Who Lost Russia?

by Peter Conradi, Oneworld, £18.99

Peter Conradi, Reuters correspondent in Moscow between 1988 and 1995 and now foreign editor of the Sunday Times, has written a balanced and informative account of what happened to Russia after the collapse of communism. I recommend it to all seeking a clear overview of recent history.

Returning to Moscow in 2016, Conradi describes his book as “a story of high hopes and goodwill but also of misunderstanding and missed opportunities”. He quotes former President Nixon who, in 1992, aged 79, said in a memorandum that Russia needed much more economic help than the US was prepared to give, stating: “The hot-button issue in the 1950s was ‘Who lost China?’ If Yeltsin goes down, the question ‘Who lost Russia?’ will be an infinitely more devastating issue in the 1990s.”

But Russia under President Yeltsin needed more than economic support – moving from a command economy to a market-based economy was itself a huge problem. As well as this, there were acute population issues, such as that after December 1991 when the Soviet Union finally split up, 25 million Russians found themselves on the wrong side of the borders of the newly independent Russia.

Underlying the whole question – which the West, naïvely believing that democracy would now prevail in Russia and that we had all arrived at “the end of history”, failed to appreciate – was Russia’s historical role and position, its sense of itself as a world power.

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