In This Review

We Shall Be Masters: Russian Pivots to East Asia From Peter the Great to Putin
We Shall Be Masters: Russian Pivots to East Asia From Peter the Great to Putin
By Chris Miller
Harvard University Press, 2021, 384 pp

Miller’s broad historical overview of Russian foreign policy in Asia challenges the conventional view that the country has enduring interests in the Far East. He demonstrates that over the past two centuries, Russia has followed periods of deep engagement in Asia—involving territorial expansion, military buildups, and the intensification of commercial ties—with times of neglect and disengagement. For instance, in the early nineteenth century, Russia established colonies in Alaska and California but soon came to see those outposts as an unprofitable distraction and gave them up to the Americans. In the 1860s, Russia conquered the territories around the Amur and Ussuri Rivers, on the Chinese border, but made no use of those sparsely populated lands for three decades. Soviet leaders sought to build a broad anti-imperialist front in Asia, but hostilities with China undermined that effort. By the 1980s, the Soviet Union’s influence in Asia had significantly decreased. For Russia, Miller argues, Asia has been a land of unfulfilled promises, which makes him skeptical about the long-term prospects of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s current pivot to the east and his attempted rapprochement with China.