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  • Originally published 07/29/2014

    Cold War Strategies Are Back in Russia's Playbook

    The theory that history unfolds first as a tragedy and then repeats itself as a farce is not always true. Sometimes, history repeats its tragedy all over again, and with the same terrible consequences.

  • Originally published 07/22/2014

    Revanchism and Its Costs

    "Revanchism," from the French word revanche, or revenge, arose in the late 19th century as a description of aggressive political desire to regain territory, possibly by force, lost to another state.

  • Originally published 07/22/2014

    Obama lacks resolve on Ukraine

    "We are seeing more resolve projected from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations than from the Oval Office."

  • Originally published 07/21/2014

    How West should handle Russia

    The actions of the pro-Russian forces, who it appears shot down a civilian airliner, might seem at first glance to be crude and unsophisticated. But in one sense they're on the cutting edge.

  • Originally published 06/20/2014

    Russia’s sacred land

    To understand Crimea, we need an evolutionary theory of national honour. It’s irrational and deadly – but it works.

  • Originally published 05/12/2014

    Russia Revisits Its History to Nail Down Its Future

    A a new law, signed by President Vladimir V. Putin mandates up to five years in jail and heavy fines for anyone who tries to rehabilitate Nazism or denigrate Russia’s World War II record.

  • Originally published 05/09/2014

    What Putin Chooses Not to Know About Russian History

    KGB agents are apparently not taught history, or so it would seem from Vladimir Putin’s recent statement that only “God knows” how a part of southeastern Ukraine ever became part of that country.

  • Originally published 05/07/2014

    The Abuse of History in the Ukrainian Crisis

    By invoking inflammatory slogans like “Putin is Hitler” and “Ukrainians are fascists”, both Russian and western leaders distort the realities of 21st Century Ukraine.

  • Originally published 05/01/2014

    Let the Past Collapse on Time!

    "The swift dismantling of remaining Soviet monuments recently in Ukraine caused me to remember the Dzerzhinsky episode."

  • Originally published 04/28/2014

    Seeds of Discord in Ukraine

    Yes, Ukraine is rife with ethnic and nationalist frictions. But underlying its strife are its wheat fields.

  • Originally published 04/08/2014

    Putin, Man of Mystery? Hardly.

    Putin often speaks quite openly of his motives and values—and opinion polls suggest he is strongly in sync with widespread popular sentiments.

  • Originally published 03/31/2014

    Russian Professor Fired for “Immoral Act” Offered Job by Czechs

    Zubov’s offense was writing an op-ed for the nation’s No. 1 daily newspaper, comparing the actions of Russia’s leader President Vladimir Putin, who bloodlessly annexed Ukraine’s largely Russophone Crimea, with Adolph Hitler, who bloodlessly annexed Germanophone Sudetenland.

  • Originally published 03/27/2014

    Ready for World War III?

    Remember Winston Churchill's key to Russian action: Russian national interest.

  • Originally published 03/25/2014

    Russia's Kosovo-Crimea Analogy is Ridiculous

    Russia justifies its annexation of Crimea by pointing to NATO intervention in Kosovo. But the Kosovo War came after years of international buildup, and Kosovo wasn't annexed by another country immediately afterward.

  • Originally published 03/24/2014

    Enough With the Hitler Analogies

    Our understanding of World War II has been deeply enriched by a memory boom of books and research. The same cannot be said by the Hitler analogy boom.

  • Originally published 03/20/2014

    Cold Man in the Kremlin

    When Putin described the breakup of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century, he meant it.

  • Originally published 03/18/2014

    We Should Keep Out of Ukraine

    Russia has a historic and strategic interest in Ukraine, and short of nuclear war there's nothing the United States can do to keep them out.

  • Originally published 03/16/2014

    Why the West Can’t Save Ukraine

    In this entire affair, there has been just one big surprise: that the U.S. and West Europe failed to see the obvious.

  • Originally published 03/11/2014

    Why Poland Cares So Much About Ukraine

    For the first time in modern history, Poland does not face an existential threat from Russia. But that doesn't mean Poles have forgotten.

