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The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy Hardcover – May 21, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (May 21, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375507140
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375507144
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,042,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was fraught with turmoil and political peril. That it did not end in disaster was due in no small measure to Russian president Boris Yeltsin, for all his flaws--and, insists former administration insider Strobe Talbott, to Yeltsin's partner in reform, President Bill Clinton. Before Clinton took office in 1992, he imagined that he would devote most of his energies to domestic matters, in keeping with the "It's the economy, stupid" slogan of his campaign war room. But, writes fellow Rhodes Scholar Talbott, his adviser on Russian affairs, "It became apparent that being president meant ... doing the heavy lifting in the management of relations with a giant nation that was reinventing itself and, in doing so, reinventing international politics and requiring us to reinvent American foreign policy." Though the Clinton administration took a few missteps early on, by Talbott's account the president soon rose to the historic occasion, tirelessly helping Yeltsin negotiate the difficult task of democratizing the former Communist power while contending with Yeltsin's troublesome penchant for drink and self-destruction--to say nothing of a committed political resistance on the part of disaffected members of the old guard. That things turned out reasonably well may seem amazing, given some of the incidents Talbott relates. His book offers an instructive, lively view of international diplomacy, personal politics, and the odd turns involved in changing the world. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

Talbott (At the Higher Levels), Clinton's top adviser on Russia policy and deputy secretary of state from 1994 to 2001, recalls the president musing, "the thing about Yeltsin I really like... is that he's not a Russian bureaucrat. He's an Irish poet. He sees politics as a novel he's writing or a symphony he's composing.... It's why he's better than the others. But it's also his shortcoming." In this memoir of his years in the State Department, Talbott traces the evolving relationship between Clinton and the mercurial Yeltsin, recalls his own encounters with key Russian and American players (including some colorful cameos of Nixon) and describes how he and his State Department colleagues negotiated nettlesome issues like arms control, the expansion of NATO, the cease-fire in Chechnya and American missile defense. Yeltsin weathered several near-disasters as Russia's first post-Soviet leader, such as the shelling of his residence by Communist opposition in 1993, an election he nearly lost to a Communist rival in 1996 and the country's economic collapse in 1998 not to mention his own alcoholism, depression and ill health. Talbott movingly depicts Clinton's steadfast, affectionate loyalty toward "Ol' Boris" through these crises a devotion that sometimes went against the advice of his Russia experts. Talbott also expresses reservations about Yeltsin's successor, Putin, whom he describes as part of a sea change in Russian politics over the last few years from "unabashedly pro-Western reformers... toward nationalistic bureaucrats." Though there's probably too much detailed policy analysis for general readers, Talbott is a fluid and often engaging writer, and those who are wonkishly inclined should enjoy his war stories.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Fredo Arias King on September 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Strobe Talbott's latest book does not add much to the understanding of Russia or the role played by the Clinton administration (of which Talbott was its most senior Russia hand) towards that country.
Talbott will not be remembered by the Sovietological community for those things he describes in his book, which seem superfluous and self-glorifying. He will be mostly remembered for three events. The first is the billions of dollars wasted of U.S. aid money that he personally oversaw to Russia. The government of Viktor Chernomyrdin (whose personal fortune is estimated at over 10 billion dollars) squandered much U.S. aid money yet Talbott ignored the many warning signs and continued to advocate lending and aid to the Chernomyrdin government with the excuse that Russia is too big to lose.
Second, Talbott will be remembered for the disdainful way in which he treated the genuine Russian democrats that could have given that country a chance, while assisting former communist officials. Talbott famously under-cut the Russian reformers in 1993 when he quipped that "Russia needs more therapy and less shock," referring to the program of "shock therapy" that the reform-minded finance minister Fyodorov was trying to implement. Fyodorov later mentioned that Talbott had "stabbed us in the back." Later that year, the head of the largest pro-democracy movement in Russia, Galina Starovoitova, pleaded with Talbott for assistance in convincing a foreign TV star popular in Russia, to appear in commercials to help the democrats in the December 1993 parliamentary elections. Talbott refused to even return her calls. However, both the U.S. ambassador in Belarus (David Swartz) and the democratic leader of that country at that time (Stanislau Shushkevich) accused Talbott of using U.S.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John Van Wagner on September 1, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The devil is in the details, but the "angels" call the shots (and in this story the "angels" are no angels). This is the short version of Strobe Talbott's exhaustive, intimate memoir of the transformation of US-Russian relations during the tumultuous 1990s. Bereft of the old adversarial structures of the cold war, and lacking any type of transitional plan, the diplomatic establishments of Washington and Moscow were compelled to feel their way through a stubborn morass of suspicion and ignorance and emerge with something like a policy of institutionalized cooperation.

