Pavel K Baev
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
The war between Russia and Ukraine that broke out in spring 2014 and still claims lives in the trenches of Donbass appears to most area specialists to be such a violation of common political sense that they shy away from its systematic examination. D’Anieri takes on the elementary but heavily loaded task of explaining ‘how and why this conflict came about’ (p. 2) and delivers a non-partisan, thoughtful and thorough analysis. His basic premise is that the conflict between the two post-Soviet states has deep roots and its mutation was driven by the divergence of their political trajectories. The outbreak of the war, nevertheless, was by no means pre-determined and happened due to a unique interplay of unexpected events and bad choices. He traces the conflict transformation since the demise of the Soviet Union and finds its structure so complex that only a ‘theoretical eclecticism’ (p. 8), in which security dilemma blends with democracy promotion and domestic transition, helps to sort it out. This mixture of analytical tools works reasonably well for producing a convincing narrative on the quarrelsome but also symbiotic relationship, which was progressing to a break-down of some kind – but Russian aggression turned it into a catastrophic failure. D’Anieri has no illusions about the readiness of the autocratic Russia to accept a peace compromise, but he laments Ukraine’s ‘inability to reform’ (p. 274), which undermines its nascent European identity. The research doesn’t reach far beyond the termination of hostilities in 2015, and Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s youthful president who has so far performed above expectations, doesn’t make it to the index. A savior he is not, but prevent the war from exploding anew he must.