By Dr. Frederick Starr

May 9, 2023

19fortyfive.com

Even as their government prepares them for the shock of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, most Russians continue to endorse Putin’s imperial dream. Why do the overwhelming majority of older Russians not only accept but support their country’s war on Ukraine? The common answer is that they have no choice: the authorities, with backing from the FSB, have systematically identified and punished those who engage in public acts of disloyalty. Under such circumstances, who would dare protest?

Russians are hostage to Putin’s Kremlin. Period. 

Those seeking a silver lining are quick to point to the existence of underground opposition groups who have torched factories and public buildings. But which of those many conflagrations were the work of Russians themselves, as opposed to Ukrainian saboteurs? We won’t know this unless and until the Ukrainian army emerges victorious. For now, however, even the existence of a small but active Russian fifth column does not refute the fact that the Russian populace remains passive, even as tens of thousands of their brothers and husbands return from Ukraine in caskets. 

But are they merely passive? Even after a year of war, credible Russian opinion researchers and bloggers affirm the presence of millions of what Russians call “hurrah patriots.” These zealots go far beyond the dictates of mere survival to mouth the Kremlin’s slogans. Granted, such zealots tend to be older, but many younger Russians sing in the same key. This brings us back to why so many Russians not only accept but support their country’s war on Ukraine?

Those who study Russia give short shrift to the psychological impact of imperialism on the Russian masses. Topics like centralized planning, the mega-industries that dominate the economy, ideology, and corruption have rightly garnered attention. But largely neglected is the state of mind fostered by imperial rule and its hold over the populace.  This may be one the most enduring legacies of Lenin, Stalin, and their successors. 

Forty years ago a brilliant writer from Soviet Kyrgyzstan, Chingiz Aitmatov (1928-2008), laid out the impact of authoritarianism on individual psyches in a bone-chilling novel, A Day Lasts More than A Hundred Years. The work blends such unlikely ingredients as the mythic past, Soviet rule, and intergalactic space. Yet its plot is simple. In ancient times an invading warrior tribe takes captive a Central Asian resistance fighter. As they do with all of their captives, the conquering tribesmen subject him to a harrowing process, binding his head in a cap made from the skin of a freshly slaughtered goat.  The hat gradually shrinks, causing unbearable pain, which few survived. When the cap is finally removed, the victim has lost all consciousness of himself as a human being, his family, his entire people, and their past. His captors called such transformed beings “Mankurts,” zombies, who have been stripped of their individual and collective memories. The Mankurt is now entirely at his captors’ mercy, a slave without past or future, who meekly does whatever they demand of him.  

Surprisingly, the official journal Novyi Mir published this disturbing story in 1980, as Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s reign sank into terminal stagnation. A decade later, on the eve of the collapse of the USSR, Aitmatov teamed up with director Hojaguly Nariyew from Turkmenistan  to turn the Mankurt story into an acclaimed film. Aitmatov got away with this because his international renown rendered him untouchable. It helped that he had been an officer of the Writers’ Union of the USSR and a member of the Supreme Soviet. 

Soon all those who had suffered under Russian rule —Ukrainians, Balts, Tatars, Chechens, and the peoples of Central Asia and the Caucasus — were asking themselves whether they, too, had not been Mankurtized. The collapse of the Communist Party and the USSR itself opened the door to remedial actions. Leaders of the newly independent states understood that the best antidote to Mankurtism was to revive their national memory and identity. 

Activists and scholars turned out books and films on heroic moments in their national pasts that Moscow had suppressed. Uzbeks reclaimed the memory of the Jadids, educational modernizers of the early 1900s who embraced modern knowledge, only to be exterminated by the Communists. Kyrgyz recovered memory of the 1916 Urkun, the mass revolt against the Tsar’s 1916 draft that left 220,000 Kyrgyz dead. Kazakhs wrote about the horrific Moscow-induced famine of 1930-1933 that killed two out of five Kazakhs. Tajiks honored the memory of the Basmachi, anti-Communist partisans who took to the mountains after 1917. And across the Caucasus the new leaders honored the national governments that had emerged briefly after World War I, only to be cut down by the Red Army. Ukrainians also participated in this movement by documenting the “extermination famine” (Holodomor) of 1932-1933 that took some 3.9 million lives, and when they celebrated the anti-Communist partisans who fought Moscow for a decade after the end of World War II. 
 

