arrangements with NATO, a policy that represents a real threat to Russia.

I return to the first sentence of this review, and the reduction of a highly complex and dangerous situation to caricature, the puerile demonising of the leader of a nation of 144 million people.

We have been here before, in a repeat of the role played by the media at the time of the invasion of Iraq. Unfortunately, the principal calamity of our time is perhaps about to be superseded by something worse.

Sakwa suggests that the often stated notion of a “new Cold War” may be too optimistic. He warns, “The dogs of war are waiting to be unleashed on a global scale”.