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

Other People's Genocides

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

One of the big stories this week, at least in terms of US foreign policy, was Joe Biden's characterization of the Ottoman massacres of Armenians in 1915 as a genocide in comments he made last Saturday. The genocide is considered to have begun on April 24, 1915. 

“The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide,” Biden said in a statement Saturday.

This is considered a big deal because the Turkish government rejects this characterization, preferring instead to emphasize the degree to which the events of 1915 resemble a "civil war" rather than a genocide. Unsurprisingly, Ankara has sharply criticized Biden's comments, saying they have opened a "deep wound" in US-Turkish relations. 

The problem with discussions about genocide is that everybody seems to be operating from their own, seat-of-the-pants definition of the concept.

From Bozeman to Belgrade: Moving the Borderlands Lodge N & P

Saturday, April 10, 2021

A lot has been going on over the past couple of months. For me personally, the biggest project has been moving. Yes, after twelve years in its present location, the Borderlands Lodge is headed to Belgrade: Belgrade, MT, that is--the little Montana town with a Balkan flavor. 








I've lived in a lot of apartments over the years. There were four in Montreal when I was in college, and then another four in Istanbul when I lived there in the 90s. I won't even try to count how many places I rented when I was a graduate student/post-doc researching in Istanbul, Baku, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Ufa, Moscow, Simferopol, Batumi, and Tbilisi, not to mention Princeton, Providence, and NYC. 

When I got my job at Montana State in 2009, I was living again in Istanbul, having flown out to Turkey--for the second time in my life--on a one-way ticket and no concrete plan for return. I'd finished my PhD and was feeling somewhat invisible after two long years looking for tenure-track work in the USA as a professor. I was riding out a post-doctoral research grant I'd received and, other than applying for various jobs, no real idea of what was going to happen next. 

Moving from Istanbul to Bozeman in the summer of 2009 was an adventure. I didn't have a lot of stuff, so I shipped out what little I had stored at my parents' place in Ann Arbor, then used the remainder of the moving expenses MSU had given me to rent a car and drive out to Montana from Michigan. It was a great trip, and gave me a feel for the enormity of the distance and the land extending between my childhood home and my new adult one. 

N & P: Suburban Outdoorsman Edition

Saturday, January 30, 2021

On top of everything else these last few months, we've had relatively little snow this year in the Bozone. This is bad news for a number of reasons--we need a good snow pack, for one thing, to mitigate summer dryness and forest fires. The lack of snow, moreover, has bitten into the ski season, with Bridger Bowl, our local ski hill, starting its (socially-distanced) services quite late into the season. 

When I first moved up here twelve years ago, I did a lot of downhill skiing. I bought a Bridger ski pass and remember a number of occasions when I skied in the morning and taught in the afternoon--even teaching in my ski pants on one occasion when I didn't have enough time to go home and change. In recent years, however, I've gotten more into cross-country skiing, especially since buying my own gear 4-5 years ago. I like the fact that I can go and cross-country somewhere for an hour or two in the afternoon and then get home to do something else--it doesn't take up the whole day the way a trip to Bridger does. 

There are a bunch of places to cross-country around Bozeman, but I just usually go to the golf course up the street from me. The more remote trails are definitely more interesting, but frankly I shy away from wandering off too deeply into the woods on my own. So, in a time of social distancing, suburban outdoorsmanship rules the day. 

The snow has been pretty crunchy on the golf course these past few days--and not only when you inadvertently ski over deer droppings. This morning, however, we got a nice dumping of snow. Nothing clears the mind of screen-time like an hour or so gliding through snow. 

Now that we've covered the Bozeman ski report, what's going on in the Eurasian Borderlands? Well, I'm glad that you asked...

N & P: İmparatorluklar Arası Türkler Edition

 Saturday, January 23, 2021

This has been a pretty busy week up here at the Borderlands Lodge. School started last week, so there has been plenty to do. Still, things are slowing down a little bit. Whereas I fielded probably 20-25 email messages from students last week, this week was a bit calmer, but still there were a lot of questions. It's always like that in the spring, which is when I teach a big 100-level class.

One kind of cool thing that happened was receiving notice that my first book, Turks Across Empires, has been translated into Turkish. 

The Birthdays of Nâzım Hikmet

Saturday, January 16, 2021

These are busy times up at the Borderlands Lodge. The spring semester began this week, so starting up with classes again has been taking up a lot of my time. As hectic as the first week of the semester can be, it's really nice to see the students again. 