In all the newly independent states this passion for national recovery was genuine and deep. But did this process also take place in Russia? Conscientious Russians like Andrei Sakharov toiled to rehabilitate long-reviled figures and movements from their own past. But their effort was only one element of what took place after the collapse of 1991 and, in light of subsequent events, the less consequential part. For the past that Russian reformers sought to reclaim was not sufficiently compelling to resist a counter-movement from those who still sought to rule through Mankurtism. Leading this powerful current were the FSB (KGB) and the Russian army, both of which survived the collapse of the USSR.  Beginning even before his appointment as president in 1999, KGB veteran Vladimir Putin was maneuvering to place himself at the head of these neo-imperial forces.  

Putin realized that autocracy and the Soviet imperial idea had deep roots not only in governmental, legal, and educational institutions, but in the psyches of ordinary citizens. Its legacy is like a hangover, but one that can be passed down, even to those who did not drink it in at the source. Yet to acknowledge that Mankurtism maintained its grip on millions of Russians is not to explain why it persisted. Nor can its survival be attributed solely to Putin and publicists like the fanatical Alexander Dugin. Nor does it suffice to say simply that millions of Russians had internalized it. How did Germans and Japanese who had internalized their leaders’ fascism emancipate themselves after 1945, when so many Russians after 1991 failed to do so? 

The ominous combination of passivity and chauvinism evinced by so many Russians today has far deeper roots in Russian society and history. Down to 1861 fully 80% of all Russians were serfs, under the strict control of landlords or the state. This form of slavery meant they were tied to the land but could be sold at will. Following Russia’s defeat in the first Crimean War of 1853-1856, Tsar Alexander II abolished serfdom in 1861 (two years before Lincoln’s emancipation of America’s slaves), thus removing what his father had called “a gunpowder magazine beneath the state.” But even though serfs gained certain freedoms, they were still confined to their communal villages and obliged to make pay reparation to the state for another forty-six years.  Making matters worse, in 1928 Stalin re-collectivized the entire Russian peasantry, converting them once more to the status of serfs, this time of the Communist state. In other words, most Russians knew even partial freedom for only two decades prior to recent times.
 

All of Russia’s great writers, and many foreigners, have written about the impact of serfdom and the village commune on the Russian psyche.  Some idealized the peasantry and their village communes, defending them as the keeper of the nation’s values. Others attacked them both, identifying them as the source of Russia’s backwardness, its alienation from Europe, and of a national psychology based on dependence, subservience to Moscow, and disengagement from civic life. Recent studies affirm this latter view.   

This is not to say that all Russians suffer from this psychology. Quite the contrary. Russia’s independent-minded intelligentsia has enriched the nation’s culture and European civilization as a whole. Where would we all be without Pushkin, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Tsvetaeva, Mandelshtam, or Pasternak; without Mendeleev, and Kapitsa; or without Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev? However, for all its achievements, Russia’s intelligentsia has always existed more as a separate stratum of Russian life than as an emanation of the society as a whole. 

It is this separation that may account for the persistence of the psychology of serfdom/slavery—call it Mankurtism– among the Russian populace at large. It has survived tsarism, Communism, and even the massive urbanization that has recently taken place. This deeply rooted identity of dependency does not prevent Russians from living good lives, from being resourceful and productive, from laughing, or appreciating the beauties of nature. But it enables those at the top, if they are so inclined, to play upon and manipulate the mass of people.  It may explain the passivity we see among so many Russians today, and the success with which Vladimir Putinhas been able to manipulate the public mood so as to support his backward-looking wars of conquest. 

Will this ever change? Modern communications, expanded travel, and the passage of time may erode this psychology of dependence. But modern life alone will not bring about its demise. Progress will depend also on fundamental political and legal reforms, the transformation of Russia’s schools and, above all, universal civic education. These are all tasks that only Russians themselves can perform. Whether and how they chose to do so will depend on how Putin’s war against Ukraine ends.  Meanwhile, well-wishers abroad can provide ideas but not money tied with  “conditions” on its use,  which fatally tainted such efforts after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. 

Frederick Starr is Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.

Published in Staff Publications

By Dr. Frederick Starr

May 8, 2023

 U.S. Policy in Central Asia through Central Asian Eyes

 "Today both the countries of Central Asia and the U.S. itself face unprecedented challenges at the global and national levels... It is important for Washington to know how its positions and actions are perceived by the which2206-Starr-2 they are directed. Official statements by Central Asian governments and on-the-record comments by their officials touch on this question but cannot answer it, for they often gloss over the officials’ real concerns or present them in such watered-down generalities as to render them unrecognizable. In an effort to gain a better understanding of how Central Asian governments perceive American policies we have therefore turned to the Central Asians themselves, including senior officials, diplomats, business people, local policy experts, journalists, and leaders of civil society organizations. In all, we have conducted some fifty interviews. All our subjects spoke on the condition of strict anonymity and “not for attribution.

