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Return of the Bear

by Michael Auslin

The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union, by Serhii Plokhy (Basic, 496 pp., $32)

If location is everything in real estate, then timing is everything in book publishing. Even a few months ago, Serhii Plokhy’s revisionist history of the end of the Cold War might not have garnered much attention. Yet with Crimea annexed and eastern Ukraine starting to break away to Russia, The Last Empire may be the most timely book of the year.

Timely, however, does not mean uncontroversial, and Plokhy’s central contention is sure to engender years of debate. In a nutshell, Plokhy, a professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard, argues that the “lost arms race, economic decline, democratic resurgence, and bankruptcy of Communist ideals” were not what ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union; rather, it was the “imperial foundations, multiethnic composition, and pseudofederal structure of the Soviet state” that made it so vulnerable.

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