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Near Abroad: Putin, the West and the Contest over Ukraine and the Caucasus

Near Abroad is a must-read book for scholars and other readers who are interested in better understanding the relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Without ignoring the importance of other chapters, the introduction, the first and the last chapter are outstanding. Not only do they provide a new approach concerning West/U.S.-Russian relations, but most importantly they create a new framework that can be applied in other cases, such as the Balkans or other secessionist movement in Europe and beyond.

In Near Abroad, Gerard Toal –one of the fathers of critical geopolitics– “aims to examine the making of the geopolitical struggle between Russia and the United States over Georgia and Ukraine” (p. 3) by presenting a synopsis of Russian policies in both of these states. The author then complements these events with the Western responses and discourses. The perspective that Toal adds to the literature is that of critical geopolitics, through which the author aims to present the main reasons behind the corrosion of relations between Russia and the United States under the Putin Administration.

In this book, Toal brings two new perspectives, which will prove to be decisive for the future of critical geopolitical studies. First of all, “this book develops a critical geopolitical analysis by building out three conceptual foundations of this approach” (p. 8). Namely, these notions are: geopolitical field, geopolitical culture and geopolitical condition. Geopolitical field, argues Toal, is a “combination between the sociospatial context of statecraft and the social players and rules and the spatial dynamics constituting the arena” (p. 9). More specifically, it means that the international state system is constituted by norms and rules that agree on the territory of the sovereign states. In the case of Russia, the collapse of Soviet Union led to the creation of new states and subsequently to the rise of popular mobilizations that would challenge the boundaries of existing states. The second notion, geopolitical culture, is related to the spatial identity of each state and the debates about it. In this case, through geopolitical culture one can understand how states see the world around them and how they strategize their priorities and construct the discourses. The last notion is that of geopolitical condition, which is related to how “emergent technological assemblages… transform the way in which geopolitics is experienced, understood and practiced” (p. 13). In a plausible way, these three conceptual foundations are applied to the case of Russia and the U.S. throughout the book.

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Call for Paper | Politics of the Balkans and Future Perspectives