We have been impressed not only with the candor of our interviewees but also the positive spirit in which they made their comments... Even those most critical of American positions saw the possibility of positive change and looked forward to improved and deepened relations with America in days to come. And all acknowledged that the need for change is on both sides, theirs as well as ours."

 

Click here to read the full article (PDF)

S. Frederick Starr, Ph.D., is the founding chairman of the Central Asia- Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, and a Distinguished Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.

 

 

Published in Staff Publications

By Dr. S. Frederick Starr

May 8, 2023

U.S. Policy in Central Asia through Central Asian Eyes

 "Today both the countries of Central Asia and the U.S. itself face unprecedented challenges at the global and national levels... It is important for Washington to know how its positions and actions are perceived by the countries2206-Starrtowards which they are directed. Official statements by Central Asian governments and on-the-record comments by their officials touch on this question but cannot answer it, for they often gloss over the officials’ real concerns or present them in such watered-down generalities as to render them unrecognizable. In an effort to gain a better understanding of how Central Asian governments perceive American policies we have therefore turned to the Central Asians themselves, including senior officials, diplomats, business people, local policy experts, journalists, and leaders of civil society organizations. In all, we have conducted some fifty interviews. All our subjects spoke on the condition of strict anonymity and “not for attribution.

We have been impressed not only with the candor of our interviewees but also the positive spirit in which they made their comments... Even those most critical of American positions saw the possibility of positive change and looked forward to improved and deepened relations with America in days to come. And all acknowledged that the need for change is on both sides, theirs as well as ours."

 

Click here to read the full article (PDF)

 S. Frederick Starr, Ph.D., is the founding chairman of the Central Asia- Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, and a Distinguished Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.

 

 

Thursday, 30 March 2023 16:51

Promise and Peril in the Caucasus

By Svante Cornell

March 30, 2023

https://www.afpc.org/publications/articles/promise-and-peril-in-the-caucasus

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On January 27th, a gunman entered Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran, Iran, killed the embassy security officer and wounded two others. The episode received only fleeting coverage in the international media. In the wake of the incident, Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, openly accused “some of the branches of the Iranian establishment” of being responsible for the attack, and Baku promptly evacuated its embassy staff and dependents. It was a clear sign of the frictions between Azerbaijan and its not-so-friendly neighbor, Iran. 

To be sure, relations between the two countries had deteriorated sharply since the fall of 2020, when Azerbaijan, using mainly Turkish and Israeli weaponry, succeeded in taking back territories long occupied by regional rival Armenia. In that conflict, Iran had played a distinctly unhelpful role, seeking to stall Azerbaijan’s military advances and providing covert support for Armenia. But the incident itself, as well as its fallout, is indicative of a larger realignment of power politics now underway in Eurasia – one with immense implications for U.S. interests. 

Over the past two years, regional events have highlighted the importance of the Caucasus, the narrow isthmus between Iran and Russia that connects Europe to Central Asia through the Black and Caspian seas. America’s ill-conceived withdrawal from Afghanistan shut down hopes that landlocked Central Asian states would be able to open transport routes through that country, thereby connecting to the Indian subcontinent and the Indian ocean. Then, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine abruptly shut down the land transport corridor linking China to Europe through Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus. Suddenly, the only land route linking China and Central Asia to Europe is the one that passes through the Caucasus.

But while America has paid increasing attention to Central Asia in recent years – Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the region in February – it has all but ignored the three countries of the Caucasus. This, in spite of the region’s growing importance in relation to Central Asia, and to the countering of Iran.

Indeed, the Caucasus is a region where alignments don’t fit easily into preconceived notions. Iran has supported Christian Armenia against Muslim Azerbaijan, largely because up to a third of Iran’s own population consists of Turkic-speaking Azerbaijanis, whom Iran fears may seek to separate and join up with their northern brethren. Conversely, Israel has developed strong relations with Azerbaijan, capitalizing on the staunchly secular nature of Azerbaijani society and its government’s efforts to promote inter-religious harmony. Israeli drone technology, for instance, was critical to Azerbaijan’s victory in the 2020 war.

