More Thoughts on Russia and Syria

Friday, October 2, 2015 

There was an interesting piece in the New York Times the other day about Russia's involvement in Syria. Loyal readers of the Borderlands know what I think about this. Nevertheless, I couldn't help chiming in a bit more in response to this article. 
Something that Vladimir Putin said, which is quoted in this piece, struck my interest.  
In his Monday address at the United Nations, Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, alluded to reports that thousands of volunteers had left Russia to join the Islamic State. “We cannot allow these criminals who have already felt the smell of blood to return home and continue their evil doings,” Mr. Putin said.
Does that remind you of anything? 

Russia, Syria, and the Not-So-Great Game

Friday, September 11, 2015

This past week there's been a lot of hand-wringing in the US media regarding the Kremlin's recent efforts to get more involved on the ground in Syria. Here's a typical take on the situation from the Washington Post's editorial board:

The US, Turkey, ISIS and the Kurds: What's Going On?

Friday, July 31, 2015

The big story this week has been the deal that the US and Turkey worked out regarding US use of the Incirlik NATO base in the southern Turkish city of Adana. Officials on both sides insist there's no secret deal, but from the outside it looks like Turkey has given the US a free hand in bombing ISIS targets while the US has given Turkey a free hand in bombing Kurdish ones. 

On the face of it all, the story goes like this: a bomb set off by ISIS in the city of Suruç convinced the Turkish government to play a more active role in the anti-ISIS coalition. So, as a result, the Turkish government has decided to allow the United States to bomb ISIS positions from the Incirlik air base located outside Adana, in southern Turkey. Oh, and while we're bombing ISIS, Turkey will be carrying out attacks against Kurdish-held positions in Iraq and, perhaps, northern Syria as well.

But there is, of course, more to the story than this. 

The Home Stretch: Bodrum-Budapest-Cluj-Istanbul-Salt Lake City-Bozeman

Friday, July 24, 2015

Back in the days when I was working as an English teacher in Istanbul, I used to spend 6-8 weeks traveling every summer. One year I made my way through Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel before flying back to Istanbul from Tel Aviv. On another occasion I flew one-way up to Moscow, then made my way back to Istanbul overland through eastern Europe and the Balkans. The trips got longer and more grandiose with each passing year up to 1999, when I flew from Istanbul to New Delhi, then traveled overland--albeit skipping over Burma--to Beijing before flying to Budapest and traveling back down to Istanbul. 

Macedonia was one of the places I enjoyed visiting in the 90s


Friday, July 3, 2015 

Back when I was spending time in Russia more frequently in the first decade of this century, I used to fly out of Moscow in the evening to Amsterdam, where I’d have a one-night stop-over prior to continuing on to the United States the next afternoon. It was great. I’d order a double gin as soon as the drinks were served and breathe a sigh of relief that I’d made it through Russian passport control without something horrible happening to me. Just the way travel was meant to be! 

Passport control once resembled this Onion story

Week 4 in Russia: Yekaterinburg, Tula, Leo Tolstoy's Estate

Friday, June 26, 2015

My train from Kazan pulled into Yekaterinburg right on time at 12.37 pm last Saturday afternoon. Nevertheless, it was two hours later than I'd expected. I hadn't anticipated that the departure and arrival times written on my ticket would be according to Moscow time, rather than local. This wasn't an issue in Kazan, which is in the same time zone as Moscow, but created confusion for me regarding my arrival in Yekaterinburg, which is two hours ahead of Moscow. So, the arrival time written on my ticket was 10.37 am. They were right, of course. It was 10.37, in Moscow. 

Unlike Kool Moe Dee, I had absolutely no idea what time it was 

Week 3 in Russia: Kazan, Ulyanovsk, Samara

Friday, June 19, 2015

Well, Borderheads, we meet again. This week has been spent in central Russia, a.k.a. the middle Volga region. More specifically, I've been hanging out in Kazan, Ulyanovsk, and Samara.