  • Originally published 03/11/2014

    History as a Collaborative Effort

    Karen Avrich co-wrote "Sasha and Emma: the Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman" with her late father, Paul Avrich of Queens College.

  • Originally published 03/04/2014

    Crimea, the Tinderbox

    The United States, Russia, and Europe all have interests in forestalling a civil war in Ukraine.

  • Originally published 02/17/2014

    The Real Problem with Putin's Russia: Vodka

    Now that the bear is angry again, let's not lose sight of the fact that Russia faces an almost unprecedented public health crisis due to chronic alcoholism.

  • Originally published 11/03/2013

    Is the Arab World Shifting to Russia?

    In the 1960s, America competed with the Soviet Union for influence in the Arab world. Is it back to the future for diplomacy in the Middle East?

  • Originally published 10/21/2013

    Muslim Russia?

    Muslims may become a demographic majority in twenty-first Russia ... but the Kremlin's xenophobic response isn't helping matters.

  • Originally published 09/25/2013

    How Alcohol Conquered Russia

    A history of the country’s struggle with alcoholism, and why the government has done so little about it.

  • Originally published 09/21/2013

    'History Makers' to Visit 2 IPS High Schools

    History Makers, the United Sates' largest African American video oral history collection, sends community leaders to visit schools in cities like Indianapolis in order to make history both inspiring and more approachable for high school students.

  • Originally published 09/05/2013

    Putin's No Stalin

    Sure, he's a repressive autocrat, but Putin hasn't killed millions of people.

  • Originally published 08/20/2013

    What would compel a black American to move to Stalinist Russia?

    WASHINGTON — The oil painting of a black Russian man lay quietly for years in a back corner of an antique shop in a dingy walking mall in Moscow.Andy Leddy, a white American working on a U.S. government contract for a refugee program in 1992, a year after the Communist Party lost power, pulled the canvas out and unrolled it.“Why would there be a portrait of a black man in Russia?” Leddy recalls thinking. “They treated people of color horribly here. But look at it. It’s heroic and romantic. It is odd to see a black subject in a heroic pose.”The clerks told him the unsigned painting depicted a man named Patterson who had starred in a classic Russian movie, but that was all they could tell him....

  • Originally published 08/07/2013

    Stephen Mihm: A Century of International Potash Intrigue

    Stephen Mihm is an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia and the author, with Nouriel Roubini, of "Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance," and of "A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men and the Making of the United States."In case you didn’t notice, the world’s potash markets went haywire last week, after the announcement that Russia's OAO Uralkali, the world’s largest producer of this crucial ingredient in fertilizer, suspended its participation in an alleged cartel with its long-time Belarus partner Belaruskali. Their joint marketing venture, the Belarusian Potash Co., produced at its peak 40 percent of the world’s potash, with much of the balance coming from Canpotex Ltd., another syndicate based in North America. Together these two set production quotas and divided global markets, ensuring stable prices and steady profits.

  • Originally published 07/31/2013

    Germany still burying Eastern Front dead from WWII

    Germany will open its last big war cemetery in Russia on Saturday, marking the culmination of a huge effort to recover Wehrmacht soldiers killed on its Eastern Front in World War II.By the end of this year, the German war graves commission will have found and reburied a total of 800,000 soldiers in Eastern Europe and Russia since 1992, when the former Eastern bloc countries began helping Germany retrieve the remains of missing soldiers following the end of the Cold War.On Saturday, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière will hold a speech at the inauguration of the new war cemetery at the town of Dukhovschina, near the city of Smolensk in western Russia.....

  • Originally published 07/28/2013

    Threatened avant-garde gem needs … slippers?

    Just steps away from the matryoshka-strewn Old Arbat, where tacky trinkets offer a shallow slice of Russian culture to go, an object of genuine cultural significance is on the brink of destruction.Builders are at work on a multifunctional center with three levels of underground parking, in the process, experts say, endangering a celebrated gem of the Russian avant-garde.The Melnikov House on Krivoarbatsky Pereulok is utterly original. Formed from two intersecting cylinders with over 60 diamond-shaped windows, the house eschews typical horizontal space in favor of a steady spiral upwards: from basic needs on the ground floor, to sleeping and living rooms on the second, to creation in the form of a lofty, radiant studio on the third.Built as a model for mass housing in 1929, the house soon became a refuge for its pioneering designer, Konstantin Melnikov, when Stalinism's conservative turn in the early '30s left the architect unable to teach or practice his craft. Yet even now the unique structure still has an uncertain future....