Turkey’s shift has been dramatic, too. A decade ago, Islamist impulses led the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to pursue an accommodation with Iran while expanding the country’s stature in the Middle East. Turkey’s support for political Islam, in turn, led to the collapse of its relations with Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But the war in Syria put Turkey and Iran on a collision course, while changing domestic politics over the past half decade have led Istanbul to adopt a foreign and security policy heavily influenced by the nationalist (rather than Islamist) preferences.

As a result, Turkey has mended fences with Arab nations and with Israel – a process that has been facilitated by Azerbaijan, which managed to keep excellent relations with both Jerusalem and Ankara throughout. More important, from an American perspective, is the fact that Ankara has emerged as the strongest regional counterweight to Iran. Last December, the Turkish defense minister supervised joint military exercises along the Azerbaijani border with Iran, responding to drills that Tehran had organized only weeks prior in which Iranian forces practiced an invasion of Azerbaijan. Turkey and Azerbaijan now have a defense pact – something that has enabled Baku to speak up against Tehran in ways that were unthinkable a year ago.

Then there is Armenia. While Turkey and Azerbaijan are joining forces with Israel to counter Tehran, Yerevan finds itself stuck in an entente with both Tehran and Moscow dating back to the 1990s. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has making noises about escaping Russia’s orbit of late, launching overtures to the U.S. and the European Union. But Russian influence in Armenia’s national security bureaucracy remains strong, as does Russian ownership of critical infrastructure in the country. More worrying is the fact that Armenia appears to have played a critical role in Iran’s transfer of drones and missiles to Russia for its war in Ukraine. 

In the middle of it all is Georgia, previously America’s closest partner in the region. But in recent years, Georgia’s government – now under the control of a shadowy tycoon who made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s – has become increasingly skeptical of the West.

America’s national security bureaucracy separates the Caucasus and the Middle East into different bureaus, with Central Asia in yet another office. This is part of the reason the U.S. has failed to respond to the ways in which the regional politics of these regions intertwine. In view of the challenges posed by Russia and Iran, however, Washington’s confusion is no longer tenable. It is in America’s interest to encourage Turkey’s emergence as a counterweight to Iran, and to nurture the growing alignment between Ankara, Baku and Jerusalem. The U.S. also needs to work to recover its influence in Georgia, as well as to reinforce the efforts it began in late 2022 to bring about a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. All of the above, however, requires a much stronger American commitment to the security and stability of the countries of the Caucasus.

Svante E. Cornell is the Director of AFPC’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute.

 

Click here to download publication PDF

Published in Staff Publications

By Svante Cornell

December 22, 2022

https://www.19fortyfive.com/2022/12/joe-bidens-approach-to-eurasia-is-stuck-in-the-past/

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With considerable pomp and circumstance, the Biden administration recently unveiled its signature National Security Strategy. The document, intended as an authoritative expression of the Administration’s priorities in the field of foreign affairs, pays extensive attention to the great power challenges posed by China and Russia, framing them as the greatest threats to contemporary American security.

Yet, in spite of this, the new Biden strategy pays scant attention to the region located between those two Eurasian behemoths – Central Asia – or to the countries that reside in it.

This makes no sense. If the U.S. aspires to answer the challenges posed by Russia and China, how can it ignore the part of the world where those two powers meet? Chinese and/or Russian domination of Central Asia would effectively enable powers hostile to the United States to connect southward and westward to South Asia and the Middle East, and thus shift the balance of power on the entire Eurasian continent. This would empower their partner, Iran, and lead hesitant or wayward American partners (such as Turkey and India) to reconsider their loyalties. Moreover, if it is locked out of Central Asia, America’s ability to respond to crises on the Eurasian continent would be diminished. This would stand in stark contrast to September 2001, when the U.S. was able to rapidly mount a campaign against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan from bases in Central Asia.

Biden, though, is hardly unique. He joins a long list of presidents who have proven unable to approach Central Asia strategically. There are probably many reasons for this dysfunction, but at its root lies a conceptual problem: U.S. policymakers have historically been unable to decide where the region fits in their mental map of the world.

The different iterations of the National Security Strategy, or NSS, provide ample evidence of this. The first NSS to mention Central Asia is the 2006 version, issued by the George W. Bush Administration. Under the novel heading of “South and Central Asia,” an explicit effort to center U.S. policy on Afghanistan, it termed the region “an enduring priority for our foreign policy.” By contrast, the Obama administration’s first NSS, published four years later, did not so much as mention Central Asia. Obama’s second, in 2015, made an oblique reference to the region in a passage on India and Pakistan. Central Asia reappeared in the Trump administration’s 2018 NSS, again under a “South and Central Asia” heading, with the emphasis being on counterterrorism and building a region “resilient against domination by rival powers.” But the Biden administration’s NSS inexplicably puts Central Asia at the very end of the “Europe” heading.

