Near Abroad

Near Abroad

Putin, the West and the Contest over Ukraine and the Caucasus

Oxford UP, 2017 more...

Editorial Rating



  • Controversial
  • Analytical
  • Background


Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 resulted in two wars, thousands of deaths and redrawn national boundaries. Or did it? Influential American political geographer Gerard Toal makes a cogent case for seeking deeper understanding of Russia’s actions: by studying Russia’s own arguments, by questioning prevailing Western storylines and by applying critical examination to historical evidence. Toal delineates how Russian president Vladimir Putin’s moves in Georgia and Ukraine emerged from a mélange of regional political circumstances, strategic concerns, Western blundering and Putin’s own revanchism. Toal cites the 2008 Bucharest Declaration that put Ukraine and Georgia on a trajectory for NATO accession, along with the recognition of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in the same year, as crucial turning points. Rich in observation and insight, Toal’s book does justice to the complexity and nuance of actual events; however, the book demands attentive reading and a degree of broadmindedness. getAbstract recommends it to readers interested in a different perspective on Russian geopolitics.


Critical Geopolitics

Critical geopolitics analyzes accepted – often superficial – accounts of geopolitical events, and questions classic geopolitical assumptions about how governments, markets and other forces create and operate within geographical spaces. The critical geopolitical approach to political events recognizes how key actors, narratives and technologies (including media) act as tools of and influences upon geopolitics. It also recognizes the importance of affect in politics. The land where people live engenders feelings and attitudes. Some of these sensibilities are visceral, others are taught via sources like national literature. Feelings about qualities such as heroism, masculinity and sacredness affect geopolitical events. Critical geopolitics views states’ geopolitics as a kind of culture. It doesn’t aim to excuse state or individual actors’ decisions, but to construct more accurate descriptions and explanations of those actions.   

By contrast, classical geopolitics tends to rely on basic dichotomies, general categories, and shallow, oversimplified...

About the Author

Gerard Toal is professor of government and international affairs and director of the Masters of Public and International Affairs program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University’s National Capital Region campus in Alexandria.

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