  • Originally published 07/23/2013

    Cultural heritage activists warn against the destruction of Russian monuments

    Cultural heritage activists in Moscow, St Petersburg and across the rest of Russia are warning that a string of important architectural monuments are falling prey to a dangerous combination of Soviet-style brutality and capitalist greed, and might soon be irrevocably lost.Landmarks such as the Bolkonsky House, which inspired scenes in Leo Tolstoy’s novels, and a seminal 1850s roundhouse railway depot that inspired similar depots in Europe and the US are hanging by a thread, they say, or have, for all practical purposes, been destroyed.Their warning calls also underscore a growing activism, or at least a sense of an active preservationist community linked by social networking resources such as Facebook.When Yevgeny Sosedov—a 25-year-old preservationist who has been battling for years to save Arkhangelskoye, the Yusupov family estate—recently raced to save an historic avenue of linden trees nearby, he was surprised by the intensity of the reaction....

  • Originally published 07/08/2013

    Leslie H. Gelb and Dimitri K. Simes: A New Anti-American Axis?

    Leslie H. Gelb, a former columnist, editor and correspondent for The New York Times, is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Dimitri K. Simes is president of the Center for the National Interest and publisher of its magazine, The National Interest.THE flight of the leaker Edward J. Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow last month would not have been possible without the cooperation of Russia and China. The two countries’ behavior in the Snowden affair demonstrates their growing assertiveness and their willingness to take action at America’s expense.

  • Originally published 06/19/2013

    Russian textbooks to present "balanced" view of Stalin

    ...[New Russian history] guidelines [proposed by Vladimir Putin] ... attempt to paint a “balanced” picture of Stalin’s rule. They describe Stalin as a modernizer who brought about Russia’s ultra-fast industrialization, laid the foundation for the Soviet Union’s scientific achievements and its victory in World War II, but also orchestrated mass purges “to liquidate a potential fifth column” and used forced labor to achieve an economic breakthrough.The soft-lens picture of Stalin is consistent with some of Putin’s utterances on the tyrant. “I very much doubt that had Stalin had the atomic bomb in the spring of 1945, he would have used it on Germany,” Putin said during a recent visit to the state-owned Russia Today TV station.

  • Originally published 06/18/2013

    Facing a dark past in Russia

    IN SOVIET times, it was the ideological caprice of the moment, rather than any open-ended research into the past, that determined how people were taught to view the different phases of their country's history. In the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution, official history lessons denounced the Tsars for their cruel treatment of smaller nations. Then the Russian empire was rehabilitated as a "lesser evil" than its weaker neighbours; and as Stalin's repression reached its height, his regime and its ideological masters began to find merit in the savageries of Ivan the Terrible. There was a sardonic saying that summed up these dizzying fluctuations: "The future is known—it's always bright—but the past keeps changing."  

  • Originally published 05/31/2013

    Perfectly preserved woolly mammoth discovered in Arctic

    MOSCOW — Russian researchers say they have discovered a perfectly preserved woolly mammoth carcass with liquid blood on a remote Arctic island, fueling hopes of cloning the Ice Age animal.They say the frozen remains of a female mammoth were so well-preserved that blood was found in ice cavities when they were broken up.Semyon Grigoryev, the head of the Mammoth Museum who led the expedition, said Thursday the carcass was preserved because its lower part was stuck in pure ice. He said the find could provide scientific material for cloning a mammoth....