These shifts mirror fluctuations in the U.S. national security bureaucracy. The Bush administration’s National Security Council put Central Asia together with South Asia, paralleling the new Bureau of South and Central Asian affairs at the State Department. But the Obama NSC put Central Asia under the Senior Director for Russian Affairs. Trump then moved it back to South Asia. Biden, like Obama, has again placed Central Asia under Russia. But these changes were not echoed at the State Department. Thus, for most of the past two decades, the NSC and the State Department have treated Central Asia as part of different continents. It’s a small wonder, therefore, that America has failed to develop a coherent approach to the region.

This disconnect has real-world consequences. Most glaringly, Central Asia has been missing from America’s policies to counter nefarious Chinese activities in Asia – perhaps because the Obama and Biden administrations did not even see it as part of Asia. Never mind that Chinese President Xi Jinping announced his flagship Belt & Road Initiative in the capital of Kazakhstan in 2013, and made the region the destination of his first foreign trip after his two-year, COVID-induced isolation.

The Biden NSS emphasizes its support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Central Asian states. But it fails to mention security matters in its policy prescriptions for the region. By contrast, the document’s approach to the Middle East reassures that “the United States will support and strengthen partnerships with countries that subscribe to the rules-based international order, and we will make sure those countries can defend themselves against foreign threats.” Such language would have been quite appropriate for Central Asia as well, signaling a real commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity.

This tepid state of affairs is no longer tenable if indeed it ever was. It is high time for the U.S. government to finally make a lasting determination on how it views Central Asia’s role in connection to America’s interests concerning China, Russia, Europe, and the Middle East. It is time for the United States to finally view Central Asia in its own right, rather than as an appendix to something else. Doing so means engaging actively on security matters in the region, deepening political and economic dialogues with regional states, and more adroitly countering Moscow and Beijing’s overtures there.

Heads of State from Japan, India, Turkey, and South Korea have all visited Central Asia in recent years, showing their understanding of the region’s growing importance. In October, the European Union raised its own level of interaction with Central Asia to the same level. Meanwhile, Central Asia has never been visited by a U.S. President. The sooner this changes, the sooner America will be able to truly confront Russian and Chinese influence in one of the world’s most critical regions.

Svante E. Cornell joined the American Foreign Policy Council as Senior Fellow for Eurasia in January 2017. He also serves as the Director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, and a co-founder of the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. His main areas of expertise are security issues, state-building, and transnational crime in Southwest and Central Asia, with a specific focus on the Caucasus and Turkey. He is the Editor of the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, the Joint Center’s bi-weekly publication, and of the Joint Center’s Silk Road Papers series of occasional papers.

 

 

Published in Staff Publications

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  • ASIA Spotlight with Prof. S. Frederick Starr on Unveiling Central Asia's Hidden Legacy
    Thursday, 28 December 2023 00:00

    On December 19th, 2023, at 7:30 PM IST, ASIA Spotlight Session has invited the renowned Prof. S Fredrick Starr, who elaborated on his acclaimed book, "The Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane." Moderated by Prof. Amogh Rai, Research Director at ASIA, the discussion unveiled the fascinating, yet lesser-known narrative of Central Asia's medieval enlightenment.

    The book sheds light on the remarkable minds from the Persianate and Turkic peoples, spanning from Kazakhstan to Xinjiang, China. "Lost Enlightenment" narrates how, between 800 and 1200, Central Asia pioneered global trade, economic development, urban sophistication, artistic refinement, and, most importantly, knowledge advancement across various fields. Explore the captivating journey that built a bridge to the modern world.

    To know watch the full conversation: #centralasia #goldenage #arabconquest #tamerlane #medievalenlightment #turkish #economicdevelopment #globaltrade

    Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

  • Some Lessons for Putin from Ancient Rome
    Thursday, 04 January 2024 17:01
    By S. Frederick Starr 
    American Purpose
    January 4, 2024
     
    Vladimir Putin, having sidelined or destroyed all his domestic opponents, real or imagined, now surrounds himself with Romano-Byzantine pomp and grandeur. The theatrical civic festivals, processions of venerable prelates, cult of statues, embarrassing shows of piety, endless laying of wreaths, and choreographed entrances down halls lined with soldiers standing at attention—all trace directly back to czarism, to Byzantine Constantinople, and ultimately to imperial Rome. Indeed, Putin considers himself as Russia’s new “czar,” the Russified form of the Latin “Caesar.”
     
