Mostly it has been war or its ersatz for the Caucasian states over the 18 years since they gained independence. The reasons are tangled and reach back into a complex history, but, Cheterian argues, they come down to a common cause: the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Nationalism did not destroy the Soviet Union; the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed national grievances and anxieties to flourish. How this worked in three early wars -- those in Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and Chechnya -- he probes in intricate detail, a good deal of which he knows firsthand from his days as a newspaper reporter in the region. He insists that although history played its role, the violence had its own causes. Russia may have been an abettor, but it was neither the source nor the essence of the problem. One cannot understand the current unresolved turmoil in the Caucasus, including last fall's war in Georgia, without having read this book.