Russia and the West…..

“The guard is tired.” With that simple phrase, the newly installed Bolshevik regime in Russia dismissed the duly elected Constituent Assembly in January 1918. And, one might say, so started Russia’s century-long interference in elections and electoral outcomes. In his new book Rigged: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference (Knopf, 2020), David Shimer narrates in meticulous but page-turning detail a century of covert electoral interference, by both the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and continuing to this day with a focus on post-Soviet Russia’s efforts to affect US politics. His account of the …

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The Russian state is back….

The Russian state is back. That may not be a big surprise to Russia watchers. The degree to which it is a KGB state, however, is documented in great detail in Catherine Belton‘s new book Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2020). Certain elements of the KGB were playing a “long game” as early as the 1980s and saw the need for an alternative to the sclerotic late Soviet system. And they were going to be part of that post-Soviet regime. Fast forward 20 years later, these security and intelligence officials …

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Are the Generals fighting the last war?

In Dealing with the Russians (Polity, 2019), Andrew Monaghan argues that Western policy makers are using an outdated Cold War model of ideology, language and institutions, which is wholly unsuited for understanding, engaging, and countering where necessary Russia in the 21st century. One of England’s leading experts on Russia, Monaghan argues Western policy makers need to let go of the past Cold War rhetoric and come up with modern tools to manage the current stage of the three-century long “Russia and the West” policy conundrum. Listen to the New Books Network interview here.  

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“Go East, Mr. Douglas….”

Bill Douglas needed money. He always needed money. And now, reeling from a very expensive divorce, and with a new wife, he needed even more money. Douglas had come from a modest upbringing, the son of an itinerant preacher who had ended up in the Pacific northwest. He worked his way through a local college—after getting the first year free on a scholarship—and then crossed the country to New York, where he worked his way through law school. Douglas advanced very quickly in the legal profession, but his expenses regularly outstripped his income. He borrowed. He did one-off writing jobs. …

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Crime and culture: a review of Heinzen’s The Art of the Bribe (2016)

Complex societies require rules. No rules, no complex societies. It’s that simple. Or is it? In the case of state-oriented societies, like late Tsarist Russia or the Soviet Union, a visible and important subset of those rules concern proper behavior towards and by government officials. The historical concentration of resources and power in the hands of the government created the nearly inevitable risk of people falling short of ideal impartiality or ideological rectitude. Hence the rules, particularly concerning the giving and taking of bribes by government officials. The challenge in Russia has been all the greater because for significant periods …

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A truly original work of history….

Academic history can be, well, on the dry side. Fortunately, it does not have to be, as Tricia Starks, makes clear in her newly-published account, Smoking under the Tsars: A History of Tobacco in Imperial Russia (Cornell, 2018). The topic is naturally interesting (and controversial), but Stark’s account–part of a broader project on the history of Russia through the senses–makes the topic even more engaging.  I understand that a follow up study of smoking culture during the Soviet period is in the works. I look forward to reading that as well.  

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