    But besides all the parallel heroics, Roman history offers profound lessons for today’s world. All of America’s Founders saw the Roman Republic as the best model for their own constitution. Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler, by contrast, found in imperial Rome a stunning model for their own grandeur. True, some of Rome’s ancient chroniclers, including the celebrated Livy, so admired specific politicians that they saw only their good sides and ignored the problems and failures. Yet there were others, notably the pessimistic Sallust, who not only wrote bluntly of history’s painful issues but delved deep into their causes and consequences.
     
    Is Putin likely to delve into the history of Rome for insights on his own situation? Unfortunately for Russia, Putin is not a reader, preferring instead to engage in exhibitionist athletic activities, preside at solemn ceremonies, or offer avuncular obiter dicta. However, if he would study the Roman past, he might come to realize that that model presents more than a few chilling prospects that he will ignore at his peril.
     
    To take but one example, a glance at Roman history would remind Putin that self-declared victories may not be as victorious as he and Kremlin publicists want to think. Back in the 3rd century B.C., when Rome was still a small state in central Italy, it was attacked by a certain King Pyrrhus, a rival ruler from Epirus, a region along today’s border between Greece and Albania. In his first battles Pyrrhus routed the Roman legions, and celebrated accordingly. But matters did not end there.
     
    Like Pyrrhus, Putin’s army scored some early victories in its war on Ukraine. As recently as December 1, Putin’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu was still claiming, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that Russian forces “were advancing on all fronts.” Pyrrhus made similar false claims, only to discover that his own soldiers were no match for the determined Romans. As the Romans drove Pyrrhus’ army from the field, he groused, “If we win one more such victory against the Romans we will be utterly ruined,” which is exactly what happened. Pyrrhus’ statement gave Romans the term “Pyrrhic victory,” which we still use today. Putin should apply it to his “victories” at Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
     
    Another crisis in Rome’s early formation as a nation occurred when a peasant uprising threatened Rome itself and, according to the historian Livy, caused panic in the Roman capital. In desperation, the elders turned to Lucius Cincinnatus, who was neither a military man nor a professional politician, but who had earned respect as an effective leader. It took Cincinnatus only fifteen days to turn the tide, after which he returned to his farm. George Washington rightly admired Cincinnatus and consciously emulated him, returning after the Battle of Yorktown to Mount Vernon. By contrast, Putin’s “special military operation,” planned as a three-day romp, is now approaching the end of its second year. Putin, no Cincinnatus, doomed himself to being a lifer.
     
    Roman history is a millennium-long showcase of motivation or its absence. In this context, Putin might gain further insights by examining Rome’s centuries-long battle against the diverse tribes pressing the empire from the north. For centuries Rome’s legionnaires were well trained, disciplined, and committed. The list of their early victories is long. Both Julius Caesar and the philosopher-emperor-general Marcus Aurelius succeeded because they motivated and inspired their troops. But over time the Roman army was increasingly comprised of hirelings, déclassé men who fought not to save the empire but for money or a small piece of the bounty. Inflation and rising costs outpaced pay increases. Punishment was severe, in some cases including even crucifixion. In the end, Rome’s army eroded from within.
     
    This is what is happening to the Russian army today. Putin attacked Ukraine in February 2022 with what was then an army of several hundred thousand trained professional soldiers. But after the Ukrainians killed more than 320,000 Russian troops, their replacements were unwilling and surly conscripts and even criminals dragooned from Russia’s jails. Putin quite understandably fears such soldiers. Putin’s army, like that of the late Roman Empire, is collapsing from within.
     
    By contrast, Ukraine’s army at the time of the invasion was small and comprised mainly Soviet-trained holdovers. Both officers and troops of the line had to be quickly recruited from civilian professions and trained. Yet they quickly proved themselves to be disciplined and resourceful patriots, not tired time-servers. True, Ukraine is now conscripting troops, but these newcomers share their predecessors’ commitment to the nation and to their future lives in a free country.
     
