While I’m sympathetic to the argument author Dominic Basulto makes here – that russophobia is a serious problem within the Western mainstream media and obstructs true understanding of Russia – this book could’ve been much stronger. It focuses almost exclusively on the events of 2014-15 without providing much-needed historical context for russophobia. While occasionally making very good points, the book also contradicts itself, dabbles in Kremlinology, and shifts tone, making it difficult to tell whether Basulto is mocking a narrative or endorsing it. It reads like a bunch of op-eds strung together rather than a single 280-page analysis and struggles to get below the surface in many cases. Add these things together and you get a book that serves its purpose and gets its point across, but barely (at least for this reader).
Some chapters (op-eds, whatever) hit the nail on the head in their critique of current Western attitudes toward Russia. In particular I’d name The West has run out of ways to talk about Russia and Kremlinologists vs. Putinologists. Basulto makes some interesting takeaway points, first on modern rusology:
We’ve stopped learning about the modern Russia, and we’ve been reduced to analyzing Russia’s actions from behind thte safety of a desk and computer monitor. We’re reading dusty old books about Russia instead of going out in the “Russian street” to find the truth. In short, we’ve become lazy.
It doesn’t have to be this way, but it will require some tough choices in academia. Russian studies shouldn’t be a fad or a field of endeavour that vanishes when Russian news vanishes from the headlines. As Ms. [Angela] Stent suggests, ‘Unless we commit to educating a new generation about this onetime rival and possible partner, we won’t be prepared to deal effectively with Russia’s post-Putin generation, with all the risks and challenges – but also opportunities – it will present.’ (p. 68)
(to this I’d add that a) books should remain important to the study of Russia, and b) we do consult people “on the Russian street” – but usually of the English-speaking, cosmopolitan variety which already shares our thoughts about Putin’s Russia, and therein lies the problem.)
Then on the current ‘information war’ between Russia and the West over Ukraine:
In this war, every side seems to have a Ministry of Truth. As a result, truth is no longer an absolute, especially in the era of the Internet. Warfare is now photoshopped and carefully edited to go viral. Nothing can be ascertained for certain, so everything can be denied. Ordinary citizens do as they are told as governments prepare to battle over concepts they do not truly understand.
Basulto also lays out in clear terms why the whole “Putinology” trend is misguided and missing the big picture. Thank you for that.
So, the evidence was there; the need for Russophobia to be written was there; it’s just…
The author aimed for the bullseye, but missed by a hair. Which made reading this book all the more frustrating.
★ ★ ★
Russophobia by Dominic Basulto. Pub. 2015 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing. Paperback, 286 pages. ISBN13: 9780988841956
Read Andrei Tsygankov’s book of the same title – I think it handles the subject much better. However, the chronology ends in 2008.