“Putin’s war has forged Ukraine’s sense of nationhood on the battlefield”

Ukrainian soldiers (McGill University)

Two of the greatest pleasures I have as a blogger is reading the best books and being in touch with their authors. Few things make me happier than when they accept to answer a few questions for an interview.

I have always been a huge fan of Sir Rodric Braithwaite, and I was extremely happy to read and review his recent and captivating book about the history of Russia at a time when this country is at crossroads.

As a former British Ambassador to Moscow between 1988 and 1992 and a former foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister John Major, he combines the experience of a man who was on the ground when the URSS was on the cusp of exploding and the talent of an inspired historian.

I, therefore, felt extremely privileged when Sir Rodric generously agreed to answer my questions. I trust you will find his answers of tremendous interest.

___________

Sir Rodric, I’m of the school according to which great leaders make history. In that regard, I would be curious to know which Tsar or leader impresses you the most in the history of Russia and why?

The question of whether history is made by great leaders or impersonal forces will never be settled. It is the intellectual underpinning for Tolstoy’s War and Peace. In my view, you need both. Even the greatest leader cannot buck reality: Bismarck is eloquent on that.

Continue reading ““Putin’s war has forged Ukraine’s sense of nationhood on the battlefield””

Russian Game of Thrones

Back in March 2014, while I was sojourning in Moscow for the second time, I visited the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, the Borodino Battle Museum, and the Museum of the Patriotic War of 1812. I also took the time to drive to Zhukovo to visit the Museum dedicated to the famous Marshal – Georgy Zhukov – who vanquished the Nazis on the Eastern Front. Any serious student of history couldn’t help but note how attached the Russians are to their military heritage. It was an amazing trip for a military enthusiast like me!

To a degree that might seem astonishing to a Western mind, war occupies a fundamental place in the history of Russia. And it is imperative to fully grasp that reality, if one wants to ascertain what has been happening since February 24 in Ukraine. In that perspective, I was extremely happy to dig into Russia: Myths and Realities (Pegasus Books) by Sir Rodric Braithwaite.

I could detail all the qualities and insights of this book, but its main merit is to brush the portrait of a nation and people forged in war. “More than a thousand years ago a people arose on the territory of today’s Russia whose origins are disputed”, writes the author. “But Kievan Rus was invaded and destroyed in the thirteenth century by the Mongols.” The tone was set and even after the “Mongol yoke” was removed from Russia’s neck, the pugilistic character was well ingrained into the nation’s DNA.

Continue reading “Russian Game of Thrones”

How Putin Saved Zelensky

The world “would hardly have heard about [Volodymyr] Zelensky if he had become an engineer, gone into the military, or became a doctor”, writes political commentator Serhii Rudenko in a recent biography of the Ukrainian President (Polity Books). Thanks to the political reality crafted by Servant of the People in which he played the role of a history teacher elected against the odds to lead the country, fiction turned into reality in 2019. And thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to start a war on Ukraine before sunrise on February 24th, the actor turned President has become an icon of resilience in defense of freedom and democracy.

Serhii Rudenko paints the portrait of a leader who was not on sure footing before the war intervened.

After his election, Zelensky broke his promise to distance himself from the nepotism espoused by his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko. “[…] A year after his election, the Poroshenko family was replaced by the Zelensky family – or, more precisely, by the Kvartal 95 Studio.” In other words, those who accompanied him in his showbusiness career, including in his role as President Vasily Petrovych Goloborodko on television.

Continue reading “How Putin Saved Zelensky”