  • Originally published 05/23/2013

    Anya Schmemann: Life Under the KGB's Watchful Eye in 1980s Russia

    Anya Schmemann, is the director of editorial strategy, and the director of the task force program, at the Council on Foreign Relations.Last week, Russia expelled an American diplomat, accusing him of being a spy for the CIA. Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said that U.S. Embassy Third Secretary Ryan Fogle had been caught red-handed with disguises, spy equipment, and wads of cash, trying to recruit a Russian agent.The episode -- complete with cheap looking wigs, fake glasses, a compass, a street map, and a laughable "Dear Friend" letter -- seemed straight out of the Cold War.For me, it caused a wave of nostalgia and catapulted me back to the 1980s when I was an expat child in Soviet Russia.Our family moved to Moscow in 1980, at the height of the Cold War, when President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev faced off across a great iron divide. My father was an American reporter, a fluent Russian speaker, the son of a Russian Orthodox priest, and the grandson of White Russian refugees, and he was instantly considered highly suspicious.

  • Originally published 05/21/2013

    Masha Gessen: Are Totalitarianisms Like Snowflakes?

    Masha Gessen is a journalist in Moscow and the author of “The Man Without a Face,” a biography of Vladimir Putin.MOSCOW — Just saying that a Jew should have been made into a lampshade does not make you an anti-Semite, or so a prominent columnist asserted recently. And just because both Nazism and Soviet Communism were totalitarian regimes does not mean they are comparable. Such arguments, counterarguments and variations of them have dominated Russian blogs, social networks and some of the traditional media for the last week.

  • Originally published 05/17/2013

    The Real Problem with Putin's Russia: Vodka

    Now that the bear is angry again, let's not lose sight of the fact that Russia faces an almost unprecedented public health crisis due to chronic alcoholism.

  • Originally published 05/06/2013

    Debate rages in Russia over history textbooks

    As part of his effort to promote patriotism among younger generations of Russians, President Vladimir Putin has proposed creating a single set of history textbooks for schoolchildren, arguing that there should be more consistency in what students are taught and that textbooks should be free of internal contradictions and ambiguities.Speaking at a meeting of the Kremlin council on interethnic relations in February, Putin said textbooks must be "designed for different ages but built around a single concept, with the logical continuity of Russian history, the relationship between the different stages in history, and respect for all the pages of our past." He called for specific proposals to be prepared by November.Advocates of the new textbooks say discord in the historical narrative has brought about a lack of patriotism in the country, while opponents say they fear that failures of state policies will be omitted to promote a more positive image of the country, with the emphasis exclusively on victories and achievements....

  • Originally published 04/19/2013

    Chechyna: What You Need to Know

    Russian artillery bombarding a Chechen village in 2000, during the Second Chechen War. Credit: Wiki Commons.Editor's Note: With the identification of two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings -- Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, killed by police; and his brother Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19 -- as immigrants of Chechen origin, it's worth taking a look back at Chechnya's bloody history.

  • Originally published 03/28/2013

    Sergey Radchenko: Mao and Stalin, Xi and Putin

    Sergey Radchenko is a lecturer at the University of Nottingham, based at the University's China campus in Ningbo, China. He is the author of Two Suns in the Heavens: the Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy, 1962-67 and the forthcoming Unwanted Visionaries: Soviet Failure in Asia at the end of the Cold War. Original declassified documents for this article are provided through the Digital Archive of the History and Public Policy Program at the Wilson Center. In December 1949, Mao Zedong traveled to Moscow, for his first trip abroad. Three months earlier, perched high above a crowd of thousands in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, Mao had announced the founding of the People's Republic of China. The nascent country was yet unformed, and Mao thought it important to ensure that New China would stand on the right side of history: the Communist side. In this, Mao needed Joseph Stalin's blessing and Soviet help.

  • Originally published 03/27/2013

    Russia’s History Is Too Tragic and Its Society Too Complex to Fit into Putin’s Worldview

    A stunning historical discovery was made at the first meeting of the revived Russian Military History Society when President Vladimir Putin asserted that the Bolsheviks used Finnish “armed formations” for executing the coup in October 1917 (Rossiskaya Gazeta, March 14). Even more remarkable was his reinterpretation of the Winter War with Finland (1939–1940) as not an act of aggression aimed at subjugating a neighbor that rejected the Communist model, but merely an attempt to correct earlier mistakes of drawing the border too close to St. Petersburg (Vedomosti, March 14). Putin conceded that the first months of that war were “bloody and inefficient” but concluded on a positive note that necessary forces were eventually mobilized and “everything fell into their right places” so that “the other side felt the entire might of the Russian—then Soviet—state” (RIA Novosti, March 14). This glorification of Stalin’s militaristic expansionism adds only a tiny fresh dose of poison to Russian-Finnish relations, but it speaks volumes about Putin’s perception of the modern world and Russia’s place in it.... 

