ISBN: 978-1-78738-795-9

Pavel K Baev

Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

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Making sense of Russia's war against Ukraine is a hugely complex analytical task. This insightful book approaches it from the perspective of re-examining the spasm of hostilities in Donbas in early 2014, tracing the course of the crisis over eight years of malignant mutation and exposing the profound fallacy of the invasion. The main value of this investigation is in listening to many voices, often anonymized, and this attention to personal stories, often tragic, enriches the analysis with journalistic sharpness. From this extensive fieldwork comes the controversial proposition: The violent chaos in the Eastern Ukraine in spring-summer 2014 'was essentially a civil war involving foreign non-state actors' (p. 168). The agency of the multiple conflict entrepreneurs, many of them local, was strong enough to compel Moscow to execute a military intervention in August 2014, but it was reluctant and deniable, and certainly not a part of any strategic plan for dismembering Ukraine. This argument clashes with the fast-rigidifying Ukrainian discourse on the imperial ambitions and geopolitical imperatives in Putin's strategy of domination over the post-Soviet space. The war, which is approaching the one-year mark, is waged not only in the Donbas trenches but also in the information space, and it deforms powerfully the academic debates on its character and impact. Research on its root causes and initial drivers has become a battleground, into which even those Russian experts who are resolutely against Putin's aggression are often reluctant to venture. Arutunyan challenges boldly old dogmas and new stereotypes, and the book makes a valuable contribution to examining the murky and often neglected environment of the war, which needs to be rehabilitated for building sustainable peace.