AuthorWierzbicki, Andrew


Editor: Dmitri Trenin

Published by: Polity Press, Cambridge, 2019, 212pp, $14.95 (pb).

Russia is a country whose history and present day politics is complex and contradictory. It is, therefore, a particular challenge for any author wanting to do justice to the subject by providing a general overview, rather than a detailed analysis, of these aspects in an easily readable text.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, has met this challenge in his short (185 pages of text) pocket-suitable book. He is clear in his preface that his book is neither an 'academic treatise' nor a 'textbook'. It is intended for non-Russians and non-specialists.

The book's commencement point is 1900 Imperial Russia under Tsar Nicholas II, then moves into the era when Russia had given way to the Soviet Union and concludes with the time from 1991 when Russia is again the name. Trenin covers 120 years of history, politics, war and religion, as well as economic, societal and cultural changes.

Trenin begins his book with a very helpful introduction. This sets the historical context, including both geographical and political, for the book. In the six chapters he covers the more or less six distinct periods since 1900:

* Imperial Russia and the First World War;

* the rise of the Soviet state, first under Vladimir Ulyanov (better known as Lenin), then under Josef Stalin;

* the Second World War and postwar period under Stalin until his death in 1953;

* the Soviet Union post-Stalin under the general secretaries Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko until the selection in 1985 of the last general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev;

* the Gorbachev period and that of the Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, until the latter's decision to step down in December 1999;

* Russia under President Vladimir Putin from 2000 to the present day.

In the conclusion, predominantly about the look of Russia post-Putin, Trenin offers some interesting, albeit speculative insights.

Each of the six chapters provides a brief picture of its time, spanning the key events. There is the seeming inevitable demise of the monarchy because of Tsar Nicholas II's weakness, misjudgments and unsuitability to govern; the upheaval resulting from the First World War and the political vacuum which enabled a shrewd and capable Lenin to take power; the scheming and evil Stalin's ascendency following the death of Lenin to become the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union...

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