The best books on Russia and why the Kremlin does what it's doing

Andrew Monaghan Author Of Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition
By Andrew Monaghan

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures. I started to learn Russian in 1998, and intrigued by the language, I began to study Russia more—delving into history and politics and then doing a PhD in Russian foreign policy. Ever since, trying to learn about and understand Russia has been my professional focus. Alongside books in Russian, these books are all to hand on my reference shelf, well-thumbed and marked up, as I try to write my own work. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have! 

I wrote...

Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition

By Andrew Monaghan,

Book cover of Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition

What is my book about?

Is the Russian leadership acting strategically or opportunistically—or simply led by a madman? Should Russia’s activity be understood in regional or more global terms? Does Moscow have a long-term plan? These questions have become ever more urgent since February 2022 when Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine.  

This book looks at Russia’s military and maritime strategies, its role as an energy power, and efforts to diversify its economy to a ‘post-West’ world to show how Moscow has sought to position Russia for intensifying global geoeconomic competition and conflict into the 2020s. The book highlights Moscow’s priorities and problems as it seeks to establish Russia as a ubiquitous and indispensable power.

The books I picked & why

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The Russian Mind

By Ronald Hingley,

Book cover of The Russian Mind

Why this book?

I found this book to be full of insights into Russian thinking and culture. I never met Hingley, but would have loved tohis work has had a real influence on my own approach to studying and thinking about Russia. I find him a fluent writer who can take complex and controversial subjects and make them accessible. This is such a rich book. Hingley tries to explain problems of perspective in thinking about a different culture, before moving on to address a wide range of themes from Russian literature to history, geography, and politics. Times and attitudes change, but I find that it helps to frame some persistent questions about Russian life, and this book is such a good way to understand how things doand don’thappen in Russia. 

The Russian Economy: A Very Short Introduction

By Richard Connolly,

Book cover of The Russian Economy: A Very Short Introduction

Why this book?

The strength and resilienceor notof the Russian economy is one of the most important questions in international affairs since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022: policymakers and observers alike are asking what effects the wide-ranging sanctions are having, and whether the Russian economy will implode, thwarting Moscow’s aggression. I’m not an economist so I need help understanding this, and I found this book to be the best introduction to this complex and difficult subject. Connolly also wrote a fine book on the impact of sanctions on Russia since 2014, but I think this one gives a concise and accessible assessment of the Russian economy as a whole, the role of the state, and Moscow’s attempted diversification of economic partners and integration into the global economy.

When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler

By David M. Glantz, Jonathan M. House,

Book cover of When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler

Why this book?

The Great Patriotic War is central to Russian politics and thinking about international affairs today. It is important as a symbolic and political reference, but senior military figures often point to the war’s relevance to how Russia should think about war today. There are so many good books to read on this, but I think David Glantz is the doyen of Western historians of the Russian military, and this book is the ideal overview guide to understanding the trajectory and key features of the war: a concise but highly informative examination of one of the most catastrophic wars. Essential reading, I think, and shows why history is important to understanding where we are today.

First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President

By Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,

Book cover of First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President

Why this book?

So much has been written about Vladimir Putin since he came to power, from long biographies to short psychological assessments to fleeting conspiracy theories, all to try to better understand Russia’s long-term leader. This book is a publication of a series of interviews he gave to three Russian journalists when he first came to power back in 1999/2000. So much has happened since, but I found this book to be full of fascinating insights into Putin himself, but also how he views Russian (political) culture, and also those around him that he has continued to rely on ever since. “Surely there are more details?” one of the interviewers asks. “Yes, there are,” comes his reply. But I think this is the place to start.

China and Russia: The New Rapprochement

By Alexander Lukin,

Book cover of China and Russia: The New Rapprochement

Why this book?

Too often, Russia is seen through Euro-Atlantic eyes and in European terms. But the Russian leadership has long spoken of a shift in global power, the emergence of a “post-West” worldand of the 21st Century being a “Pacific Century.” China has long been at the heart of this view, and an important priority in Russian foreign policyand this book by a prominent Russian expert traces a Russian view of the emergent Sino-Russian rapprochement. Not everyone will agree with his analysis, but I like thinking about things from different angles, and the intellectual challenge he poses becomes ever more important as sanctions take hold of the Russian economy and as the Sino-Russian partnership becomes one of the central questions of international affairs today.

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