Knyzhka Corner Book Review: Putin’s War on Ukraine

In this edition of Knyzka Corner, we will be discussing Samuel Ramani’s book Putin’s War on Ukraine – Russia’s Campaign for Global Counter-Revolution.

Published in 2023, Samuel Ramani’s Putin’s War on Ukraine is a comprehensive analysis of the causes, events, and impacts of Putin’s “special operation.” The very first sentence of this book is a stark reminder of how Putin’s war on Ukraine began, “On 24 February 2022, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced the start of a special military operation aimed at the ‘demilitarization and denazification’ of Ukraine.’ (p. 1)

The first chapter outlines the structure of Ramani’s book. The next three chapters discuss the history of Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. They explain the Russian efforts to overturn the Euro-Maidan Revolution and prop up the government of Victor Yanukovich, the subsequent Russian takeover of Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine, and the runup to Putin’s decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.  The next three chapters outline the inadequacies of Russia’s military forces, its losses and successes on the battlefield, and the results of Ukraine’s counteroffensive.  The final chapters describe the results of Putin’s failed invasion, the impact of sanctions on the Russian economy, and the changing status of Russia as a global power.

On February 24, 2022, Putin decided to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. “The scale of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is unprecedented in modern history and, in terms of human costs, is Moscow’s largest military intervention in the post-1945 period.” (p. 3) Although the world community looked on in horror when the invasion began, there were warning signs before the tanks rolled into Ukraine. Russia had not stopped interfering in Ukrainian politics since Ukraine became independent in 1991.  Victor Yanukovych led the pro-Russian faction in Ukraine, and with his overthrow in 2014, Russia decided to limit Ukraine’s ability to forge links to the West.  Their troops moved into Crimea and parts of Donbas and Luhansk.  They declared Crimea to be a part of Russia, but there was ongoing Ukrainian resistance to the “takeover” in the Eastern provinces. Despite several “peace” agreements to stop Russian military incursions, Russia maintained the “frozen” conflict in the Eastern provinces. When Putin decided it was time to launch a full-scale invasion in 2022, he justified this military intervention with various false accusations: Ukraine was committing genocide against its Russian speaking people, NATO was trying to use Ukraine as a base for operations against Russia, Ukraine was creating biological/chemical/nuclear weapons programs, and Ukraine was a Nazi country which needed to be demilitarized.

The Russian invasion of 2022 did not result in a full-scale takeover of Ukraine.  The resistance led by Volodymyr Zelensky was fierce, as Ukrainians defended their territories.  What was billed as a three-day march to triumph in Kyiv turned into a long, brutal, and deadly battle between Russian and Ukrainian forces. “The narrative that Russia was the world’s second strongest military had been eviscerated, while the  story of Ukrainian patriotic resilience took its place.” (p. 114) Russian citizens supported the war effort, and those that spoke out against it either left the country or were arrested and sent to prison. Major critics of Putin were imprisoned including Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza. Media criticism was outlawed. Putin’s authoritarian regime became even more entrenched than it had been before the war began as sanctions expanded and impacted the Russian economy. However, Putin underestimated the West’s support for the Ukrainian democracy, as well as Zelensky’s leadership. Russian war crimes multiplied in cities such as Bucha and Mariupol, in filtration camps, and in the forced removal of Ukrainian children to Russia. At the same time, Putin expanded his relationships with countries such as India, China, Iran, and North Korea. As a result, there has been a marked change in Russia’s status and influence in the global community of nations. “Russia’s ability to … lobby for its interests in Western countries has greatly diminished.” (p. 266)

Ramani has provided a thorough and comprehensive analysis of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.  His conclusions about the war were made in 2023.  Since then, the reluctance of the Republican Party in the United States Congress to provide funds for military support of Ukraine, has resulted in setbacks for the Ukrainian war effort.  It remains to be seen what the future will hold for Ukraine with an American presidential election in 2024. Ramani concludes, “Whatever the outcome, the future of European security and the rules-based international order hang in the balance.” (p.409) Ramani’s book is thoroughly researched with over 100 pages of detailed footnotes.  Readers who are interested in the history of Ukraine, Russian aggression, and global politics will definitely want to read this book.

Dr. Samuel Ramani completed his doctorate in 2021 at the University of Oxford.  He teaches Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford and is an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).  He is a regular contributor to publications such as Foreign Policy and The Washington Post.  He has appeared on the BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera.  He also advises government agencies in the United Kingdom, the United States, as well as NATO.

 Putin’s War on Ukraine is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

–Reviewed by Myra Junyk

Ramani, Samuel.

PUTIN’S WAR ON UKRAINE – Russia’s Campaign for Global Counter-Revolution

Hurst and Company, 2023. 584 p. ISBN 978-1-78738-651-2

Available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

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