Pavel K Baev
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Russia's ties with and intrigues in South-Eastern Europe are often ignored and sometimes blown out of all proportions in the current commentary, so this solid book provides a useful net assessment of this problem. Bechev combines careful academic research, particularly into the history of these connections, with think-tankish attention to the most recent erosion of various political landscapes to produce a balanced and reliable evaluation of different impact factors that Russia generates. The scope of the analysis stretches from the Balkans to Greece and Turkey, and the chapters dealing with particular groups of states are followed by chapters dealing with the instruments of Russia's policy, from military and energy to soft power. Bechev starts with the proposition that Russia 'has no grand plan' for any part of this region but is 'animated by the ambition to rival the West' (p. 17). He tests this diligently in every case and gives Moscow due credit for audacity and flexibility in exploiting every opportunity for advancing its agenda. He finds little constructive content in this agenda, which boils down to the desire 'to undercut and upset the existing institutions and rules set by the West' (p. 246). It would have been impossible to score success on this track of sabotage and corruption without the engagement of a substantial legion of willing accomplices and fellow travellers who pursue their parochial interests and find it convenient to band-wagon with Russian opportunism. Were the EU capable of pursuing a coherent neighbourhood policy and were the USA interested in rebuilding its leadership, Russia would have find scant openings, but Bechev laments in the last paragraph about a 'terminally disoriented West'.