Review: The Invention of Russia: The Journey from Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War by Arkady Ostrovsky

The book reads well in a survey of the personalities and events from someone born and raised in the USSR during a time of massive change that brought about the dissolution of that country. 

How much is real and how much is fiction is difficult to say. However, by treating everything that happened to and in the USSR and subsequently to Russia, the writer reveals a blindness to the externally driven geopolitical motivations and actions that helped to shape and direct these events. For instance, the deliberate strategies the US employed in using islamist terrorists to lure the USSR into Afghanistan in their own version of Vietnam.

He deals with how Putin put down the US/Pakistani/Saudi islamist takeover of Chechnya but does not mention that these nations were behind that, rather he brings it up to support his characterisation of Putin as some form of fascist dictator. Likewise the 2013/4 events in Ukraine are dealt with as a totally Putin inspired invasion of that country, while completely ignoring the role of the US and NATO in generating and executing a coup in that country aimed at taking Ukraine out the Russia’s sphere of influence and moving NATO and its missiles and military bases right to Russia’s borders, while picking up Crimea and the Russian base at Sevastopol so as to gain total control over the Black Sea.

Even a casual reading of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s book the The “Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives”, is sufficient to give the reader a more nuanced view of these events—such as how Brzezinski accurately talks about moving Ukraine into the western sphere as a way of making Russia an asian nation rather then one that straddles east and west.

The treatment of the economic disaster that befell the country after the break up of the USSR also lacks a perspective of the role of the US controlled IMF and World Bank in closing off loans which served to further plunge the country and its people into destitution, likewise the role of US banks, predatory investors, think tanks and NGOs in bankrolling the stripping of Russian state assets in the orgy of privatisations that followed (see Grand Deception: The Browder Hoax by Alex Krainer). In the end, this blindness to the externalities and apparent passion for hating Putin tend to render this book deeply flawed.

As a journalist for The Economist, the author has staked a position in a publication that sits at the heart of forming and shaping the current western discourse about Russia and for me the book reflects that.

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