The Return: Part III, Istanbul

Thursday, June 30, 2022

It had been three years since I'd been in Istanbul, and even that had been a short, week-long trip back in 2019. After living in Turkey between 1992 and 1999, I'd returned to the US to begin graduate school. But, given the fact that I work on Turkey professionally, I return frequently. From 1999 until 2020 there had been only one calendar year, 2002, when I hadn't gone to Turkey. And now, three years had passed. 

I was supposed to be in Kazan, Russia this summer. That obviously didn't work out, but I was able to switch to researching in Amsterdam and Istanbul instead. 

The Return: Part II, Talkin' Turkey

Thursday, June 23, 2022

I was at a hippish-type of place in Çukurcuma, not far from the AirBnB I'd rented in Cihangir. A friend of mine runs an art gallery there and she'd invited me to a soiree. It was a nice evening. I'd always despised Cihangir, which is lousy with youngish western foreigners, but Çukurcuma is alright. A DJ was playing cool- sounding music that was dribbling in the background, and we were all sipping red wine and talking about the paintings on the walls. 

It's good to be back

A couple of dudes, old-school Turkish leftist types, started chatting me up. It turned out we had some friends in common, people I'd known from the various times of my life that I've lived in this city. Talk turned to politics and the Russia-Ukraine war, and they asked me what I thought. I deflected, half-knowing what would come next. Of course they blamed the US for everything. 

The Return: Part I, Amsterdam

Monday, June 20, 2022

Three years. It had been three years since the last time I'd been out of the US--a delightful summer spent in Moscow, Mongolia, and Istanbul in 2019. Up until 2020, the last time I'd gone an entire calendar year without crossing a border had been sometime back in the mid-1980s. 

Which way to the Borderlands

But yeah, I didn't do much traveling in 2020-2021, other than a couple of quick trips to Michigan. So, let's just say that the old backpack was a bit dusty when I retrieved it from the back room to prepare for this summer's travels. 

A Double Retreat?

Saturday, April 9, 2022

The news these days, of course, is that Russian forces have been withdrawing from most of Ukraine as part of an effort to establish more defensible positions in the east of the country.  

But alongside this retreat to the East that we've seen this week, there have also been some hints of a retreat to the West.  

Back and Forth in the Quagmire

Saturday, April 2, 2022

The news from Russia and Ukraine this week has oscillated between intense Russian bombardments of Mariupol and other cities in Ukraine, followed by Moscow's pledges to relent somewhat and re-position its forces in the eastern part of the country. 

So what's been going on with this? 

I could be wrong, of course, but I'm of the opinion that Moscow probably is really planning to re-group in eastern Ukraine. From the looks of things, some troops are also retreating to Belarus for now. 

A "Mission Accomplished" Moment?

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Well, it certainly has been a messy, destructive March. All month long, observers have been watching the war in Ukraine and wondering why Putin has been doing this.  

The interesting news this week has been the Kremlin's announcement that the so-ca
lled "first phase" of the war is over, and that now Russian forces will be focusing upon Eastern Ukraine. 

If this is indeed the case, it seems like a noteworthy sign. Could this be Vladimir Putin's "mission accomplished" moment?

This past week...

Saturday, March 5, 2022

What an odious and sickening week this has been. It's starting to look pretty clear that Vladimir Putin is determined to punish Ukraine, regardless of the cost. No matter what happens in the long run, the goal right now is to make Ukraine, and Ukrainians, pay a terrible price for not knuckling under. 

Putin winning more hearts and minds in Kharkiv

Even if Russia were to stop shelling Ukrainian cities and power plants right now, it would take years for Ukraine to recover from what has been done so far. And much more damage will be inflicted on the country and its citizens, I think, before this comes to an end. 

More Thoughts re Ukraine and NATO

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Well, another day of fighting has passed in Ukraine and the government in Kyiv is still in place. One interesting development is that the Russian government appears open to negotiating with Kyiv now. Zelensky is in the agonizing position of having to choose between extending the war or giving into Putin's demands. 

Don't get me wrong--I'm no cheerleader for war, not when other people are doing the fighting, so I think Ukrainians should do what's best for them. 

But Putin is the one who is over-extending himself right now. He wants Zelensky to give up because this situation is, I think, ultimately untenable for Moscow. 

The USA: NATO's Weakest Link?

Saturday, February 26, 2022

If the events of this past week tell us anything, it's that there are advantages to being in NATO. Ukraine is being picked apart precisely because it's not a part of the organization. And if, for example, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were not part of the alliance right now, chances are good that they would have come under similar pressure/intimidation/attack from Moscow. 

Tartu, Estonia, 1998

My sense, moreover, is that in both western and eastern Europe, the current crisis has likely driven home some of the importance of being in the alliance. I imagine that today there are more people in, say, Warsaw who are relieved their country is part of NATO than was the case six months ago. 

Brown Trouser Time

Friday, February 25, 2022

Well, wow. 

Shock and awe

First off, I have to say that I was surprised by the breadth of the attack, the shock-and-awe show.

What else? 

