A newly published book highlights the critical role vodka has played in Russian history. The work, titled Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State, sees an enduring connection between vodka and the autocratic political institutions and policies that have characterized Russia for centuries.
Tajikistan has experienced bouts of internal violence in the past couple of years, but the bloody episodes in the Rasht Valley and in Gorno-Badakhshan have little to do with home-grown Islamic extremism, asserts Muhiddin Kabiri, the leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, the only legally operating, religiously oriented political group in Central Asia today.
State Capitalism is weighing down the Russian economy, and there is not much Russian President Vladimir Putin can do to prop up the system, a leading Western expert contends. The trend raises questions about Putin’s ability to maintain his Kung-fu grip on power.
The building that houses the Executive Committee of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure is in a walled compound in the center of the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. I had the good fortune to be among the few Americans invited to take a peek inside.
In announcing that Georgia’s parliamentary elections would take place October 1, President Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration affirmed its commitment to conduct what one official said would be an “exemplary” vote. New technologies are helping election monitors hold officials to such pledges, but they still have limitations, experts say.
It’s clear that Russia and other authoritarian-minded, formerly Soviet states would like to turn out the lights on the Internet. Given their mood, an annual UN gathering, scheduled to be hosted by Azerbaijan in November, could emerge as a pivotal moment for web's future in Eurasia.
Matthew Bryza, the frustrated US former envoy to Azerbaijan, has retired from the State Department. But that doesn’t mean he can’t offer some useful advice on how to solve several diplomatic dilemmas in the South Caucasus.
Speaking at a recent Washington, DC, event organized by the Jamestown Foundation, Bryza identified internal reform, energy, and security as the three pillars of American foreign policy in the Caucasus. Energy and security may dominate media headlines, but internal reforms should be considered the lynchpin of America’s regional policy, Bryza suggested. If reforms are “not moving forward … we can’t have sustainable partnerships with the countries of the South Caucasus because internally there won’t be stability,” he said.
Reflecting on his ambassadorial tenure in Baku, Bryza said that “there is a huge gap” in US policymaking regarding Iran and the South Caucasus, with Iranian experts seemingly ignorant of how their policies might impact those working on Caucasus issues. He went on to note that the United States had missed some “pretty big opportunities” in the Caucasus in recent years.
From Bryza’s perspective, the biggest conundrum in the Caucasus is Nagorno-Karabakh. Solve that, and it could have a positive diplomatic domino effect across the region. Unfortunately, he added, the United States “has lost its way in the last few years,” as the Karabakh peace process took a back seat to the failed Turkish-Armenian normalization effort.
The only way to overcome the current deadlock in Karabakh negotiations is for Washington to focus on the issue and exert pressure on the Armenian and Azeri leaderships.
It’s been over two years since the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks released a trove of once classified US State Department cables. According to the State Department’s former chief spokesman, the WikiLeaks episode had less of an adverse impact than originally feared at the time.