In This Review

Democratic Breakdown and the Decline of the Russian Military
Democratic Breakdown and the Decline of the Russian Military
By Zoltan Barany
Princeton University Press, 2007, 264 pp

Of the many books and articles detailing the degradation of the once-hulking Soviet military and its muddled place in the politics of today's Russia, this one is the most concise and trenchant. Barany starts by retelling the credulity-straining story of the deceit and incompetence surrounding the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk in 2000. That story serves as the touchstone for his account of the military's multidimensional decay (in terms of resources, equipment, training, living standards, and performance). Why have the Russians not done more to repair the mess? Barany's answer is severe and simple (maybe a little too simple): the military has blocked reform and has been able to do so because leaders from Mikhail Gorbachev to Vladimir Putin have, contrary to Soviet tradition, let it into the political arena, and these leaders have done so, particularly Putin, to serve their own (antidemocratic) agendas. This is a very good treatment of the state of the Russian military, along with the politics of reform, but it is oddly, albeit only modestly, marred by sweeping, debatable assertions on basic issues, such as the thrust of Soviet foreign policy and the aims of this or that leader.