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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .

Managing Conflict in the Former Soviet Union: Russian and American Perspectives
Edited by Alexei Arbatov, Abram Chayes, Antonia Handler Chayes, and Lara Olson

(Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1997)
556pp. Index.

All those concerned with understanding and managing conflict in the former Soviet Union will want this volume on their desks. Provided with maps and high level editing, it is the single most comprehensive and intelligent analysis of the conflicts plaguing the area. The heart of the book consists of six richly detailed case studies of post-Cold War conflicts, together with a useful introduction by Alexei Arbatov and three final essays. The studies focus on North Ossetia and lgushetia, the Crimean Republic, Moldova and Transdniester, Latvia, Kazakhstan, and then once again returns to the Caucasus to examine the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The studies are unusual in that, as two of the American editors put it, they 'do not aim for complete scholarly objectivity'(p. 3). In other words, they are written by exceptionally fine and discriminating Russian scholars and tend to present the Russian perspective. This by no means suggests that they set out to exonerate Russian policy; far from it. Each of the studies contains plenty of criticisms of Russian actions, but placed in the broader perspective of the historical evolution of the conflict. What is odd is that there is an implicit assumption that the Russian viewpoint, by definition, cannot be objective. Thus each of the six case studies is followed by brief commentaries by American authors who do make some useful additional points but do not substantively modify the main arguments presented in the case studies.

The six Russian authors present detailed studies of an exceptionally high standard, and follow a set pattern. They each examine the historical context, the resurgence of the conflict in the Gorbachev period, and then the evolution of the struggles in the postcommunist era, examining in turn the policy (in all its complexity and contradictoriness) emanating from Moscow, before ending with some discussion of the role of international organisations. The interventions of the latter are not awarded very high marks, except for some useful work by the OSCE.

The final three chapters examine what the future might hold, with Arbatov examining Russia's security interests and dilemmas, while Nadia Alexandrova-Arbatova outlines a richly suggestive parallel examination of the Yugoslav 'horror mirror', tracing the evolution of Russian perceptions of the conflict. A final useful chapter traces the development of American policy towards the former Soviet Union. It is a rare pleasure to find a collaborative effort that has worked so well and so coherently.

Richard Sakwa
University of Kent at Canterbury

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