    Sheer spite and a passion for avenging past failures figured prominently in Putin’s decisions to invade both Georgia and Ukraine. Roman history suggests that this isn’t smart. Back in 220 B.C., Rome defeated its great enemy, the North African state of Carthage. Anticipating Putin, the Carthaginian general Hannibal sought revenge. Acting out of spite, he assembled 700,000 foot soldiers, 78,000 mounted calvary, and a force of war elephants, and crossed the Alps. Though he was a brilliant general, Hannibal’s war of spite turned into a disaster.
     
    Why did Hannibal lose? Partly because of his sheer hubris and the spite that fed it, and also because the Romans avoided frontal battles and simply ground him down. They were prudently led by a general named Fabius Maximus, whom later Romans fondly remembered as “the Delayer.” Today it is the Ukrainians who are the Delayers. By grinding down Putin’s army and destroying its logistics they have positioned themselves for victory.
     
    The Roman Republic fell not because of any mass uprising but because of the machinations of Julius Caesar. A victorious general, Caesar looked the hero as he was installed as imperator. As was customary at such ceremonies, an official retainer placed behind the inductee solemnly repeated over and over the admonition to “Look behind you!” Caesar failed to do so and underestimated the opposition of a handful of officials and generals who feared the rise of a dictator perpetuus. Even if Putin chooses not to read Cicero, Plutarch, or Cassius Dio, he could productively spend an evening watching a Moscow production of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.
     
    Turning to a very different issue, Putin seems blithely to assume that whenever Russia defeats a neighboring country it can easily win the hearts and minds of the conquered, whether by persuasion or force. This is what many Roman generals and governors thought as well, but they were wrong—fatally so. Speaking of the impact of corrupt officials sent by Rome to the provinces, the great orator-politician Cicero declared to the Roman Senate, “You cannot imagine how deeply they hate us.” Does Putin understand this?
     
    Finally, it is no secret that Russia today, like ancient Rome, is increasingly a land of immigrants; its economy depends on impoverished newcomers from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and elsewhere in Central Asia who fled to Russia in search of work. Yet Moscow treats them as third-class citizens and dragoons them as cannon fodder or “meat” to die by the thousands on the Ukrainian front. Rome faced a similar problem and wrestled with it unsuccessfully over several centuries. Over time the despised immigrants who poured across the Alps from Gaul demanded a voice in Roman affairs, and eventually took control of the western Roman Empire.
     
    Sad to say, neither Putin himself nor any others of Russia’s core group of leaders show the slightest interest in learning from relevant examples from Roman history or, for that matter, from any other useable past. Together they provide living proof of American philosopher George Santayana’s adage that, “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” In Putin’s case, though, he seems never to have known it. 
     

    ABOUT THE AUTHORSS. Frederick Starr, is a distinguished fellow specializing in Central Asia and the Caucasus at the American Foreign Policy Council and founding chairman of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute.

    Additional Info
    • Author S. Frederick Starr
    • Publication Type Analysis
    • Published in/by American Purpose
    • Publishing date January 4, 2024
  • CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr comments on "Preparing Now for a Post-Putin Russia"
    Friday, 03 November 2023 18:30

    Whether Russian President Vladimir Putin dies in office, is ousted in a palace coup, or relinquishes power for some unforeseen reason, the United States and its allies would face a radically different Russia with the Kremlin under new management. The geopolitical stakes mean that policymakers would be negligent not to plan for the consequences of a post-Putin Russia. On November 2, 2023, CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr joined a panel organized by the Hudson Institute’s Center on Europe and Eurasia for a discussion on how US and allied policymakers can prepare for a Russia after Putin.

    Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

  • Central Asia Diplomats Call for Closer Ties With US
    Monday, 26 June 2023 00:00

    REPRINTED with permission from Voice of America News
    By Navbahor Imamova

    WASHINGTON -- U.S.-based diplomats from Central Asia, a region long dominated by Russia and more recently China, say they are eager for more engagement with the United States.

    Many American foreign policy experts agree that a more robust relationship would be mutually beneficial, though U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations express deep concerns about human rights and authoritarian rule in the five countries: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

    Michael Delaney, a former U.S. trade official, argued in favor of greater engagement this week at a webinar organized by the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce.

    He noted that three of the five republics are World Trade Organization members and the other two are in the accession process — a goal actively encouraged by the U.S. government.

    "I've always believed that this is a geographically disadvantaged area. There are relatively small national economies," he said. But, he said, collectively the region represents a potentially more connected market, about 80 million people.

    Key issues

    In this virtual gathering, all five Central Asian ambassadors to Washington expressed eagerness to work on issues the U.S. has long pushed for, such as water and energy sustainability, security cooperation, environmental protection and climate, and connectivity.

