Near Abroad: Putin, the West, and the Contest Over Ukraine and the Caucasus
By Gerard Toal
Oxford University Press, 2017, 408 pp.
Toal argues that developments such as the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the Russian-fueled violence in eastern Ukraine are too often seen through a reductive Manichaean lens. In reality, they grow out of an intricate knot of contested narratives and a web of strategic calculations shaped by emotional and moral impulses. Complicating things further is the fact that these are not two-way duels between major powers but complex interactions influenced by the actions of third parties. As Toal reveals in his detailed account of the events in Georgia and his somewhat less probing retelling of the story in Ukraine, the conflicts have unfolded in the twisted wreckage of an imploded Russian empire, unleashing new ambitions and fears and producing new and more complicated relationships. His analysis is not likely to affect how a reader assigns blame for the outcomes in the two cases, but it will enrich the reader’s understanding of them.