Russia-Ukraine Notes: Early October Edition

October 2, 2022

After almost eight months of fighting, it feels like developments have been shifting in the Russia-Ukraine war in recent weeks, doesn't it? 








On the face of things, there is worrying news. The prospect of Russia using nuclear weapons is particularly frightening, without question. It is unclear what the US or NATO response would be to something like that, but at the same time I don't know how Putin's making these threats should change Washington's behavior right now. 

Nâzım Hikmet Book Talk in Texas

Saturday, October 1, 2022

This past week I spent a few days in Austin talking about a book of mine that'll be coming out next year. 

I paid a visit to the Longhorn anti-Leninists of Texas 

















It was a really great trip. Over the summer when I was in Istanbul I'd received an invitation to discuss the book on Nâzım Hikmet that I've been working on. The book, called Red Star over the Black Sea: Nâzım Hikmet and his Generation, isn't finished yet--I'm going through the copy-edited   draft right now--but it's supposed to come out (through Oxford University Press) in March of 2023.

Re Russia-Ukraine: Changes Coming?

Thursday, September 22, 2022

After a flurry of posts regarding Russia-Ukraine in the winter and spring, I haven't had much to say in recent months. As I'd expected, invading Ukraine proper proved to be a much messier and difficult affair than the annexation of the Crimea. 

Now, with Russia planning hastily-organized referenda in Eastern Ukraine and more public criticism of the war emerging in Russia following the announcement that Moscow will call up as many as 300,000 reservists, it feels like there could be some changes coming.   

Catching up in the 'Grade

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Today we had the Fall Festival parade in Belgrade. I'd forgotten about the event, but while Zooming with my parents and brother this morning I noticed the large numbers of people parking in front of my house and pedestrians walking up the street. 

Time to grab your fez and head to Belgrade












But that's how things go when you're living in the tenderloin district of Belgrade, Montana. Whether it's the Jingle Jog, the Christmas Convoy, or the Fall Festival, some form of alliterative amusement is always on the agenda. 

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
Lodge?











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.