N & P: End of Semester Edition

Friday, December 4, 2020

The fall semester has come to an end at Государственный университет Монтаны--at least pending the final revision of grades over the next couple of days. As always, the end of the classes been a rather bittersweet experience, but then again all good things come to an end. Yet, it seems like just yesterday that I was writing my Back to School edition of the N & P. Or something along those lines. 

It was nice to get back to teaching in the fall, even if it was online. Now that the semester is over, however, it's also good to put it behind me. We've got an extra-long winter break this year--I'll end up going about eight weeks between my last class in the fall and first of the spring. Normally, I would be lighting out for the territory at around this point, but instead I'll be biding my time at the Borderlands Lodge, plotting my next move. There's a book to be finished, and a publisher to be found.  

I also hope it snows soon.

Meanwhile, across the Turkic-Russian borderlands a number of interesting developments have been taking place, including:


I liked this article by Joshua Kucera on Armenia post-Karabakh fiasco. It's been interesting to read this and other commentary about the war and its conclusion. As I wrote in my previous post, I think Russia was the real winner here, at least in terms of how the Kremlin defines Russian interests. 

This article from Eurasianet asks the following questions: 
Was Moscow really playing a long game all along, circling while the belligerents weakened each other sufficiently for it to swoop in and impose a new regional order? Or was Russia caught unprepared by Turkey’s forceful entry into its backyard and left struggling to define red lines in a conflict that was itself second-tier in Russian strategic thinking but tied to many other, more vital, interests?

My sense is that Moscow was caught unprepared, but the fact that Russia has worked to develop good relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan over the years is a demonstration of the value of good diplomacy. I don't think it was so much a matter of Russia "swooping in." Rather, Russian peacekeepers are now going to be stationed between the two warring sides because both Yerevan and Baku see Moscow as an honest broker--or at least the most honest broker they'll be able to find. While the Russian government has a track record of supporting buffoons in the West who think it's a great idea to trash their country's alliances, Moscow's own policymaking is much more serious and diplomatically-based. Russia didn't have to swoop in to the Caucasus because it's been there for years.  


Azerbaijan, of course, is seen as the winner now, but it is also worth remembering that the current agreement, especially with Russian peacekeepers involved, 
may well be much more difficult to change. That leaves a sizable share of Nagorno-Karabakh, which up to now has been almost universally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, under Armenian rule. In other words, I think it's possible that, even in "victory," Baku has basically regained part of its territory in exchange for probably giving up forever the notion that it might get back the rest of the territory it lost to Armenia in the early 1990s. 


Here's another long piece in the NYT on recent developments in the region. It's a bit odd--the article's premise being that Russia has somehow changed its tactics. 

It was Mr. Putin, the Russian president, who by all accounts stopped the war that killed thousands this fall in the fiercest fighting the southern Caucasus has seen this century. But he did so by departing from the iron-fisted playbook Russia has used in other regional conflicts in the post-Soviet period, when it intervened militarily in Georgia and Ukraine while invading and annexing Crimea.

I don't think Moscow has really changed its playbook here. Rather, the situation is different. In the case of Georgia and Ukraine, the ex-Soviet republic in question was making overtures regarding joining up with western institutions like NATO and the European Union. That's not the case with either Armenia or Azerbaijan. If either Yerevan or Baku were, in the style of Kyiv or Tbilisi, to try to establish greater cooperation with the West regarding economics, energy, or defense, Moscow's reaction and tactics would be much different. Instead, Moscow's goal in mediating the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict--some have speculated that Putin imposed the cease-fire after one of its helicopters was shot down, killing two Russian soldiers--has been to keep both Armenia and Azerbaijan within its orbit as much as possible. 