Yesterday marked the birthday of Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet. Well, at least the 15th of January is the widely-accepted date for his birthday. At the same time, however, there is some disagreement regarding when exactly Turkey's best-known poet was born.  

According to Memet Fuat, the son of Nâzım's third wife Piraye and Nâzım's stepson, Nâzım was not born on January 15, 1902, but rather in late 1901. In his book Nâzım Hikmet: Yaşamı, Ruhsal Yapısı, Davaları, Tartışmaları, Dünya Görüşü, Şiirinin Gelişmeleri, Memet Fuat writes that Nâzım was born on November 20, 1901, but that "in order for him to not appear one year older for the sake of 40 days" (i.e., from Nov. 20 until the end of the calendar year), his parents chose to make his birthday January 15. Meanwhile, in one of the letters Nâzım's fourth wife Münevver wrote to him in the late 1950s, she notes that she had always thought his birthday was January 2. Nâzım, for his part, alternated between writing his year of birth as "1901" and "1902" in documentation that he completed at Moscow's Communist University of the East in the early 1920s. 

Putsch American-Style

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Well, this has been an interesting week. I don't think I've watched CNN this much since the Gulf War. 

I had just taken a virtual house tour with a real estate agent when I heard about what was going on. I tuned into CNN because--live on TV--they seemed to be updating more frequently than the newspapers that I read online. 

News & Propaganda: Brand New Year Edition

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Well, 2020 has come to an end, and many are no doubt celebrating. Not me. I'm happy to have time on this earth no matter what, pretty much, so you won't find me wishing for a year to be over prematurely. 

I wonder what would have happened if, one year ago, we had all been told ahead of time about what 2020 would be like. How would we have responded? I think a lot of us would have freaked out, myself included. But once you're actually in the middle of a situation, you find ways of managing. 

Not that my situation has been especially difficult. I've been alone, which for some people would be torture, but I happen to mostly enjoy my own company. I'm also still able to work. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see how destructive this past year has been to the lives of others, so I don't feel particularly put out by my own rather trifling inconveniences. Mostly, I've been reading a lot and trying to finish the book I've been writing on Nazım Hikmet. Actually, the book is pretty finished-looking at this point. What I need now is a publisher.   

And what about in the Turkic-Russian borderlands, what's going on over there? Well, let's take a look...

N & P: Christmas at the Borderlands Lodge Edition

Saturday, December 26, 2020

On the heels of last week's International Monkey Day edition, now we've got still more special days this week and next. All of these holidays just keep coming.

While I enjoy getting a tree and putting it up in my place here in Bozeman, Christmas has never been a particularly big holiday for me in this part of the world. As an adult, I've appreciated Christmas most of all during the years when I was abroad. As I've written elsewhere, back when I was living full-time in Turkey in the 1990s, Christmas felt like my own personal secret holiday of sorts, something most of the people around me were not celebrating, or even aware of. That's how I like my holidays sometimes: in isolation.  

And indeed, Christmas this year was spend largely in isolation. I made ribs and mashed potatoes, with margaritas on the side. A friend came by to eat and drink on the landing leading up the stairs to my balcony. So, we were distanced by about 10-12 feet and outside. Otherwise, I spent the day the way that I've spent most of the past nine months: working on my book, reading, and taking an hourlong walk. 

In other words: exciting times, all around. The other day I found a can of split-pea soup in my cupboard and literally thought to myself: "Oh, split-pea soup. That might be fun."   

So yeah, on second thought I guess nothing exciting is happening here, after all. 

And what about the Eurasian borderlands, you are asking, what's been going on there? Well, let's have a look...

N & P: International Monkey Week Edition

Friday, December 18, 2020

For those of you who are unaware, this December 14 marked international Monkey Day. 

I'm a big fan of monkeys. I remember when I was in Agra, India, in 1999, I was sitting on the balcony of my hotel. A guy was walking down the street with a bag of groceries in his hand. From my vantage point, I could see a monkey hanging out first in a tree, and then on top of a tall wall. Concentrating on the pedestrian's plastic bag, the monkey made one big leap, grabbed a bunch of grapes out of the bag, the leapt up again onto the wall. In seconds, the grapes were gone. The man stopped, looked up at me, watching him, and shrugged. There was nothing to be done. 

Well, I guess that's monkey business for you. 

And what about in the Eurasian borderlands this week, was there no monkey business go on there? Let's have a look...