  • Originally published 03/21/2013

    Best-selling Russian writer turns from crime to history

    MOSCOW — Grigory Chkhartishvili, the best-selling Russian writer known for his detective novels set in imperial Russia (written under the name Boris Akunin), and for his foray into opposition politics directed against Vladimir V. Putin announced that from now on he would devote himself to writing a multivolume history of Russia.“Some writers dream of becoming the new Tolstoy, others the new Chekhov,” he wrote on his blog on Wednesday. “It’s come time to acknowledge that I have always dreamt of becoming the new Karamzin,” he said, referring to Nikolai Karamzin, who wrote an early-19th-century 12-volume “History of the Russian State.” “I am no longer a crime novelist,” he declared....

  • Originally published 03/18/2013

    The Cossacks Are Back. May the Hills Tremble.

    STAVROPOL, Russia — Outside this city’s police headquarters on a recent night, a priest in a purple velvet hat and gold stole moved from one man to the next, offering a cross to be kissed and drenching their faces with holy water from a long brush.And so began another night of law enforcement as Cossacks, the fierce horsemen who once secured the frontier for the Russian empire, marched out to join the police patrolling the city....The Kremlin is dipping into a deep pool of history: Cossacks are revered here for their bravery and pre-modern code of honor, like cowboys in the United States or samurai in Japan. But their legacy is bound up with battle and vigilante-style violence, including campaigns against Turks, Jews and Muslim highlanders.These days men in Cossack uniforms are making appearances all over Russia, carrying out blustery raids of art exhibits, museums and theaters as standard-bearers for a resurgent church. But here on Russia’s southern flank, the Cossack revival is more than an idea. Regional leaders are granting them an increasing role in law enforcement, in some cases explicitly asking them to stem an influx of ethnic minorities, mainly Muslims from the Caucasus, into territory long dominated by Orthodox Slavs....

  • Originally published 03/06/2013

    Soviet Afghan MIA found

    A former Red Army soldier who went missing in action (MIA) in 1980 during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has been found alive almost 33 years after he was rescued by Afghan tribesmen.Now living under the name of Sheikh Abdullah and working as a traditional healer in the Shinand District of Afghanistan, the former Soviet soldier Bakhredtin Khakimov, an ethnic Uzbek, was tracked down by a team from Warriors-Internationalists Affairs Committee, a nonprofit, Moscow-based organization that leads the search for the former Soviet Union's MIAs in Afghanistan....

  • Originally published 03/05/2013

    Stalin theatre show sparks controversy

    A theatrical show at Moscow's Andrei Sakharov Museum about Joseph Stalin — who died 60 years ago today — has sparked criticism from relatives of those who died in the Communist leader's prison camps.Stalin, who led the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953, is being remembered in the exhibition, which features testimony by descendants of officials who were part of his regime. The officials' personal, anonymous accounts are read by actors, and identified only by numbers."My grandfather was in charge of the construction of the Moscow-Volga Canal," reads number 13, alluding to Stalin's giant project in the 1930s built by Gulag prisoners, tens of thousands of whom died in inhumane conditions."It is not good to be a head of a (labour) camp. But my grandfather sincerely believed in his mission . . . In the end, I am not ashamed," the testimony concludes....

  • Originally published 02/22/2013

    Putin's idea to house Jewish collections rejected

    A U.S.-based Jewish group Thursday rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin's suggestion to house disputed historical collections of books and documents at a Jewish museum in Moscow.Nathan Lewin, a lawyer for the Jewish group Chabad, said in a statement provided to The Associated Press that Chabad is the rightful owner and Putin's proposal is not acceptable.

