Pavel K Baev
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
The sharp rise of tensions in the evolving confrontation between the West and Russia in the final weeks of 2021 makes most academic research from before the pandemic ‘era’ dated and unimaginative. Not this one. Stent is one of the most respected and perceptive US analysts of Russian policy-making (and one of the sharpest observers at the Valdai club meetings), and her solid volume has aged well. A reader might find it astounding how little the pattern of Russia-China partnership has changed in the two years since Wuhan became world famous for one wrong reason and how little Russia has managed to achieve in the Middle East from its position of power in Syria. The chapter on Trump’s erratic mismanagement of relations with European allies and Russia now reads like history not-to-be-repeated, even if plenty of damage is yet to be undone. Putin’s world has been shaken by the new war in the Caucasus, which granted Turkey a key role in this region, and new anxiety in Central Asia, caused by Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan, and above all by the explosion of mass protests in Belarus, suppressed by an ostracized dictator, who has become entirely dependent upon Russian support. The Kremlin responded with a surge in domestic repression and military pressure on Ukraine, testing the limits of strategic patience prescribed by Stent and proving that ‘Russia is predictable until it is not’ (p. 361). Her point about containing and engaging with Russia, measured carefully and recognized for what it really is, remains valid, but the autocratic regime keeps mutating and its fears about losing control over a fast-changing country shape dangerous policies.