Looking for the Long-Term re Putin's Moves

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

On the heels of Monday's announcement by the Kremlin that it was recognizing the independence of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, it now appears that Russian tanks and artillery may be moving into the region. 

So where is this heading? I wish I could say for certain. I do, however, have a few ideas. 

Bungling toward Kyiv

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Well, the drums of war have been beating more loudly lately re Ukraine and people are predictably freaking out. But I think the Biden administration has been doing a good job of responding to a crisis that was by no means of its own making.


I think that part of the problem is that people have come to reflexively see Vladimir Putin as some kind of evil genius whose every move will inevitably bring success. That, and the idea that the US is somehow the aggressor in this dispute are the two weakest takes that I've encountered over the past month or so. 

30 Years of Eurasian Borderlanding

Saturday, February 5, 2022 

Thirty years ago this upcoming week, on Feb. 7, 1992, I began a four-month trip that would change my life in several ways. 

I was a Copy Consultant

I had recently graduated from college and, since August of the previous year, had been living in my parents' house in Ann Arbor. I was working two jobs--at Kinko's and delivering furniture--that I'd had in high school. The goal? Saving up money for a trip through central and eastern Europe. 

The Monroe Doctrine, Putin, and Post-Soviet Space: Don't Muddy the Waters

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Given what's been going on with Russia in recent months, some people have pointed out the hypocrisy of the US position vis-a-vis Ukraine, i.e. that Kyiv should be able to join whichever alliance or international organization that it sees fit.

But isn't this hypocritical? After all, the US hasn't renounced the Monroe Doctrine. If the US can demand a leading role in the foreign policies of countries in the Americas, the argument goes, why can't Putin claim a similar right with respect to post-Soviet space? 

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy? Russia, Ukraine, and NATO

Friday, January 14, 2022

US and Russian negotiators met in Geneva this week to talk about the Ukraine/NATO crisis. According to the official Russian news agency TASS, however, the Russian government views the talks as a failure

And so, we head into the weekend under something of a cloud. The Russian government's rhetoric on Ukraine has become increasingly bellicose in recent months. Russian demands on NATO, meanwhile, seem unlikely to be met. 

Moscow wants to receive a response to its demands by next week. 

Kazakhstan, Russia, and the Secular-National-Authoritarian Model

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Kazakhstan has been in the news a lot this week, following demonstrations on Sunday over the doubling of fuel prices that took effect on January 1. Since then, the situation appears to have spiraled out of control, with Vladimir Putin sending Russian troops to Kazakhstan on Thursday and Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issuing shoot-to-kill orders on Friday

So what's been going on, and what does this all mean with respect to the larger geopolitical context of post-Soviet space? 

"Hold me Back!!!!!" The Second Biden-Putin Skype Summit

Friday, December 31, 2021

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin had their second "Skype Summit" of the month yesterday. I found this rather interesting. The two had, after all, just conferred on Dec. 7 and are representatives of the two administrations (but not Biden and Putin themselves) due to meet in Geneva on January 10. 

So, why the second Skype meeting? 

What Would Happen if Russia Invaded Ukraine?

Sunday, December 26, 2021

In my last few posts I've written about Russian-Ukrainian relations, discussed the role of water and other resources within this relationship, and explored the reasons for why some in Russia might want to invade Ukraine.  

But what might happen if Russia actually did launch a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine?

Why Would Russia Invade Ukraine?

Friday, December 24, 2021

In a post yesterday, I discussed water-related issues between Russia and Ukraine. I did this as a means of exploring what, if any, concrete benefits an invasion of Ukraine might bring to Russia. The point I was making was that, rather than just looking to "nationalism," "Russian pride," or any other vague explanation for why something like this might happen, it makes more sense to look at tangible issues.  

Sevastopol, Ukraine, in the Summer of 2006
In the case of the Crimea                in 2014, there definitely were concrete issues at stake. The first was the fact that Russia's Black Sea fleet is based in Sevastopol (in the Crimea), and Moscow did not want the fleet's future to be held hostage by Kyiv. Something else that I brought up, in the context of the Crimea, was the presence of natural gas and hydrocarbon resources in the area--another tangible, concrete reason why the Crimea proved to be an attractive acquisition for the Kremlin in 2014. 

But what about the rest of Ukraine? What benefit to Russia would an invasion bring? Or is Vladimir Putin simply rattling Ukraine's cage as a means of extracting concessions from the US and NATO?

Crimea River: Water and Russian-Ukrainian Relations

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

There's been a lot of talk lately about the likelihood of Russia invading Ukraine, an issue that I discussed here last week. One point that I emphasized last week was that there are real differences between the respective value of the Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and the value of eastern Ukraine, where the Russian government has been intervening ever since 2014. 

In particular, I noted that, whereas there were real concrete benefits for Russia in invading and annexing the Crimea, the case for doing something similar in the rest of the Ukraine seems somewhat murkier. So what, exactly, would be the benefit to Russia if that country actually were to invade Ukraine? 