  • Originally published 02/15/2013

    Russia's Other Meteor Explosions

    The Internet is ablaze today* over astounding pictures and video from Chelyabinsk†, a mid-sized city in Russia's Ural Mountains about a hundred miles from the border with Kazakhstan, which show what appears to be a flaming meteorite streaking across the sky before exploding at high altitude (for the latest updates on this story, check out Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog over at Slate). The brilliance of the object as it moved across the sky rivaled the sun, and the shock wave from the explosion below out windows in the city below, causing over 1,000 injuries.This video shows the course of the fireball across the sky:Another video, taken from a car dashboard cam:And this video, shot a few moments later, features at the 27-second mark the massive shock wave that broke thousands of windows across the region:

  • Originally published 02/07/2013

    90-year-old Russian WWII veteran tells of horrors and heroics during the Battle of Stalingrad

    MOSCOW –  The Soviet soldiers used their own bodies as shields, covering women and children escaping on ferry boats from a Nazi bombardment that killed 40,000 civilians in a single day. It was the height of the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the bloodiest conflicts of World War II."They were all hit in the back," said 90-year-old Alexei Stefanov. "But they did not flee."Stefanov is among the few surviving veterans of the battle, which claimed 2 million lives and raged for nearly 200 days before the Red Army turned back the Nazi forces, decisively changing the course of the war. Russia celebrates the 70th anniversary of that victory on Saturday, with President Vladimir Putin taking part in ceremonies in Volgograd, the current name of the city in southern Russia that stretches along the western bank of the Volga River....

  • Originally published 02/06/2013

    Is Turkey Leaving the West?

    Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Credit: Wiki Commons.Originally posted on DanielPipes.orgRecent steps taken by the government of Turkey suggest it may be ready to ditch the NATO club of democracies for a Russian and Chinese gang of authoritarian states.Here is the evidence:

  • Originally published 01/23/2013

    Oleg Kashin: A Cold Shoulder for Russian Dissidents

    Oleg Kashin is a correspondent and columnist for the magazine Russian Life. This article was translated by Steven Seymour from the Russian.LAST week, Alexander Dolmatov, an activist in a political party opposed to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, committed suicide at a detention center in the Netherlands. He had fled Russia last June, hoping to be granted political asylum. When his application was denied, he took his life — the only way to guarantee that he would not be deported home and, most likely, face time in prison.A Dutch official said “the asylum denial is not the reason for his suicide,” citing a note Mr. Dolmatov, who was 36, left behind. In that note, which Mr. Dolmatov’s mother shared with me, he expressed regret for “having brought shame on everybody.” However, his lawyer has said that Mr. Dolmatov might have written the note under duress. Mr. Dolmatov’s mother has asked the Dutch government for an investigation.

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    Mark N. Katz: Leaving Syria Ship Before It Sinks?

    Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia, USA), and is the author of Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan (Johns Hopkins University Press).(CNN) -- As numerous news organizations have reported, Russia has sent two planes so that about 100 of its citizens who want to can leave Syria. Tellingly, the planes were not sent to Damascus where the security situation around the airport has reportedly deteriorated, but to Beirut instead to which the Russians departing Syria traveled by bus.In its characteristic fashion, the Russian government has denied that this is an evacuation. An unnamed Russian diplomat in Damascus, though, did not rule out the possibility of further flights. Russian naval exercises in the Mediterranean may also be the prelude to a seaborne evacuation from the Syrian coast.

  • Originally published 02/02/2011

    Elena Milashina: The Roots of Moscow's Chechen Problem

    Ms. Milashina, an investigative journalist for Novaya Gazeta, is a recipient of Human Rights Watch's 2010 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism. The terrorist attack at Domodedovo airport last week, likely organized by Islamists from the North Caucasus, claimed 35 lives. Less than a year ago, 40 people died in the March 2010 bombing of the Moscow metro, also carried out by Chechen Islamists. Prior to the metro attack there hadn't been a bombing in Moscow for nearly six years. In the summer of 2004, militants acting on orders of Chechen leader Shamil Basayev, organized a series of terrorist attacks in several Russian cities. The culmination of these attacks was the seizure of a school in the small Ossetian city of Beslan in September 2004. When Russian troops stormed the school, 333 hostages died, including 186 children. Anna Politkovskaya, my courageous colleague from Novaya Gazeta, was supposed to be the reporter covering the Beslan hostage story. However, she was poisoned by Russian special services on her way to the region. So I was sent instead. In 2004, Basayev's bargaining chip was Ossetian children: He demanded that the Kremlin release a group of Chechen separatists, and, more importantly, he demanded recognition of Chechnya's independence and a complete cease-fire in exchange for the lives of the hostages.