    Kazakhstan's Ambassador Yerzhan Ashikbayev said that despite all factors, the United States does not want to leave the field to China, its global competitor, which actively invests in the region.

    "Recent visit by 20 companies to Kazakhstan as a part of certified U.S. trade mission, including technology giants like Apple, Microsoft, Google, but also other partners like Boeing, have shown a growing interest," Ashikbayev said.

    The Kazakh diplomat described a "synergy" of economies and diplomatic efforts. All Central Asian states are committed to dialogue, trade and multilateralism, he said. "As we are witnessing the return of the divisive bloc mentalities almost unseen for 30 years, it's in our best interest to prevent Central Asia from turning into another battleground of global powers."

    During his first tour of Central Asia earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, meeting separately with the foreign ministers of all five countries.

    That was deeply appreciated, said Meret Orazov, Turkmenistan's longtime ambassador, who also praised the regular bilateral consultations the U.S. holds with these countries.

    Uzbek Ambassador Furqat Sidiqov sees the U.S. as an important partner, with "long-standing friendship and cooperation which have only grown stronger over the years."

    "The U.S. has played a significant role in promoting dialogue and cooperation among the Central Asian nations through initiatives such as the C5+1," he said, referring to a diplomatic platform comprising Washington and the region's five governments.

    "This is where we address common concerns and enhance integration," said Sidiqov. "We encourage the U.S. to bolster this mechanism."

    Tashkent regards Afghanistan as key to Central Asia's development, potentially linking the landlocked region to the markets and seaports of South Asia. Sidiqov said his country counts on American assistance.

    'Possibility of positive change'

    Fred Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, ardently advocates for the U.S. to adopt closer political, economic and people-to-people ties with the region.

    In a recent paper, he wrote that among dozens of officials, diplomats, entrepreneurs, experts, journalists and civil society leaders interviewed in Central Asia, "even those most critical of American positions saw the possibility of positive change and … all acknowledged that the need for change is on both sides, theirs as well as ours."

    This is the only region that doesn't have its own organization, said Starr, arguing that the U.S. could support this effort. "We have not done so, probably because we think that this is somehow going to interfere with their relations with their other big neighbors, the north and east, but it's not going to. It's not against anyone."

    "Easy to do, low cost, very big outcome," he added, also underscoring that "there is a feeling the U.S. should be much more attentive to security."

    "Japan, the European Union, Russia, China, their top leaders have visited. … No U.S. president has ever set foot in Central Asia," he said. He added that regional officials are left to wonder, "Are we so insignificant that they can't take the time to visit?"

    Starr urges U.S. President Joe Biden to convene the C5+1 in New York during the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly in September. "This would not be a big drain on the president's time, but it would be symbolically extremely important," he said. "All of them want this to happen."

    Read at VOA News

  • Read CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr's recent interview on the resurgence of Imperial Russia with The American Purpose
    Tuesday, 23 May 2023 00:00

    Why Russians Support the War: Jeffrey Gedmin interviews S. Frederick Starr on the resurgence of Imperial Russia.

    The American Purpose, May 23, 2023

    Jeffrey Gedmin: Do we have a Putin problem or a Russia problem today?

    S. Frederick Starr: We have a Putin problem because we have a Russia problem. Bluntly, the mass of Russians are passive and easily manipulated—down to the moment they aren’t. Two decades ago they made a deal with Vladimir Putin, as they have done with many of his predecessors: You give us a basic income, prospects for a better future, and a country we can take pride in, and we will give you a free hand. This is the same formula for autocracy that prevailed in Soviet times, and, before that, under the czars. The difference is that this time Russia’s leader—Putin—and his entourage have adopted a bizarre and dangerous ideology, “Eurasianism,” that empowers them to expand Russian power at will over the entire former territory of the USSR and even beyond. It is a grand and awful vision that puffs up ruler and ruled alike.

    What do most Russians think of this deal? It leaves them bereft of the normal rights of citizenship but free from its day-to-day responsibilities. So instead of debating, voting, and demonstrating, Russians store up their frustrations and then release them in elemental, often destructive, and usually futile acts of rebellion. This “Russia problem” leaves the prospect of change in Russia today in the hands of alienated members of Putin’s immediate entourage, many of whom share his vision of Russia’s destiny and are anyway subject to Putin’s ample levers for control. Thus, our “Putin problem” arises from our “Russia problem.”

    Click to continue reading...