Managing Conflict in the Former Soviet Union: Russian and American Perspectives

Article excerpt

Arbatov, Alexei, et al., eds. Managing Conflict in the Former Soviet Union: Russian and American Perspectives. Cambridge, Mass.: MTT Press, 1997. 556pp. $25

This edited collection of essays is part of the International Security Studies series from the Center for Science and International Affairs. The subject is quite timely: we have the 1999 confrontation in Dagestan, continued controversy within the Russian government on how to handle the crisis, and the sacking of yet another Russian prime minister. The former prime minister (now acting president), Vladimir Putin, took a direct interest in resolving this latest challenge to Russian power in the Caucasus. The Dagestan crisis is in fact yet another lesson in the center's (Moscow's) management of the disintegration of the periphery-an enduring theme in Russian federalism.

This work illustrates how the post-Soviet Russian government has dealt with would-be separatist governments within the Russian Federation and how other post-Soviet republics have, in their own way, handled separatism. In each instance, a narrative case study and an analytical commentary examine the development and the resolution of the conflict, or conflict avoidance. The pairs of essays are presented within a framework laid out by the leading editor, Alexei Arbatov, the arms control department head of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, and current deputy chairman of the Duma's Defense Committee.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the case studies is that they are presented from a Russian perspective. None of the authors is a member of the present administration or of any nationalist movement. They are researchers affiliated with the Analytic Center of the Council of the Russian Federation (the upper house of the Russian parliament) and so are well placed to tell the story of the continuing breakup of the former Soviet empire. To provide perspective, a written analysis is offered by a Western scholar. There is also a comparison piece on the Yugoslav conflict by Nadia Arbatova; her article, in her own words, places history in the "subjunctive mood," asking whether the painful process of either Russian or Yugoslav disintegration could have been more gradual and civilized. …