Interesting read on Al-Jazeera re the handover of Lachin to Azerbaijan. It's frankly pretty amazing to read this. When I was in Baku in 2004-2005 doing dissertation research, a number of the librarians working at the archive where I was researching were from Karabakh and Lachin. One told me that she had fled her home without any shoes on her feet. At the time, more than a decade after the war had ended, they were still living in the same cheap hotel rooms they had moved into when they had first fled their homelands as refugees. 

So many of the people I met in Azerbaijan seemed, at least insofar as Nagorno-Karabakh was concerned, so defeated and angry. This was especially the case among the numerous refugees that I had met from territories that had been taken by Armenian forces. 

I wonder how they're feeling right now. I wonder if roughly two-thirds of Nagorno-Karabakh will be good enough for the thousands of demonstrators marching in Baku this past July, demanding war with Armenia. 



Over 1000 protesters detained in Belarus as protests continue. Meanwhile, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaia has published an editorial in the Washington Post calling for more assistance from the US and Europe. 

It will be interesting to see what happens with this going forward. Belarusian president Lukashenko is hardly an ally of Putin, who is often reported to be growing weary of his counterpart in Minsk. On the other hand, the possibility of a so-called "color" style revolution taking place in Belarus is unacceptable to Moscow. Meanwhile, with the Biden administration coming to power next month, folks in the Kremlin must be wondering if the US will be making a more aggressive effort to re-insert itself into ex-Soviet space. For four years, the US president has been more concerned with picking at the scabs of American society than projecting American power into Moscow's backyard--effectively sitting out of what I have elsewhere described as the "not-so-great game."

Is it possible that the Kremlin could see the jettisoning of Lukashenko as falling within its interests? It might make more sense, from Moscow's perspective, to get rid of an unpopular leader now and replace him with a more acceptable pro-Moscow alternative. If Belarus turns into another site of East vs. West power-struggle, it would put more pressure on the Russian government's foreign policy objectives in the region. 



In Moldova, too, the usual divide has become visible again following presidential elections in early November. The country's president-elect, Maia Sandu, was the "pro-European" candidate in the race, whereas her predecessor and political rival Igor Dodon was considered to be closer to Moscow and Putin. Sandu has called for Moscow to remove its troops from Trans-Dneister, a move than the Kremlin has thus far rejected. 


Georgia & Lithuania

With the above stories in mind, it's also worth paying attention to this report about individuals in Lithuania and Georgia calling for permanent US troop presence in their countries

The foreign and security policy expert communities in Georgia (Neweurope.eu, November 17) as well as both the outgoing and candidate Lithuanian defense ministers (LRT, November 1619) have called for a permanent presence of United States military forces in their respective countries. These calls indicate a hope that the incoming administration of President-elect Joseph Biden will bring greater attention to security on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) eastern flank.

It's important to consider the source here--the Jamestown group is a cheerleader for expanding US influence in former Soviet territory, so it's not surprising that they're treating the so-called "Georgian security and foreign policy community" as if it were representative of the Georgian government. Still, it's worth paying attention to, as the call is indicative of a broader sense, I think, that the Biden administration will be more receptive to the idea of playing a bigger, more active role in former Soviet space. 



Hundreds sentenced to life in prison over 2016 coup attempt.  

The indictment states that 25 pilots in F-16s bombed targets in Ankara, including parliament, which was hit three times, as well as key security buildings. The bombing killed 68 people in Ankara and injured more than 200. 

Twenty-five of those in the dock were generals and 10 were civilians. 

More than 10 of the military officers - including F-16 fighter pilots - and four civilians got 79 "aggravated" life sentences each. The "aggravated" sentence requires harsher prison terms than for a normal life sentence.

Almost 300,000 people have been detained in Turkey in connection to the coup-attempt since 2016. 150,000 civil servants have been fired from their jobs, and an additional 20,000 expelled from the military.   

Bear News

Recent ursine and other animal news stories from the greater Montana region include:

Are you a Turk across empires? Order a copy today, then get another one for your library.

More commentary, photos, and links can be found in the Borderlands Lounge. 

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