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Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire Hardcover – February 16, 2016
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"Scarcely any aspect of Russian foreign policy has received more attention and less serious exploration than Russia's maneuvering in former parts of the Soviet Union. Grigas takes a sizable step toward rectifying that imbalance by carefully tracing Moscow's approach to so-called compatriots--ethnic Russians, Russian speakers, and those who simply identify with Russia--in these now independent states." (Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs May/June 2016)
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As the title suggests, Grigas’s starting point is Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014. She works backwards from there to examine how Russia was in a position to so quickly and effectively take over what was, and in international law remains, the autonomous Ukrainian republic. She identifies a ‘Russian reimperialization policy trajectory’ that starts with 1) soft power and continues to 2) humanitarian policies, 3) compatriot policies, 4) information warfare, 5) passportization, 6) protection, and finally 7) annexation. Each of these is fully examined, not only with respect to Crimea but to a number of other former Soviet areas. Separate chapters consider Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine; Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan; and Belarus and Armenia.
There are of course important differences between all of these states, and their current relationship with Russia ranges from outright hostility to almost comfortable accommodation, but all are seen to have been subjected, to a greater or lesser extent, to the earlier stages at least of the reimperialization trajectory.
Crimea is so far the only territory that has been annexed, but the situation in Transnistria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia is of frozen conflict and the conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine is sadly not even frozen. Grigas comments: ‘For Moscow, creating frozen conflicts and breakaway territories is a low-cost, high-return strategy that makes life difficult for its recalcitrant neighbor states and for the EU and NATO.’
Her central argument is that since the 1990s, and particularly since the 2000s, there has been an increasing tendency in Russian foreign policy toward reimperialization of the post-Soviet space. In this, she writes, the Russian Federation is in many respects following in the footsteps of its historical predecessors and will continue to do so, because of the similar ideological, cultural, security and geopolitical drivers that have been rooted in the centuries-long imperial experience of the three empires that have occupied the same Russian political space and territories – the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.
She finds threads of historical continuity in policy between Putin’s era and those of his predecessors going back to the tsarist times of expansionism, Russification, colonization and the sowing of ethnic strife.
The book’s text appears to have been completed in mid-2015. Grigas’s analysis of the current situation with regard to the various countries is of great interest and has not so far been overtaken by events in any important respect. Grigas may be regarded as a Cold Warrior (or a new Cold Warrior), but much of her analysis is difficult to refute. My only criticism is that she pays too little attention to increasing competition for Russia from China (on similar trade, economic support and soft power lines), especially in the Central Asian States.
Beyond Crimea possibly owes its greatest strength to the hitherto marginally discussed topic of Russian compatriots. To date, there are around 35 million ethnic Russians, Russian speakers and individuals who culturally associate themselves with Russia, and are scattered throughout the post-Soviet region. In this book, the author masterfully demonstrates how the Kremlin utilizes these individuals to achieve its geopolitical ends.
To prove her claim, Grigas provides in-depth analysis covering 14 states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. It is important to note that the book also sheds light both on the new break-away territories such as Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk, and older ‘frozen conflicts’ like Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh. By analyzing countries as distant from each other as Estonia in the west and Kazakhstan in the east, the author demonstrates how to various degrees of success, all of the former Soviet countries have been hit by Russia’s reimperialization trajectory.
At the cost of occasionally sounding like an academic textbook, Beyond Crimea is exceptionally comprehensive and detailed. It provides a nuanced account of the various political, economic and social instruments that the Kremlin uses to accomplish its reimperialization agenda, all while retaining an eye on the bigger picture. In particular, Grigas dedicates an entire chapter that delicately covers all the laws, policies and strategies that Moscow has implemented in relation to the Russian minorities living abroad since the early 1990s to the present day.
This is a colossal research project where Grigas draws upon the expertise of local political analysts and activists, offers insights from interviews with Russian compatriots across the former Soviet republics, and uses sources in local languages that have been previously inaccessible to Western scholars.
In sum, this is a highly recommended book for everyone with an interest both in the former Soviet bloc and contemporary Russian foreign policy, while for experts it will serve well as a reference manual.