More than a decade of study of the REEE (Russia, East European, and Eurasian) region has not allowed me to articulate clear answers when friends have asked about the nature of this conflict; it is simply too big, its ideological and political threads tracing back decades and centuries. I’ve included here a number of texts that, in aggregate, begin the work of disentangling those threads for the American reader and creating a schema of the region’s complex political, social, and ethnic history that has led to this disastrous inflection point in history. In putting this together, I was frustrated with how many important works were out of stock across all distributors—no doubt owing to the understandable surge of interest—but chose to include a few of those out-of-stock titles here in the hope that they would soon be available for us or at another bookstore for those who are interested. Though you could trace the roots of this conflict to ancient Kievan Rus’ if that was your bent, for the newcomer to the region I’ve started with texts that explore the history and eventual fall of the Soviet Union, an event that Vladimir Putin views as a calamity. Ginzburg’s Into the Whirlwind takes us back to the madness of Stalin’s regime and helps us understand a world where there is no anchor of truth left in civil society and no one left alive to challenge a dictator’s disastrous policies—a condition that Putin is within a hair’s breadth of re-creating in the Russian Federation today. American diplomats Marie Yovanovich and Fiona Hill bookend the list with their memoirs, which take us to the immediate past and detail corruption at the heart of our own government as well as the governments of Russia and Ukraine, and the chaos and unmoored foreign policy of the Trump administration. In the middle are texts that address themselves to Russia’s history, to Ukraine’s, and to the nature of the complex and increasingly volatile relationship between the two. For highly readable, popular studies of the rise of Putin and modern Russia, there is no one better than Masha Gessen. Serhii Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe is a sweeping history of Ukraine through the stories of its most famous historical figures. Nobel winner Svetlana Alexievich, in nearly everything she writes, interprets the story of the Russian, Belarussian, and Ukrainian peoples at eye-level.
Though the topic is difficult, I hope these works set you on a path to greater understanding of this beautiful, tragic, and so often understudied region of the world.