Book Summary: War and Punishment

Dave Edwards
3 min readApr 7, 2024


War and Punishment: Putin, Zelensky, and The Path To Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

by Mikhail Zygar

2023 — Scribner — 432 pages

When I attended a lecture on Russian politics, I asked the Russian scholar who made the presentation for a book recommendation so I could continue to learn more about the current war in Ukraine in particular. I am so glad he recommended “War and Punishment” by Mikhail Zygar. Zygar is a Russian-born journalist, writer, and filmmaker and the founding editor-in-chief of the Russian news channel TV Rain. His book is fascinating, mainly how he discusses the historical tensions between Russia and Ukraine, tracing the roots of conflict from centuries past to the present-day invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022. It delves into the complex relationship between the two nations, examining cultural identity, historical grievances, power struggles, and external influences. Through a detailed analysis of critical events, including the annexation of Crimea and the Orange Revolution, Zygar provides insight into the motivations and actions of leaders like Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, shedding light on the path to war and its devastating consequences.

The book traces the origins of tension back to historical events such as the division of Ukraine between Russia and Poland in the seventeenth century and Stalin’s brutal policies during the Soviet era, including the Holodomor famine. It examines the role of key figures like Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, their respective rise to power, and their handling of relations between the two nations. Zygar delves into pivotal moments such as the Orange Revolution and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, highlighting the manipulation of history and propaganda by both sides to justify their actions. The book also explores the influence of external actors, including the United States and NATO, on the conflict and its escalation. Through meticulous research and analysis, Zygar helped me to understand the complex dynamics driving the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Five Highlights

Zygar debunks the notion of a unified Russian and Ukrainian identity, tracing back to historical divisions and power struggles dating back to the seventeenth century.

The book explores Russia’s historical and contemporary efforts to control Ukraine, viewing Ukrainian liberty and European aspirations as threats to Moscow’s power.

Zygar examines key historical events such as the annexation of Crimea and Stalin’s policies, shedding light on the long-standing grievances and trauma that continue to shape the relationship between Russia and Ukraine.

He follows the rise of leaders like Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, their handling of the conflict, and the influence of external actors such as the United States and NATO.

Zygar paints a compelling picture of the path to war, highlighting the devastating consequences for both nations and the global community.

Most Important Lesson:

The most important lesson from “War and Punishment” is the enduring power of historical grievances, propaganda, and geopolitical ambition in shaping international conflicts. The book underscores the need for genuine dialogue, empathy, and diplomacy to address deep-rooted tensions and prevent further bloodshed. Additionally, it serves as a stark reminder of the human cost of war and the importance of upholding democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law in the face of authoritarian aggression.

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Dave Edwards

Dave helps aspiring leaders and organizations. He blogs on management related issues at