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?