By this account and many others it was a tough row to hoe. The meat of the book covers the period of Clinton/Yeltsin diplomacy between 1992 and 2000, a time when the Russian nation was reeling from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the social upheaval brought on by free market economic "shock treatment." National pride had suffered a series of body blows as the Soviet Empire fell apart and lost its coveted place as the "other" major power on the international stage.

In 1992, while publicly basking in cold war "victory", the US political establishment was inwardly wringing its hands over how to handle its volatile, battered, erstwhile enemy. Internally in Russia political wars continued to rage among nationalists, communists, and liberal market reformers, and it was nowhere near apparent that the nation might not suffer a political hijacking or economic meltdown which would lead the nation back down a path of despotism and isolation. This was a moment of limitless opportunity and unfathomable risk for the US and the world. The stakes were huge, and the outcome unknowable.

Enter the diplomats. Under the direction and tutelage of Mr.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By James Tudor on August 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Strobe Talbott's The Russia Hand is a comprehensive insider account of US relations with an emerging democratic Russian after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The book is also an explicit record of how diplomacy actually works.
I highly recommend this book for an insight and review of American FP in the 1990s.Talbott provides insights into the particulars of the many negotiations and personal bonds (or channels) that transpired between these two former foes. Talbott explores the numerous problems that divided the US and the new Russian Republic in the 1990s; including NATO enlargement, national missile defense, adapting to capitalism and democracy, wars of the former Yugoslavia and Kosovo.
This book makes great reading. Not only is it a definitive political text - it's funny! Through a motley cast of characters (Bill Clinton, Yeltsin, various negotiators) and the events that they survived Talbott gives a diplomatic thriller an air of high comedy. At times Talbott's depiction Boris Yeltsin borders on caricature.
To sum it all up, I am positive that anyone interested in Foreign Policy, IR, history, or even an unfortunate student looking for a subject for a book review will highly enjoy The Russia Hand. This book is a necessary read for those who wish to understand how the high-stakes game of diplomacy works in practice. And the account is delievered by one of the major players - Strobe Talbott.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Guy Cien on November 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
I just finished the book about 15 minutes ago, so this is surely a bit of "instant feedback."

Strobe Talbott writes vividly, with candor and with a justified and well-earned political slant that keeps the reader engaged as a would be a thrill-seeking thirty-something reading a Clancy novel (I am borrowing another reviewer's analogy; by the way, this is way better than Clancy).

For anyone interested in the delicate nature of scrutinizing national security decisions, this is a must read. It offers an 'inside the Situation Room' look at the government of the United States at work. While concentrated solely on issues of the US-Russian genre, he successfully weaves other world and domestic events into the book to give the reader a sense of pace, setting and perspective.

He adequately, though unglamourously, bookends the story with the lead-in (Bush 41) to the Clinton years and the moving away from (Bush 43) a contentious, far from self-effacing eight years of transcontinental relations.

The meat of the book, a study of how presidential decisions are made through and pressed by deputy level and below members of both governments, showcases a 'half-dozen' big ticket shows that played out in the nineties, e.g. Kosovo, NATO expansion, Bosnia, and so on. With great and intense detail, Talbott recounts many and varied emotional meetings held between the world's most prominent governments.

Though certainly not faultless, this book is one of the better memoirs to come from the eight years of Clinton. It is precise, pointed and proves that the show must and will go on in American diplomacy.

Talbott's book is captivating and addictive.
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