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A very narrow window
on 23 September 2014
This is not a book about the fall of the Soviet Union as one would think. This book is about the final six months of the Soviet Union seen from the perspective of a handful of top politicians in the USSR and the US. If you are looking for a history of the Fall of the Soviet Union this book is far too narrow in its approach to this question. It is like looking through a very narrow window trying to see a very wide object.
The Book more or less starts at full speed with the situation in the summer of 1991. What condition the Soviet Union was in and how it got there is something the reader must find out from other sources, unless you lived through it at the time. The Book ends when Gorbachev leaves his position as the first and last president of the USSR on December 25th 1991.
This is a very detailed study into what a number of important people said, thought and how they reacted to various events during this period. As such it can work as a sort of encyclopedia if you are looking for that kind of information. For me the book was almost like a flash-back to a period 23 years ago when all these major players were in the news on a daily basis. While reading the story as it is told you will recall other events that took place during this period and of course both before and after but involving the same people.
One of the strengths of the book is that it is actually helping the reader to understand the current events in Ukraina. Reading the standpoint of Mr. Gorbachev today you realize that he had the same view in 1991 and what is driving Mr. Putin was actually driving a number of Russians before him. We might not agree with their views (I certainly don't!) but it is there and deeply entrenched into their minds.
Another thing that is of interest is Mr. Gorbachevs attempt to keep the Union by creating problems within the various republics. Serhii Plokhy does not tell us in detail but sort of implies that a conflict like the Transdnistrian problem in Moldova could actually be due to Mr. Gorbachevs "helpful" hands.
But the thing is that it is impossible to understand the fall of the Soviet Union without looking at the bigger picture. There is nothing in this book about the war in Afghanistan, the fall of the Berlin wall and the reunification of Germany, the hard hitting anti-alcohol campaign of president Gorbachev, the horrible state of the Soviet Economy etc. etc. For a reader without background it is incomprehensible how a former superpower like the USSR could face starvation a mere months after the attempted coup on August 19 1991.
Concentration also only on the top players we get almost nothing on what happened in the Soviet Union outside of the political struggle. There is no attempt to tell us how people were living and what problems they had. Another problem is that there is almost nothing on how the KGB, the Military or the Ministry of Interior Forces acted or reacted during this period. What shape were they in and why did they perform more or less as spectators during these historic events?
Serheii Plokhy tells us that the Soviet Union fell apart because democracy was introduced and people could vote. But voting is just a technical way of deciding a political question. You must know what you vote for or against. Why did they vote against the Soviet Union?
The Book is well written and of interest for those who would like to know what Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Jeltsin said and did during six months in 1991. For those looking for an answer to why the Soviet Union fell apart this book is only a small piece of the puzzle. Serheii Plokhy set out to document what took place at the end of 1991 seen from the perspective of a few major politicians. He has fulfilled this task. I just think he used a too narrow approach.