I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
A reader knows they’re in for quite the experience when in the opening pages they encounter this:
Glagoslav Publications neither shares nor assumes responsibility for the author’s political and other views and opinions as expressed or interpreted from this book
and in the author’s first remarks, this:
For someone directly involved in the majority of the episodes described in this edition, I have expressed my subjective opinions on some political figures of both Russia and Europe. Some might find these opinions excessively emotional or politically incorrect altogether. For that I apologize in advance. It is our bizarre Russian way to call heroes and villains for what they are.
Today’s subject, the political memoir Hawks of Peace: Notes of the Russian Ambassador, provides said ‘subjective opinions’ in spades. And while Western readers may grapple with the book’s ‘outspokenness’, it’s a unique opportunity to hear the views held by one faction of the Russian government directly from a participant.
Hawks of Peace is penned by Dmitry Rogozin, a man named by Forbes as one of the main “hawks” of Russian foreign policy. He was Deputy of the State Duma from 1997 to 2003, and Chairman of the Duma Committee on International Affairs from 2000 to 2003. In 2008, he became the Russian ambassador to NATO until 2011. Rogozin has also been the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia on the Defence and Space Industry and Head of the Russian Arctic Commission. He led the Rodina (Motherland) Party until it merged with similar parties to form Fair Russia. Rogozin’s career has not been without controversy (as if HoP’s opening wasn’t enough to tip you off): as a Duma member he drew media attention and criticism for his flamboyant public remarks, and in 2005 his Rodina party was banned from standing for election to the Moscow City Duma on grounds of using a xenophobic slogan “Let’s Clean Out Moscow’s Garbage!” Readers more news-oriented than I may recall a 2014 diplomatic scandal between Russia and Romania, during which, after Romania barred Rogozin’s plane from entering its airspace, he tweeted that next time he’d fly on board a Tu-160 bomber.
And I was asked to review this man’s memoir.
HoP is organized chronologically and thematically. Part list of professional achievements, part political platform, the book begins with a few sketches from Rogozin’s childhood and covers his life up to 2008. Along the way, he discusses the GKChP coup in 1991, the Chechen wars, the Russo-Georgian war, frozen conflicts in Abkhazia and Transdniestria, and crises with NATO. Each chapter comes with a personal testimony and evaluation of what these events meant for Russia.
Due to HoP’s disjointed structure, an overarching thesis or narrative is unclear, and thus, this review will instead focus on Rogozin’s position as expressed in the memoir. Is he a statist? Nationalist? Eurasian sovereigntist? Regardless, he comes across as extremely blunt and outspoken in these pages. Glagoslav, I fully understand your need to add that disclaimer:
- Rogozin is highly critical of the Soviet government, saying that Kremlin demagogues carry full responsibility for the disintegration of the USSR (p. 22) (and adding that these are the same people who formed the oligarchic class and now “embarrass Russia with their consumer habits and lack of social grace”). Khrushchev was a “political clown and petty tyrant” (p. 24). The arms race was a mistake – it led to a shortage of goods, the demoralization of Soviet society, and the death of its political structures. Even the very ideas of communism were doomed because they depersonalized man and took away his sense of belonging (p. 118).
- Rogozin says Western policy towards Russia has traditionally been one of attempting to control or weaken. “The extent and direction of this policy have never depended on the state structure of Russia at any given historical stage of development (p. 42).” Political alliances between the Russian Empire and Western European powers, the USSR’s contribution to the Anti-Hitler Coalition, and the accommodating overtures from post-perestroika Russian governments did little to change the situation.
- Of European leadership in particular, Rogozin believes it’s characterized by weak willpower and an absence of principles (p. 47). He compares them to political firefighters barely managing to extinguish political fire if and when it is lit.
- He waxes long and warmly about “indigenous Russian lands” and the “Russian (russkii) People”, and expresses outrage over the Baltic states’ trampling of ethnic Russians’ citizenship rights (without providing any sources, which yeah, would’ve been helpful.).
- He blames Russian liberals for provoking the wars in Chechnya, deconstructing public morale, and corrupting the army (p. 119).
It’s difficult for a reviewer to summarize Rogozin’s POV in this manner because it leaves out much of the context. But even what we have above is worthy of – at the very least – open discussion, debate, and critique.
Translation, as per the Glagoslav standard, is excellent. Lower-order concerns with grammar or spelling are virtually nil, and prose is fluid, allowing readers to engage with the text in an unbroken, meaningful way. I also praise the translators for providing footers explaining things that might be obvious to a Russian reader but cryptic to a Western one. (Nearly every chapter title refers to a work of [sometimes obscure] Russian literature.)
But HoP did not make for enjoyable reading. Rogozin is entitled to hold whatever opinions he wants, but the discerning reader (especially a Western reader coming in from the mainstream) will expect sufficient support for them. Rogozin has no problem calling his opponents xenophobes or extreme chauvinists, but when a party names him or his associates as such, he is quick to hurl back insults without even a moment’s pause for self-reflection. When you label Yeltsin as a “stubborn and charismatic tyrant who betrayed and sold Russia (p. 28)”, or say the Baltics have a “historical revenge complex”, we’re going to need more of an explanation than “because I don’t like what they do (did)”. It is fine to argue that Western presentation and distribution of information has contributed to an information war, but relying solely on research by your son isn’t going to do much for your credibility.
I haven’t exactly been charitable towards Hawks of Peace, but I do recommend reading it – for practical reasons. Glagoslav’s publication of Rogozin’s memoirs, I think, is a step in the right direction. Pundits telling us “what Putin/Russia wants” have become a staple of Russia discourse in the Western media. But how often does one get to read opinion on Russian history and policy, expounded upon and free of outsiders’ projection, directly from the mouths of policymakers themselves? Even if a reader finds themselves disagreeing with most of Rogozin’s argument (as I did), they will become aware of a contrary perspective. It’s tough, unpleasant, and even a little messy, but it’s the Russian government (part of it, anyway). And if the West is going to designate the Russian government as “the enemy”, we should at least let it speak for itself. And, you know, process what it has to say.
(2.7 stars rounded up.)
★ ★ ★
The Hawks of Peace. Notes of the Russian Ambassador by Dmitry Rogozin. Translated from the Russian by Nadezhda Serebryakova and Camilla Stein. Pub. 2013 by Glagoslav Publications. PDF, reviewer’s edition.