In the early 1960s I was studying near Moscow at the blandly named School No 101, which later developed into the Red Banner Institute of the KGB. One of my friends there was a Ukrainian who for some reason trusted me and was also trusted by the Soviet authorities, perhaps because he spoke Russian without any trace of a Ukrainian accent. In private he would tell me in great detail about Ukrainian history and also talk about Ukrainian art, music and literature, which he regarded as no less authentic and remarkable than what Poland and Russia had produced over the centuries. He was a deeply convinced Ukrainian nationalist who was sure that one day his country would become genuinely independent and an intrinsic part of Europe. I was therefore not altogether surprised when I read in Ukraine Crisis, Andrew Wilson’s stimulating new book, that the ‘first serious Ukrainian counter-attack’ against the stealthy Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine this year was now headed by Vasily Krutov, a KGB veteran. I always knew that there were far more ‘decent’ KGB officers than is generally recognised in the West. And I have long realised that the course of Russian history owes far more to the influence of the ‘Tatar-Mongol yoke’ than to the Christianisation of ‘Holy Rus’ at the end of the tenth century in today’s Ukraine. This partly explains why Putin, brought up in the supposedly Western-oriented Leningrad, is more interested in neo-Eurasianism than in modern European values such as the rule of law, tolerance of minority views, respect for ‘ordinary’ people’s sense of their own dignity and at least some constraints on the sorts of corruption of which both Putin and the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, are evidently guilty.
This is why the subtitle of Wilson’s excellent monograph is as important as the title itself, with the proviso that the outcome of the current Ukrainian crisis will have a profound impact not only on the West but also on the (so-called) Russian Federation. Ukraine was less influenced by the