For the most part, I concur with Monaghan’s approach. The New Politics of Russia expertly dismantles the way the West views Russia. The book is a refreshing addition to the literature on Russian-Western relations.
If I were to add anything to Monaghan’s analysis, it would be to say that one of the reasons why we misperceive Russia is because we misperceive ourselves and so misperceive how Russians see us. We do not take seriously their objections to what we do; and we do not take those objections seriously because of our inability to regard ourselves as anything other than the ‘good guys’. If we are to improve our understanding of Russia, we perhaps first need to improve our understanding of ourselves.
Given the hyperbolic hysteria which characterizes so much analysis of Russia, it is good to come across a book which studiously avoids all that and instead calls for ‘a sophisticated, empathetic understanding of Russia and how it works.’ In The New Politics of Russia: Interpreting Change, published this year by Manchester University Press, Andrew Monaghan of St Antony’s College, Oxford, denounces what he calls ‘the mainstream view of Russia in the West’, which he calls ‘narrow, simplistic, and repetitive.’ He analyzes the reasons why Western observers have continually been surprised by Russian actions and finishes by laying out his own model of how the Russian political system works. His book challenges Russian ‘experts’ to reconsider their assumptions.
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