Conroy on D'Anieri, 'Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War'

Paul D'Anieri
Shawn Conroy

Paul D'Anieri. Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Maps, tables. 296 pp. $29.99 (paper), ISBN 978-1-108-71395-5; $84.99 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-108-48609-5. 

Reviewed by Shawn Conroy (The Ohio State University) Published on H-War (January, 2021) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

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Paul D’Anieri’s Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War looks at relations between Ukraine, Russia, and the West from the Belavezha meeting in December 1991 (the civilized divorce) to the signing of Minsk-2 in February 2015. He argues that “the problems that exploded in 2014 emerged at the beginning of the post-Cold War period and became increasingly salient over time” (p. 2). These problems included disagreements over Russia’s perception of its great power status, the role of democratization in Eastern Europe, and the representation of the “status quo” in international affairs. D’Anieri highlights the Orange Revolution in 2004 as the inflection point where Ukrainian-Russian relations first became fused with Russia’s own relations with the West, centered on the issues of democracy and independence in Ukraine. In laying out his arguments, D’Anieri aims to “explain how and why this conflict came about ... and to provide an account of the relationship between Ukraine, Russia, Europe, and the United States” (p. 2).

D’Anieri contributes to the historiography of the conflict by starting his analysis in 1991 and putting the domestic and international relations of Russia, Ukraine, and the West in dialogue with one another. Through this perspective, he seeks to remedy three gaps in the historiography. First, previous scholars sought to assign blame for the conflict on the political figures of a particular country; this has led scholars to “attribute considerable freedom of choice to leaders, minimizing the constraints they faced” (p. 5). Second, they have analyzed the conflict’s origins only from 2013; as a result, they failed to answer the question of “how we got to that point or why Putin pursued a wider conflict in eastern Ukraine” (p. 6). Third, the use of either a domestic or an international lens to examine the conflict fails to show how “domestic politics undermined cooperation and concessions, steering diplomatic action in a harder line” (p. 9).

In his methodology, D’Anieri abides by the foreign policy theory of neoclassical realism, which states that the security dilemma—the idea that actions by one state to improve its own security undermines the security of another—“conditions international politics, but that internal factors influence how states respond to it” (p. 8). This model takes into account the constraints—both international and domestic—that restrict the range of choices available to leaders. Throughout the book, D’Anieri also points out the inadequacies of defensive realism and liberalism in explaining the origins and development of the Russo-Ukrainian war (my words). On defensive realism, he dismisses the notion that “as long as states are satisfied with the status quo, the security dilemma can be managed” (p. 273); in this case, Russia, Ukraine, and the West each had a different understanding of the status quo, its legitimacy, and the need to maintain it, which foiled repeated attempts by the involved parties to manage the security dilemma and bring stability to the region. On liberalism, D’Anieri questions the universality of democratic peace theory—which argues that “war between democracies [is] impossible, and therefore that the spread of democracy [will] create an expanding region in which war [is] no longer possible” (p. 14)—through the case of Russian domestic politics; the high popularity among the general Russian populace and major political parties in favor of the annexation of Crimea and the integration of Ukraine into Russia suggests that a democratic Russia would not have dramatically changed outcomes. I could only find criticism regarding the author’s methodology in his lack of a definition for the “West,” particularly which countries belong to it in this particular story.

While a political scientist by trade, D’Anieri also draws from historical materials in addition to the foreign policy theories mentioned above. These sources include newspaper articles, presidential speeches, official press releases, interviews conducted in Ukraine, and many others. The actors he cites range from politicians and diplomats to area studies specialists and analysts of various sorts. The choice of footnotes over endnotes will prove convenient for scholars and provide a wealth of background literature for further reading. Unfortunately, the book does not have a bibliography for easy access to these readings.

Overall, this book makes a convincing argument for the long-term factors that influenced (and still influence) the conflict between Ukraine and Russia on the one hand, and between Russia and the West on the other. Scholars (historians, political scientists, area studies specialists, etc.) and lay readers alike will find this work engaging and informative, without verbiage or unexplained jargon. Lastly, the publisher deserves credit for the high quality of the pages, which for the tactile among us makes for an additional treat. I highly recommend it.

Citation: Shawn Conroy. Review of D'Anieri, Paul, Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War. H-War, H-Net Reviews. January, 2021. URL:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.