  • Originally published 04/18/2010

    A Brief History of Chechen Terrorism

    Emergency responders at the site of the 2010 Moscow Metro bombing.Editor's Note: This article was originally titled "Female Suicide Bombers are Nothing New." The Moscow Metro bombing detailed in the article was the second most recent Chechen terrorist attack in Moscow -- the most recent was the Domodedovo International Airport bombing in 2011, which killed 37 people.

  • Originally published 08/03/2009

    Russia: The Aggrieved Great Power

    Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia turned into an aggrieved colossus -- anxious to restore its status as a world power.

  • Originally published 05/09/2014

    The War Against the Nazis: A Source of Cold War Antagonism and Current Superpower Conflict

    For the U.S. and Russia, the two superpowers who have taken such an “interest” in Ukraine’s political turmoil, the Second World War could be upheld as a past example of successful diplomacy and as a model for future collaboration in resolving today’s crisis. After all, it stands for a moment when East and West worked together – as part of the “Big Three” coalition of the U.S., Great Britain, and the USSR – to bring down Adolf Hitler. Yet even the initial V-E Day in May of 1945 was an imperfect joint triumph, one marred by troubling indications of just how quickly a U.S.-Russian alliance could dissolve and one global cataclysm spill into another.

  • Originally published 04/24/2014

    Is the Only Solution for Ukraine an Appalling One?

    CLICK HERE TO READ "Only an Appalling Solution in Ukraine?"Even if mountains of cold hard cash were at hand, Ukraine will never make it, without more middle ground being found among the country's main superpower patrons. And quickly! 

  • Originally published 04/24/2014

    Ukraine Crisis in Russia

    This Is Crazy: Travels to Russia (Part One) 22. April 2014 Nothing like a shot of adrenaline, when suffering from jet lag. After arriving in St. Petersburg on Tuesday (coincidentally the 144th birthday of Vladimir Lenin), I crashed for 12 hours, only to wake up, groggy, to television headlines proclaiming: 1. Ukraine has turned off all water supplies to the peninsula of Crimea (which run through the North Crimean canal, normally at 50 cubic meters per second). TV and internet news sites in Russian are showing pictures of empty canal trenches and calling such actions "inhuman." 2. Ukraine has started a second round of military "special operations" in the East which the U.S is supporting. (This report plays on the one remaining independent Russian cable TV station Dozhd -- "Rain" -- that has been dropped by major satellite carriers in recent months, only to be handed a potential olive branch by Vladimir Putin at his news conference on 17. April. So is the story true? Or is it one more shaped to please the Russian government, as part of a peace-making quid-pro-quo -- Dozhd survives, but they do a better job of towing the official line?) On second thought, I'm confused - did I really hear that at all? My Russian "second family," people who have known me for 20 years, are all talking, loudly, in one tiny little kitchen, over the already-loud TV and as the report goes on, it's easy to get confused. "How did you sleep?" "What do you want to drink, tea or coffee?" "Don't bother her Sergei, she's working." "Was it too cold last night?" "Sergei, I told you that shelf is too low, she keeps hitting it with her head.""Eat, you have to eat." "Ummm, " I ask, shaking my head to clear it. "Did they just say the U.S. is directing military actions in East Ukraine?" "Well, they could have said it!" answered my Russian dad without missing a beat. "Because it's true!" There followed an animated discussion about the surreptitious visit of CIA Director John Brennan to Kiev earlier this month, with Brennan allegedly flying in under an assumed name and flying out the next day, apparently just before Ukraine announced its first "anti-terrorist campaign" against eastern separatists. Now THAT story made me laugh. Until I checked it on the internet, and found out that the CIA had confirmed the visit "as part of pre-scheduled trip to Europe." Dang - a hundred stories about Ukraine a day, and that's the one I miss. [CLICK HERE TO READ MORE]

  • Originally published 03/18/2014

    Crimea: Power on Display

    With Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to annex Crimea, we are witnessing a grand act of political theater.