Rattling Kyiv's Cage

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The big story lately in Eurasia has been that relating to Russia's alleged designs on Ukraine. Following Joe Biden's Skype chat with Vladimir Putin earlier this month, the chatter hasn't ceased. Whether or not Russia will invade Ukraine remains a burning question

On the Border in Kilis

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

I saw an interesting article in the New York Times today. The article relates to the small Turkish city of Kilis, located not far from the border with Syria. The focus of the piece was that, whereas much of Turkey is now demanding that Syrian refugees go home, Kilis is somehow different. 


Teaching in the Age of Covid

Sunday, September 26, 2021

A month ago I began my thirteenth year of teaching at Montana State University. A number of my friends, seeing the skyrocketing Covid case load in Montana these days, and perhaps having also heard that it's mainly young people who are driving the pandemic here, have asked me lately how things have been going so far. 

To begin, let me say this: even with the end of summer looming, I have always looked forward to the beginning of the school year.  Mainly, I like seeing the students. No matter what else is going on in my life, thinking about the ones who care about learning something really motivates me to get back into the classroom. Seeing my colleagues has also been exceptionally pleasant this year. I've loved getting dressed for work, and even commuting from my new home in Belgrade has been enjoyable.

And this year I even won a welcome back gift-bag!

The Detroit Lions on MNF

Monday, September 20, 2021

Look out, world: the Detroit Lions are on Monday Night Football tonight!!!

Snow on the Mountains

Sunday, September 19, 2021

We've got some snow on the mountains this weekend...


Borders And Our World Today

Thursday, August 5, 2021

The other day I received an email message from the Wilson Center in Washington DC referring to borders, so you know I was interested. The message was advertising an interview with Paul Werth, an historian of the Russian Empire and professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. The question-and-answer session with Werth, who has written extensively on the issue of religious administration in Russia, is rather short but interesting. I recommend that you check it out. 

Sarpi border crossing between
Georgia and Turkey
The title of the interview was "Russia's Enclosure and the Issues of Bordermaking," which immediately caught my attention. In both my previous book, Turks Across Empires, and in the biography that I'm currently working on in relation to the poet Nâzım Hikmet and his generation of Turkish communist border-crossers, I've written a fair bit about frontiers and the people who cross them. Indeed, one of the arguments I make in each of these books is that we need to look more closely at people's locations and surrounding circumstances, and less at ideology, as a means of better understanding what the individuals I look at were trying to achieve. 

Fresh Prince of Belgrade

Monday, June 21, 2021

Back in the waning months of quarantine, I read Gone With the Wind for the first time. To be honest, I was mainly interested in the book due to the connections I assumed I would find with War and Peace, which is one of my favorites. However, it was Anna Karenina that Margaret Mitchell's book would end up reminding me of the most. 

The common denominator is land. Most people are familiar with Gerald O'Hara's admonition that "land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for." In Anna Karenina, meanwhile, Levin throws himself into working on his estate in response to an outside world that has disappointed him. 

Other than revealing a predilection for reading unfashionable literature, what does any of this have to do with me? Well, as I mentioned in a post a couple of months ago, I have recently purchased some land of my own in Belgrade, MT, the little mountain town with a Balkan flavor. 

Biden's Meeting with Erdoğan in Brussels

Saturday, June 19, 2021  

If Joe Biden's meeting with Putin doesn't quite qualify as a summit in my books, the US president's meeting with Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan was even shorter, as part of a broader meeting with NATO leaders in Brussels. 

All smiles for now...
The meeting was important, though. US relations with Turkey have been at various stages of rocky for years, with the months following the July, 2016 coup attempt (or coup attempt-like events) in Turkey constituting a real low point. It was at this time, in 2017, that Moscow offered to sell its S-400 missile defense system. In response to Ankara's purchase of the system, the US put sanctions on Turkey and will not sell it weaponry for now. 

Kumbaya and Crimea: the Biden-Putin Meeting in Geneva

Friday, June 18, 2021

Up here at the Borderlands Lodge, summer is quietly approaching. The freezing nights of winter have receded, and now we're having nice temperatures in the 70s and low 80s in the daytime. I've been spending a lot of my time on the house and buying novel items--who knew that a string trimmer is not for trimming strings?

Lava Lake, encore une fois
Moving house took up a lot of my time and energy in March-April, so I hadn't gotten outside so much--it didn't help that my bike was a shell of its former itself. But now my bike is in beautiful working order again I've been able to shake off a bit of the rust. 

With the arrival of warmer temperatures, there have also been some chances to get outside. Despite the mountains to the north, historic downtown Belgrade is a pretty flat area, good for bike riding. On the other hand, the bikeable area of Belgrade is smaller than what I had in Bozeman, so I tend to cover a lot of the same ground repeatedly. But there are lots of nice places to go outside in this part of Montana.

NATO's Other Purpose

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Greetings from historic downtown Belgrade (MT), to which the Borderlands Lodge has recently transferred its operations. 

There's been a lot going on lately. I've learned that buying a house is a 3-step process: purchasing the new place, moving out of the old one, and setting up the new one. All three steps can involve a lot of work. I finished the first of them in March, the second one in early May, and the third...I'm slowly realizing that the third step will go on for as long as I live in this house. 

Even in the Bel-zone we get the papers, and this week I've been reading about the meeting of NATO leaders this past Monday in Brussels