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Mitchell A. Orenstein, The Lands in Between: Russia vs. the West and the New Politics of Hybrid War

Marcus Walsh-Führing

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1Mitchell A. Orenstein, The Lands in Between: Russia vs. the West and the New Politics of Hybrid War

2Oxford University Press, 2019. Pp. 232. ISBN 978-190936143

3Marcus Walsh-Führing

4On July 16, 2009, a group of twenty-two Central and Eastern European leaders and liberal intellectuals wrote “An Open Letter to the Obama Administration from Central and Eastern Europe,” addressing their grievances of Russia’s agenda to maintain its political influence in the region. As the Obama administration did not heed the call from pro-democracy supporters, Russia was able to expand its antidemocratic agenda. This inaction of the Obama administration has created a precedent on how the United States engages with Russia. At the time, the Obama administration believed that it would be able to address an arms control agreement with Russia by supporting the Russian government’s liberal agenda. To the dismay of the United States, the Russian government backed away from its liberal agenda and restored a Cold War approach toward its relationship with the West.

5Since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States have been in an existential fight to control their sphere of influence in “the lands in between” (i.e. Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova). In his book, The Lands in Between: Russia vs. the West and the New Politics of Hybrid War, Mitchell A. Orenstein makes the case that “the lands in between” are vulnerable in the battle of power between East and West governments, which has benefited local oligarchs in these countries’ governments to play both sides and, thereby, maintain access to political resources and economic incentives. The battle between East and West has forced political elites in “the lands in between” to make a “civilizational choice” between pro-democratic and authoritarian governments.

6Orenstein argues that the “civilizational choice” will dictate the politics in “the lands in between” and provides methods for Russia to influence US and European governments for the promotion of their pro-Russian agenda. The book elaborates on several covert actions by Russia (e.g., the funding of extremist parties, the spreading of propaganda and disinformation, the use of agents of influence, and engagement in cyberattacks) that demonstrate its soft power tactics and are aimed at the destabilization of Western institutions.

7The geopolitical competition for control of Eastern Europe has resulted in a covert “hybrid war” similar to the Cold War. The book describes that Russia views Europe’s Eastern European policy as expansionist and deems the European Union as a competitor for influence in former Soviet states. For example, the author describes Europe’s interventionist role in Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia as a proactive approach in the mediation and promotion of a Western central policy that challenged Russia’s position in the region. To offset Western influence in “the lands in between,” Russia has escalated its covert actions to directly affect European and American domestic institutions (e.g. election meddling and the lobbying of elected officials and organizations to promote a pro-Russian agenda).

8The Lands in Between: Russia vs. the West and the New Politics of Hybrid War is a book about Russia’s threat on American democracy and the tools used by the Kremlin to advance its political agenda. In presenting the impact of this threat on American democracy, the author challenges policy makers and citizens to critically assess Russia’s role in European and American societies. While this book is not a comprehensive study on Russia-US relations in European foreign policy, it addresses how Russia is using its strategies in European countries and is recreating the same tactics on American soil.

9Orenstein’s book presents a comprehensive analysis of Russian political tactics with well researched examples. According to the author, the paradox of politics presented in The Lands in Between seem incomprehensible to the everyday political life in the West, but the reassessment of the “upside-down politics” of Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova will help the United States to address and strengthen the shortfalls of Western democratic institutions that are currently under threat. In his book, Orenstein analyzes political, policy and normative contradictions in the handling of NATO by Western countries, Russian oil and gas interests in Europe, and Russian oligarchs’ business interests oversees. The author concludes that addressing the threats from Russian interests, intended to harm Western values, will allow the US and Europe to strengthen their democratic values and institutions in the fight against foreign governments’ anti-democratic messages.

10The illustration of Russia’s political agenda in the “lands in between” sheds light on historical and current affairs debates on issues of global politics. Russia benefits from its expansion of soft power and disinformation which is used as a tool to scrutinize political power in Europe. The analysis of Russia’s tactics and their impact on Europe and the United States allows scholars and practitioners to adapt concepts and tools to challenge the foundation of the relationship between Russia and the United States. In demonstrating Russia’s intentions to create havoc in US politics, Mitchell A. Orenstein has provided policy makers and lay readers a well-researched analysis of the “lands in between.”

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Marcus Walsh-Führing, « Mitchell A. Orenstein, The Lands in Between: Russia vs. the West and the New Politics of Hybrid War », European journal of American studies [Online], Reviews 2020-3, Online since 23 September 2020, connection on 04 December 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/ejas/16338

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Marcus Walsh-Führing

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