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The struggle for Europe

  The Lands in Between: Russia vs. the West and the New Politics of Hybrid War by Mitchell A. Orenstein, Oxford University Press,   US $24.95, Pp 234, ISBN 978-0190936143

Russia is waging a hybrid war on the West – reflected, among others, in its invasion of Ukraine and assault on the US elections. The West may be new to election hacking, the people in the frontline states between Russia and the European Union have known Russia’s other ways of hybrid war. In The Lands in Between, Mitchell A. Orenstein argues that the West has a lot to learn from these frontline states — the lands in between — about how Russia is waging a hybrid war and how to face it. Western politics increasingly seem to be like the politics in the lands in between where the hybrid war has polarized parties and created two opposing camps — one supporting the Western vision of liberal democracy and the other a Russian vision of nationalist authoritarianism. Mitchell A. Orenstein argues that politics in the lands in between has become a zero-sum civilizational choice between Russia and the West. The political leaders in the lands in between often profit from both sides as they are often non-ideological power brokers. They are our problems because the entire West seems to be becoming the lands in between.

Mitchell A. Orenstein argues that, at its heart, the struggle between Russia and the West is a struggle for Europe. On the one hand, the Western powers wish to pursue the project of a European Union Europe — a vision of democratically governed nation-states coming together in a union that renders conflict unthinkable and promotes prosperity through free trade and common regulation. On the other hand, Russia wants to create a great-power Europe — a Europe in which Russia and other European powers are accorded rightful spheres of influence and meet periodically to resolve European issues through summit negotiations. Such a great-power Europe would provide Russia with renewed influence in its “near-abroad,” and give Russia a seat at the table that it feels it has been lacking in European affairs. Mitchell A. Orenstein argues that the problem is that these visions are fundamentally incompatible. As a result of these two competing projects, Europeans affairs are characterized by a new confrontation between Russia and the West that some have compared to the Cold War. But this is not like the Cold War.

The current conflict does not respect borders. Mitchell A. Orenstein says that it is about the governance of the West as a whole and the lands in between. The West is not content to allow Russia to dominate its former Soviet neighbors since the West wishes to export its vision of European peace. The West believes that the former Soviet counties’ choice of the alliance is a fundamental sovereign right. Meanwhile, Russia wants to dismantle the EU, which it regards as a geopolitical competitor, and undermine liberal democratic institutions at the national and international levels. This conflict threatens everyone on both sides of an emerging divide in Europe.

Russia’s hybrid war on the West arises from its aspirations to be a great power, and many have remarked on the fact that Putin’s geopolitical vision is reminiscent of the nineteenth century. To get a little into the history here, it appears that Putin’s view of Russia’s relations with the West are modeled on the world of post-Napoleonic Europe, in which the emissaries of the Russian tsar sat together with those of the German and Austrian emperors and the French And British kings to arrange European affairs in a series of congresses, or meetings, to solve the international crises of the day. Mitchell A. Orenstein argues that Putin seems to aspire to be a modern Metternich, the Austrian count and the foreign minister who created the Congress of Vienna and what later evolved into the Concert of Europe which kept the peace in Europe from 1815 to 1848. The reason is simple. Whereas Russia will never be a core member of the Western institutions and in particular the European Union — it is not democratic and cannot tolerate either the legal culture or the pooling of sovereignty required by the EU — it can be a key player, it not first among equals, of a new great power Europe that fits its nationalist vision.

The Lands in Between is a seminal study of the post-Cold War political rivalry between the West and Russia. With his unmatched scholarship as a historian, Mitchell A. Orenstein discusses Russia’s hybrid war on the West from all possible angles. Mitchell A. Orenstein knows the art of writing current history for everyone. The Lands in Between is packed with new knowledge and fresh perspectives about Central and Eastern Europe. The Lands in Between gives not only a complete picture of the hybrid war between the West and Russia but also gives policy solutions. This importance of this book lies in the fact that the entire West is being tuned into the lands in between as non-ideological leaders rise in the rest of the West.

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