“The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War” by Arkady Ostrovsky – A Profound Exploration of Russia’s Transformative Journey


Arkady Ostrovsky’s “The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War” stands as a compelling and insightful narrative that delves into the multifaceted evolution of Russia during a critical period in its history. Published in 2015, the book navigates the complexities of Russia’s political landscape from the era of Gorbachev’s liberalization to the assertive leadership of Vladimir Putin. In this extensive review, we will explore the key themes, historical transitions, and the nuanced analysis presented in Ostrovsky’s thought-provoking work.

Background and Context

1. Author’s Expertise:

  • Arkady Ostrovsky, a seasoned journalist and author, brings a wealth of expertise in Russian affairs to “The Invention of Russia.” Having reported extensively on the region for prestigious publications like The Economist, Ostrovsky’s firsthand experiences enrich the depth of analysis within the book.

2. Historical Epoch:

  • Published against the backdrop of Russia’s tumultuous transition from the Soviet Union to the Russian Federation, “The Invention of Russia” captures the spirit of a transformative era that shaped the nation’s identity and its place on the global stage.

Key Themes Explored in “The Invention of Russia”

1. Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost:

  • Ostrovsky begins by dissecting the era of Mikhail Gorbachev, exploring the political reforms of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). The book assesses the impact of these policies on the Soviet Union and their role in shaping the socio-political landscape.

2. Collapse of the Soviet Union:

  • A pivotal theme in the book is the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ostrovsky examines the internal and external forces that led to the dissolution of the Soviet empire, ushering in a new era for the states that emerged from its ashes.

3. Boris Yeltsin’s Presidency:

  • The book scrutinizes the tumultuous presidency of Boris Yeltsin, from the promise of democracy to the challenges of economic reform and the societal upheavals that marked this period. Ostrovsky analyzes Yeltsin’s leadership style and the consequences of his policies.

4. Rise of Vladimir Putin:

  • A significant focus is placed on the rise of Vladimir Putin, exploring his early political career, the consolidation of power, and the transformation of Russia’s political landscape under his leadership. The book delves into Putin’s strategic decisions and their implications for the nation.

5. Media and Propaganda:

  • “The Invention of Russia” delves into the role of media and propaganda in shaping public opinion. Ostrovsky examines how the manipulation of information became a potent tool in the hands of political leaders to control narratives and influence perceptions.

Literary Style and Structure

1. Narrative Coherence:

  • Ostrovsky weaves a coherent narrative that spans decades of Russian history. The book is structured chronologically, providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of the interconnected events that shaped the nation.

2. In-Depth Interviews and Research:

  • The author draws on extensive research, incorporating in-depth interviews with key figures and participants in Russia’s political evolution. This approach adds depth and authenticity to the narrative, providing readers with nuanced insights.

3. Accessible Language:

  • Despite the complexity of the subject matter, Ostrovsky employs accessible language, making the book suitable for both scholars and general readers interested in understanding Russia’s political journey.

Legacy and Influence

1. Contemporary Relevance:

  • “The Invention of Russia” maintains contemporary relevance as it contributes to ongoing discussions about Russia’s political trajectory. The book’s analysis of historical events provides a framework for understanding Russia’s current geopolitical standing.

2. Critical Acclaim:

  • The book has received critical acclaim for its balanced and insightful analysis. It has been referenced in academic circles, policy discussions, and media analyses, affirming its status as a reputable source on contemporary Russian history.

3. Contribution to Political Literature:

  • Ostrovsky’s work has become a notable contribution to political literature on Russia. The book’s exploration of political transitions, the role of leadership, and the dynamics of power has added depth to the understanding of post-Soviet Russia.

Criticisms and Controversies

1. Potential Bias:

  • Critics may argue that the book carries a potential Western bias, given Ostrovsky’s background as a journalist for Western publications. Readers are encouraged to approach the narrative with awareness of potential perspectives that may not align with Russian viewpoints.

2. Limitations in Scope:

  • Some critics may contend that the book, while comprehensive, cannot cover every facet of Russia’s complex history during the period examined. The scope may be limited by the necessity to condense a vast and intricate history into a single volume.


“The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War” by Arkady Ostrovsky stands as a pivotal work that navigates the intricate tapestry of Russian history during a period of unprecedented change. Ostrovsky’s meticulous research, insightful analysis, and engaging narrative style make the book an essential read for those seeking to understand the political dynamics that have shaped Russia’s identity. As a testament to Ostrovsky’s dedication to providing a nuanced perspective on Russia’s transformation, this book continues to be a valuable resource for scholars, policymakers, and readers interested in the intricacies of post-Soviet Russian history.

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