It's been fun, and at times exhausting--especially during those long bus rides down poorly maintained roads. In fact, I was feeling so beaten up at times that I was a little bit reminded of this video by Bi-2: 

Sure they're getting a bit long in the tooth, but Bi-2 can still rock

Nevertheless, it's been a good time. Here are some of the things I saw this past week: 

Week 2 in Russia: Nizhnii, Kazan, and my take on the Turkish election results

Friday, June 12, 2015

As usual, this has been a busy week in the Eurasian borderlands. The big story, of course, has been the Turkish elections from last Sunday (jump down to see my take on them), with the (premature, in my view) celebrations of President Erdoğan's political detractors capturing much of the media attention surrounding Turkey over the past week. 

Read the subtitles to learn how to say 'heave-ho' in Russian

Personally, this week has been a really pleasant and interesting one as I've continued my travels through the Volga region of central Russia. I'm currently nursing a pulled muscle in my thigh as a result of some serious stair-climbing that I was involved with back in Nizhnii, as well as some very sore feet. That's okay, though--it's playoff time, and everyone is hurting. 

In any case, below are some photographs and comments about my trip, as well as my observations regarding events taking place now in Turkey. 

On the Road in Russia: Week 1

Friday, June 5, 2015

On Saturday of last week I got up early, had a quick cup of tea and a poğaça, then grabbed a taxi to take me up the hill to the metro station en route to the airport. I was on my way to Russia.

Zemfira knows a thing or two about catching planes

My taxi driver was a guy called Şapka ("Cap"), so named, he claimed, due to his legendary comb-over. Şapka was visibly jealous when I told him my destination. "A young man like yourself should have a wonderful time there," he said wistfully, assuming that my visit had something to do with prostitutes. "Here you have to pay 300 Lira for the night." He opened the glove compartment to reveal an impressive stockpile of Viagra. 

Friday News & Propaganda: May 29 on the Road Edition

May 29, 2015

Greetings from Istanbul, Borderheads, I hope you're doing well. This has been a busy week for me, one involving travel and making plans for future escapades. But don't worry! I still haven't lost my connection to the mothership.  

Just let me put on my sunglasses so I can see what I'm doing

But more on my travels below. For now, I think it's worth indulging in a little taste of N & P...

Friday News & Propaganda: May 22 Edition

Friday, May 22, 2015

Life has been proceeding apace up here in the northern Rockies, where upcoming travel plans have sent the Borderlands Lodge staff into a flurry of preparations. Mainly, I'm just trying to find ways of keeping my backpack from turning into a bookmobile.

Uncle Gabor and I are preparing for our upcoming night flight

News & Propaganda: Mid-May Fun at the Borderlands Lodge

Friday, May 15

Hello again, Borderheads, I hope this week's N & P finds you well. Life is moving ahead swimmingly at the Borderlands Lodge. A week ago, I submitted my final grades for the spring semester, and now I'm preparing for the summer. I'm going to be teaching a class online on modern Turkey and am planning on doing some travel in the Eurasian Borderlands.

The weather has been really windy and nasty here lately, but that's okay. Nothing lasts forever, even blustery days in May. 


News & Propaganda: Skoolz Out Edition

Friday, May 8, 2015

As usual, things have been quite busy lately up here at the Borderlands Lodge. Classes at Montana State ended on May 1, and now the summer is finally upon us.

So I guess I can say that life is pretty good. 

But enough with the chit-chat. Here's the N & P:

Friday N & P: May 1 Edition

May 1, 2015

Hello again, Borderheads, I hope your week has been a good one. Life has been good up at the Borderlands Lodge. My schedule has been pretty full lately, involving a lot of planning and organization for my upcoming travels to the Eurasian Borderlands. 

Gabor Szabo always puts me in the right mood

Friday News & Propaganda

Friday, April 24

Greetings, Borderlanders! Life has been pretty busy of late up here at the Borderlands Lodge. Spring has come, again, to the Greater Bozeman Metropolitan Area, and the snows of last week have receded. 

The weather in Bozeman has been just amazing lately

Snowy Springtime N & P

Friday, April 17, 2015

It's been snowy up here lately in the northern Rockies. After a very mild winter which saw far colder temperatures and much more snow out east than out here, springtime has been snowy so far in Bozeman. It's getting better though. Today is a bluebird day, the first of several, apparently, to arrive over the next week or so. It's an encouraging development, to say the least, for denizens of the Borderlands Lodge.

Sign of spring: the return of the prairie dogs