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From Nicholas to Putin: Russia Since 1900: Putin’s Political War: 2007–present

By David M. Durant

Putin’s Political War: 2007–present

The origins of Putin’s turn against the West, as noted above, date back to the 1990s. Journalist Peter Conradi in Who Lost Russia? and scholar M. E. Sarotte in Not One Inch examine this period in detail. While Sarotte denies that NATO expansion was the main cause of the current conflict between the West and Russia, the way expansion was handled certainly made matters worse. In essence, she argues, the West chose the interests of its new central and eastern European allies at the expense of better relations with Moscow. A defensible decision, but one that was pregnant with consequences.

The best introduction to the theories, methods, and means of political war practiced by Putin’s Russia is Mark Galeotti’s aptly titled Russian Political War. This slender volume ably explains the subject while also debunking popular myths such as the alleged Russian commitment to “hybrid war.” The same author has also written the definitive work on Russia’s overt use of military force in this century with his recently published Putin’s Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine. Beyond providing a detailed yet accessible description of Russian military operations up until the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Galeotti also offers an overview of the Russian armed forces. While his analysis of Russian ground forces has been overtaken by the events since the invasion, it is still useful background for those interested in military developments in Ukraine.

An excellent source on Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula and its subversion of portions of eastern Ukraine in 2014 is Anna Arutunyan’s Hybrid Warriors: Proxies, Freelancers and Moscow’s Struggle for Ukraine. Arutunyan refutes simplistic analyses of these events and shows how Moscow’s proxies operating in eastern Ukraine were anything but Kremlin puppets.

The most infamous act of Russian political warfare in recent years is undoubtedly the effort to influence the 2016 US presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election remains the clearest and most objective account of this campaign. There are also several works that seek to put Russia’s 2016 election efforts into the broader context of disinformation and political warfare dating back to the Cold War. Most useful in this regard are Thomas Rid’s Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare and David Shimer’s Rigged: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference. Both books clarify that political warfare was not the exclusive province of the USSR. The US also engaged in propaganda, disinformation, and covert efforts to influence politics in foreign nations. However, the US began to abandon the most questionable of these activities by the late 1950s, and eventually conducted the rest in an open fashion. The KGB, on the other hand, intensified its efforts just as America began to scale back, and did so at a level substantially beyond what the USA engaged in. For further reading, Calder Walton’s 2023 book Spies: The Epic Intelligence War between East and West draws out these contrasts.

One final work worth noting in this category, considering the importance of the alliance between Putin’s Russia and China, is Philip Snow’s recent study China and Russia: Four Centuries of Conflict and Concord. This is truly a definitive work on the history of Sino-Russian relations in terms of both content and bibliography.

Works Cited