(Wall Street Journal | Review) The original Russian title of this dazzling collection of essays by Sergei Medvedev, a social-science professor in Moscow and one of Russia’s leading political commentators, was “The Crimean Period Park” (Park krymskogo perioda). The echo of “Jurassic Park” was surely intended. Mr. Medvedev sees Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its war on Ukraine—both of which followed the ouster of Ukraine’s Russia-backed leader in 2014—as marking a new geologic era in Russian politics and foreign policy. This book is an invitation to explore the park. A more astute, knowledgeable and eloquent guide is hard to imagine. Steeped in Russian culture and history, Mr. Medvedev is witty and sardonic in the laughter-through-tears (smekh skvoz slyozy) tradition of Russian literature. [...]
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Polity: Russia’s relationship with its neighbours and with the West has worsened dramatically in recent years. Under Vladimir Putin’s leadership, the country has annexed Crimea, begun a war in Eastern Ukraine, used chemical weapons on the streets of the UK and created an army of Internet trolls to meddle in the US presidential elections. How should we understand this apparent relapse into aggressive imperialism and militarism?
In this book, Sergei Medvedev argues that this new wave of Russian nationalism is the result of mentalities that have long been embedded within the Russian psyche. Whereas in the West, the turbulent social changes of the 1960s and a rising awareness of the legacy of colonialism have modernized attitudes, Russia has been stymied by an enduring sense of superiority over its neighbours alongside a painful nostalgia for empire. It is this infantilized and irrational worldview that Putin and others have exploited, as seen most clearly in Russia’s recent foreign policy decisions, including the annexation of Crimea.
This sharp and insightful book, full of irony and humour, shows how the archaic forces of imperial revanchism have been brought back to life, shaking Russian society and threatening the outside world. It will be of great interest to anyone trying to understand the forces shaping Russian politics and society today.