  • Originally published 03/16/2014

    Not "Back in the USSR"

    Twenty years ago, when I was learning Russian one summer in St. Petersburg, I managed to lure both my best friend from college and my little sister from my local host family on a spontaneous and, in hindsight, somewhat ill-conceived trip to the middle of Siberia. -- Excerpt from our newest blogger, Cynthia Hooper.

  • Originally published 10/25/2013

    Unpacking the Arab Uprisings (Part 2)

    Figuring out the cause of the uprising is different from why it's perpetuated. I return to this blog after a break, with delight. I would like to continue the unpacking I started in the first post (here) by addressing a methodological point about the question causality. We need to separate the question of causality into two parts, in the Syrian and other cases: 1) What caused the uprising? And 2) What perpetuates the uprising? The answers are different. The first deals primarily with local factors and the second with a combination of factors tilting towards external ones. Even in dealing with the first question of causes, we must separate the structural from the circumstantial, by separating between the large structural reservoir of causes that built over time and the immediate causes that instigated social mobilization on a large scale. Syria, is a good case here. Herein, I will address the question of structural causes. The question of what instigated the uprising is less complex, and merits a detailed treatment once more information is available, though the facts are not too controversial. Inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian experiences just one to two months prior, the narrative of the young kids who called for the regime’s fall on the walls of their school in Der`a constituted the first flame that ignited the heap of hay accumulating for decades. Surely, the local strongmen’s brutal response guaranteed the wider mobilization there at first, but it was bound to happen after a few such dissenting attempts. The same incident, if it had occurred one year prior, would have fizzled out within days, if not less. However, the regional domino effect and the continuing collective focus on the broader context gave that incident prominence while changing the calculus of individuals vis-à-vis the risk and potential success of taking to the streets en mass, especially in the more rural areas and small towns. The rest is bloody history. The set of structural causes that I would like to highlight, beyond the constant factor of repression, relate to political-economic factors that have engulfed Syria since 1986, when the regime effectively began shifting its social and political alliances from labor to business. Namely, I am referring to the growing relationship in the past few decades between the political and economic elite in Syria, and its continued policy implications for nearly twenty-five years. This new nexus of power pervades most global political economies but produces deleterious effects to the extent that the context allows. In many developing countries, including Syria, it is associated with the protracted process related to the unraveling of the state-centered economy, which also constitutes the rolling back of redistributive policies on which the masses increasingly relied in the absence of economic growth. I must caution in the same breath against the emphasis on such factors as singular causes for the uprisings, in Syria or elsewhere. Instead, I address this factor as a central one, not the only, one. Thus, this cannot be a comprehensive account of structural causes. Politically, the new nexus of power between the political and economic elite in Syria seems to have buttressed authoritarian rule in Syria over the past two decades, whether or not other factors contributed to this outcome. This is not simply a function of “support” for the status quo by beneficiary elites, for this is the norm nearly everywhere. It is also a form of legitimation of a changing status quo because the corollary of this particular nexus of power involves various forms of “liberalization” or state retreat: this includes a “budding,” “growing,” or seemingly “vibrant” civil society that may be considered a sign of political “opening;” a “freer” economic environment in which the state gives up its monopoly over some sectors of the economy; and a large “private” sector that purportedly grows at the expense of the state-run “public” sector, giving way to a broader dispersion of resources with economically democratizing effects. Though these outcomes are pleasing to some external actors (including that amorphous conception, “the international community”), they are not felt in any positive manner by the overwhelming majority of the population, who must fend for themselves as public provisions, jobs, and welfare dwindle. Quite the contrary, the majority of the Syrian people have seen their fortunes decline with the deepening of this alliance between state and big business since the mid 1980s.

  • Originally published 09/04/2013

    Stop Thinking of Only the "Arab World"

    For now, most serious treatments of the Arab uprisings will remain inadequate from a historical perspective, including this one! The first objective is to avoid the outlandish or lazy analytical treatments that proceed from some idiosyncratic political or cultural essence, and/or those monist approaches that reduce outcomes to one variable.