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‘Brothers Armed’ Book Review

For those who have followed the Ukraine crisis that unfolded this year, a curious detail sticks out. The medals that President Vladimir Putin handed out to those who helped Russia’s takeover of Crimea are stamped with the dates that mark the beginning and end of the Russian operation that handed the peninsula to Moscow. The puzzle lies in the starting date minted on the medals “For The Return of Crimea”: Feb. 20, two days before Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich fled Kiev sparking Russia’s intervention in Crimea.

What happened on the two days leading up to Yanukovich’s ouster on Feb. 22 sparking the Russian takeover of the peninsula, remains a mystery and is never explained in “Brothers Armed”, the latest book published by the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies on the tumult in Ukraine.

But even if the book fails to answer every question raised by the Ukraine crisis and Russia’s takeover of Crimea — one chapter touches tangentially on the conflict in eastern Ukraine — the amount of detail and context set out in “Brothers Armed” supports the book’s aspirations to be one of the first historical accounts of the Russian annexation. Readers will find it a welcome change to the breathless coverage given much of the crisis in the media.

The book itself takes on an ambitious arc, explaining how Russia undertook the military modernisation under former Defence Minster Anatoly Serdyukov that ultimately gave it the tools to carry out a seamless (and bloodless) invasion of Crimea.

Some language of the book, a compilation of articles by mostly Russian authors, underscores a certain pro-Russian slant that may be picked up at times by some western readers. But many will find some balance in the final chapter on the modernisation of Ukraine’s military and the army’s prospects in its fight against pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine, written by a member of a group that collects funding for the Ukrainian army.

An article by Mikhail Barabanov gives an encyclopedic overview of Russia’s ambitious military modernisation project, a welcome resource for any researcher or journalist looking to understand how massive the changes are which Russia’s military is embarking on.

But the conclusions drawn by the article on the success of those reforms is at times conflicting. Given the highly secretive nature of the military, it’s not surprising not all aspects of the 21 trillion rouble modernisation programme, attributed, rightly, to Putin, aren’t laid out in black and white. On the other hand the article leaves to doubt the degree to which any of the reforms have been carried out successfully.

The aspect of the book that most readers may find most interesting is the chapter by Anton Lavrov on the week in February, when Russian special forces were ferried to Crimea where they liaisoned with pro-Russia self defence groups in the peninsula, took positions around strategically important locations and took over Ukrainian military bases across the region.

Another article by renowned defense journalist Alexei Nikolsky also puts into context Russia’s emphasis on its special forces ahead of the annexation, a factor that undeniably facilitated the takeover.

Focussing on individual officers like Ukrainian Admiral Denis Berezovsky, whose defection was a boon to Russia’s plans for annexing the region, the book provides the first attempt to give a broad historical account of the factors and people that facilitated the annexation.

Military experts will enjoy the numerous detailed tables and charts not only of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet but of also resources at the command of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Military Aspects of the Crisis in Ukraine

East View Press

Authors: Vasiliy Kashin, Sergey Denisentsev, et al;
Edited by Colby Howard and Ruslan Pukhov;
Foreword by David M. Glantz
ISBN: 978-1-879944-22-0
Year: October 2014

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