Pavel K Baev
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
There is much more to this solid volume than the traditional ambassadorial memoir, but McFaul had been a respected academic before embarking on a short political career, and has happily returned to his Stanford University tenure. He delivers all the expected anecdotes about and insight into policy-making in the Obama administration, which he joined from the first inauguration, and diplomacy-making in the US embassy in Moscow, which he led from early 2012 to early 2014. He was on the plane home when Russia launched the military operation resulting in the annexation of Crimea, which destroyed all the efforts at building cooperative relations known as Reset. McFaul was an enthusiastic driver of those efforts, and he sees no need to justify them – but he takes very personally the question of 'What went wrong?' (p. 410). He dismisses geopolitical arguments about 'rising Russia' turning into a revisionist power, and gives only marginal credibility to the accusations that a sequence of US policy decisions, from the NATO expansion to the intervention in Libya, pushed Russia to adopt the defensive/aggressive stance. His explanation of the failure of Reset narrows on the domestic developments, particularly Putin's regime response to the protest movements, generated by 'factors over which we had little influence or control' (p. 417). Russia's modernization, ambivalent at it was at the start of this decade, was certain to clash with the interests of a non-democratic and deeply corrupt regime, and McFaul bears responsibility for misjudging this conflict. He sticks to the belief in Russia's democratic future and a new Reset, but his bitter denunciation of Trump's policies in the epilogue weakens this proposition.