Chris Miller, "We Shall Be Masters: Russian Pivots to East Asia from Peter the Great to Putin" (Harvard UP, 2021)


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Russia’s position between Europe and Asia has led to differing conceptions of “what Russia is” to its leaders. Russia’s vast holdings east of the Urals have often inspired those who led Russia to look eastward for national glory, whether through trade, soft power, or outright force. Yet these Russian “pivots to Asia” often ended soon after they began, with outcomes far more limited than what those who launched them hoped to achieve.

Chris Miller’s We Shall Be Masters: Russian Pivots to East Asia from Peter the Great to Putin (Harvard University Press, 2021) studies many attempts to chart an Asian policy—from bold imperial dreams of a thriving Russian Far East to Soviet efforts to inspire the developing world through soft power—and why all these policies ended up disappointing their drafters.

In this interview, Chris and I talk about Russia’s engagement with the Far East, stretching from its initial forays on the Pacific Coast of North America through to the present day. We talk about why “pivots to Asia” are so hard: both for the Russians, and perhaps for other great powers considering the same policy.

Chris Miller is an assistant professor of international history at The Fletcher School at Tufts University and co-director of the school's Russia and Eurasia Program. He is the author of Putinomics: Power and Money in Resurgent Russia (University of North Carolina Press, 2018) and The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy (University of North Carolina Press, 2016). He has previously served as the associate director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy at Yale, a lecturer at the New Economic School in Moscow, a visiting researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center, a research associate at the Brookings Institution, and as a fellow at the German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Academy. He can be followed on Twitter at @crmiller1.

You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of We Shall Be Masters. Follow on Facebook or on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.

Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.

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