ISBN: 978-1-80206-178-9

Pavel K Baev


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The on-going fast-evolving war makes a difficult theme for a historian, and the emotional stress, which Plokhy doesn’t try to hide, makes it even harder. Like most Ukrainians, he had refused to believe in the reality of the looming invasion up to the fateful morning of 24 February 2022, and the narrative, completed by the end of the first year of the war (the Afterword to the paperback edition added in August 2023), reflects the struggle with explaining the unthinkable. The perspective is inevitably Ukraine-centric, but there are few insights in the defiant decision-making in Kyiv and hardly any first-hand impressions from the trenches or bomb shelters. What a reader will get is a chronicle of developments in several key political theatres of the war – from Donbas to the Black Sea and even to China – compiled from official statements and expert opinions. This examination is preceded by six chapters providing the background starting with the breakdown of the USSR in 1991. Plokhy presents the experience of state-building in Ukraine but is reluctant to investigate the track record of poor governance and corruption, perhaps because many of these ills are still enfeebling the mobilization efforts. What is impossible to learn from his thoughtful revisiting of the post-Soviet history is the nature of mutation of Putin’s regime that delivered Russia into the disastrous war. The long war of attrition generates challenges to both antagonists and to the West (which now appears less united than the book gives it credit for) that are different from the dynamic warfare of the initial phase. Plokhy gives us good reasons to believe that Ukraine is up to them. The rot in Putin’s Russia may doom it to defeat.