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For anyone wishing to get to grips with the current situation in Ukraine, Richard Sakwa's Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands, is an excellent starting point. Aside from the writer's obvious academic expertise on the subject and ability to navigate the general reader through these complicated and fast-moving events, he has managed to produce a remarkably in-depth, up-to-date account of a conflict that has been going on for little more than a year. Of the hundreds of books written about the Bosnian war, I am not aware of any written so soon after that conflict started that have stood the test of time. Yet I am sure that Professor Sakwa's book will feature prominently in reading lists for students of this conflict long after it ends, however long it lasts.
I also agree with much of what he says about the baleful role the EU and NATO have played in stoking the conflict in Ukraine and about the simplistic way in which events have been interpreted as a conflict between European democracy and Russian autocracy. I particularly enjoyed the paragraph on page 220 of my hardback edition, which angrily decries the Western media's "partisanship and profound lack of historical understanding [which] would demean a Third World dictatorship."
Yet, although I agree with Professor Sakwa's criticism of Western policy in Ukraine, I take issue with his defence of Russian involvement. Russia, he believes, is a "conservative and defensive" power seeking to preserve the bases of international law. But while Russia's attempts to prevent Ukraine joining NATO or allying with it could justifiably be seen as defensive, it is clear even from reading Frontline Ukraine that Russia goes much further than this. Not only does Russia want to prevent Ukraine forging a pro-Western foreign policy, it also wants to dictate Ukraine's domestic policies. As Professor Sakwa writes: "The federalisation of Ukraine was certainly a Russian goal." As is clear from his book, Russia is willing to go to great lengths to achieve this goal. While Russia has the right to make its views clear in international forums, surely the idea that it should have any say in how the Ukrainian state apparatus is constituted flies in the face of generally accepted notions of state sovereignty? It is as if, having accepted the Republic of Ireland's full independence in 1949, Britain continued to demand a say in its internal governmental structures, to ensure these accommodated the desires of its Protestant minority.
I believe that the conflict in Ukraine has been caused by outside interference and that if those that outside powers agreed to stop interfering in its affairs, it would end tomorrow . The EU and US have certainly played a big part in stoking this conflict, but as Frontline Ukraine demonstrates, though Professor Sakwa fails to acknowledge it, Russia's approach to Ukraine has been much more than "defensive" and is one of the main impediments to peace in that country.