But Short’s book is not hagiographic. He extensively covers the dark moments of Putin’s career – the leveling of Grozny during the Second Chechen War, the reckless handling of the siege of the Moscow theater, the terrorism of Beslan’s schools to consolidate power. Cynical exploitation of attacks, crackdowns against dissidentshouses, including the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei A. Navalny. The short Putin book is not who you invite to dinner. He is crude and cold, arrogant and heartless. It doesn’t budge when his wife is in a serious car accident or when his dog is run over. His wife, who is a believer in astrology, once said she must have been born under the sign of a vampire, and she is now, of course, his ex-wife.
There are minor errors — for example, Start II briefly states that “it had not yet been ratified by the U.S. Congress” in 2010, when in fact the treaty was ratified in 1996 — but they always Built in scale and scope work. More controversial are some of his conclusions in which he adopts the Russian view. The difference is dismissed as “nuance”. In fact, Kosovo is, in Putin’s eyes, one of his “three deadly sins of the West” that “destroyed the hopes of both sides to build a better and more peaceful world after the collapse of the Soviet Union.” (withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and expanding NATO). All Russian anger is likened to the West’s betrayal. Yes, Russia interfered in her 2016 election, but “the United States did the same.” The deterioration of relations had a certain “inevitability” that was “the result of a series of Western, essentially American decisions.”
I will briefly proceed with Russia’s claim that the United States betrayed the “promise” of Secretary of State James A. Baker III in 1990 that NATO’s jurisdiction would not move “one inch east.” In fact, there were no promises. Baker floated the idea during negotiations on German reunification, but later withdrew it, and with Moscow’s consent, the final treaty that extended NATO to East Germany included such a commitment. By contrast, Short does not mention the actual commitments made by Russia in the 1994 agreement to guarantee Ukraine’s sovereignty and renounce the use of force against Ukraine, although President Putin clearly broke this agreement.
In fact, Short accepts the explanation for Putin’s unilateral invasion of Ukraine. “The State Department argued that the war had nothing to do with NATO expansion and all to do with Putin’s refusal to accept Ukraine’s existence as an independent state. Unless you read Putin’s own scanty 5,000-word history published last year after refusing to accept it, or the invasion took place many years after a major NATO expansion, Ukraine’s NATO membership is a serious concern. Remember what was done at an unthinkable time: on the table.
Maybe all this was inevitable. Maybe every moment of Russian-American friendship was an exception to the generational struggle destined to unfold for decades to come. Short reminisces about when Putin met with Vice President Joe Biden in his 2011.
“Don’t fall into illusions,” he told the future president. “We can only see you. … Russians and Americans have similar physiques. But we have very different values inside.” Indeed, Biden agreed today I will.