Friday, 14 November 2014 14:22

Is Georgia Slipping Away?


The sacking of Georgia’s pro-West Defense Minister and the resignation of its Foreign Minister has thrown the government into disarray and called into question the country’s Euro-Atlantic orientation.


Published in The American Interest, November 13, 2014.


Is Georgia Slipping Away?



In the past week, the Georgian government has faced a major crisis, as the entire leadership of the country’s foreign and defense structures has been either fired or forced out. The crisis suggests that America’s closest ally in the Caucasus and Central Asia will be mired in instability for the foreseeable future, and that its Euro-Atlantic orientation can no longer be taken for granted.

Since the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition won power in October 2012, there has been intense debate concerning the new Georgian government’s nature and orientation. That was natural, given that GD’s leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili, was a political novice—a reclusive business tycoon whose massive wealth (valued at half the country’s GDP) was earned in Russia in the 1990s. The coalition he assembled was eclectic: It included both certified Euro-Atlanticists and ethno-religious nationalists. His own party, the largest in the coalition, was composed mainly of citizens known for accomplishments in a variety fields, few of whom had any identifiable political views. The only common denominator for the coalition was the goal of removing Georgian President Mikheil Saakasvili and his party, the United National Movement (UNM), from power.

When Ivanishvili entered politics in late 2011, his first step was to reach out to those Atlanticist politicians, such as Irakli Alasania and the Republican Party of Georgia, who had grown disillusioned with Saakashvili and moved into opposition against him over his handling of the 2008 war with Russia and allegations of abuses of power and justice. This step was crucial in building Ivanishvili’s domestic political credibility—and, perhaps even more importantly, his international legitimacy. Because he allied with certified pro-Western leaders, Ivanishvili could credibly claim that he had no intention of changing the country’s foreign policy orientation. This neutralized Saakashvili’s somewhat overblown protestations that Ivanishvili was simply a Russian agent. Ivanishvili’s assertion was that a less “reckless” and more conciliatory attitude toward Russia would enable Georgia to normalize at least its economic relations with its northern neighbor, even as it continued on its path to EU and NATO membership. While this circle would prove hard to square in practice, it sounded good to many Georgians.

After Ivanishvili won the election, the Atlanticists occupied central posts in his government. Alasania was made Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister, and his closest ally, Alex Petriashvili, became Minister for European Integration. Republican leader Davit Usupashvili became Speaker of Parliament; and career diplomat Maia Panjikidze (who is Alasania’s sister-in-law but had joined Ivanishvili’s party) was made Foreign Minister. Thus, Georgia’s foreign and defense policy was in the hands of reliably pro-Western figures, who successfully allayed concerns in the West over Georgia’s democracy and orientation. Moreover, they emphasized continuity with Saakashvili’s foreign policies, and succeeded in concluding negotiations for an Association Agreement with the European Union in 2013, while lobbying aggressively for closer integration with NATO ahead of the September 2014 Summit in Wales.

Yet elsewhere in the Georgian government, the picture was different. True to post-Soviet form, the Ministry of Interior and the Prosecutor General’s office remained the core power centers of the state. And these appointments were telling: Ivanishvili appointed his closest aide-de-camp, thirty-year old Irakli Garibashvili, as Interior Minister—although Garibashvili had no prior political experience. His only employment had been related to Ivanishvili’s charities and business enterprises. For Prosecutor General, Ivanishvili named his own legal counsel, Archil Kbilashvili. In other words, Ivanishvili essentially tapped his personal associates to fill the most central power structures. Furthermore, senior positions in the two bodies went to figures known for their ties to some of the most corrupt and pro-Russian politicians in the Shevardnadze era.

As a result, in the past two years, the Georgian government has been Janus-faced. While foreign and defense policy has been led by people who engendered a considerable degree of trust in Western capitals, domestic policy has been run according to a very different dynamic.

The Prosecutor’s office faced one major public demand following the coalition’s victory: to seek redress for the thousands of cases of alleged property rights violations, mainly involving forced expropriation of assets in coerced plea bargains, dating back to the Saakashvili era. To date, it has dramatically failed to meet this demand, as the office has simply lacked the will or capacity to investigate these cases. Instead, it has focused its energies on high-profile political cases. These until recently mainly targeted leading Ministers of Saakashvili’s government. And they have done so largely with flimsy cases that failed to build credible evidence against their targets, several of whom have been handed jail sentences on very shaky grounds. Several cases also targeted the government’s own Minister of Agriculture, forcing his resignation in a politically motivated case that never went to court—a foreshadowing of what would happen to Alasania.

As for the Ministry of Interior, it largely stopped its earlier practice of aggressively countering Russian infiltration and subversion. While Russia did take some steps to normalize relations, especially in re-opening its markets to Georgian products, it accelerated the process of subversion, which involved supporting and organizing pro-Russian forces in Georgian society. Thus, Georgians who were suspected of working for the Russian secret services in the 1990s and had been living in exile during the Saakashvili years have now returned, and have been instrumental in setting up numerous civil society groups that reproduce Russian propaganda against Europe, such as the “Eurasian Institute.” Similarly, pro-Russian political parties such as Nino Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement party have been buoyed by what one observer for TAI aptly termed “an enormous influx of vaguely sourced money” that most Georgians assume is of Russian origin. Yet next to nothing has been done to counter this growing Russian “soft power” in Georgia, an issue privately bemoaned by the government’s Atlanticist leaders.

This was the context for the first fallout between Ivanishvili and Alasania, already in early 2013, which was an indication of Ivanishvili’s leadership style. Alasania had behaved much like a European coalition partner would, maintaining his own independence and international network. Moreover, as the coalition was preparing to nominate a presidential candidate to succeed Saakashvili, he expressed interest in running. This precipitated a remarkable public spat, in which Ivanishvili made derogatory public remarks about Alasania’s private life and dismissed him from his post as Deputy Prime Minister. But under the constitution at the time, since amended, only Saakashvili had the power to dismiss the Defense Minister. Under heavy American pressure, Alasania and Ivanishvili temporarily patched up their relationship, and Alasania endorsed Ivanishvili’s nominee for President. But the rift was very much a reality.

Two developments in the past year made the Georgian government’s Janus-faced nature increasingly untenable, precipitating the current crisis. Ivanishvili resigned from politics in late 2013, predictably appointing Garibashvili to succeed him. This left Georgia governed in a remarkable manner: with a President and Prime Minister who were both political unknowns, and who owed their positions to Ivanishvili’s personal support. Few in Georgia doubt that Ivanishvili, though divested of any political office, remains the main decision-maker in the country. This, clearly, was a considerable setback to Georgia’s democratic development, and generated considerable frustration within both the government and the broader public. As a result, the popularity of both Ivanishvili and Garibashvili has gradually declined, rendering Alasania, whose leadership of the Defense Ministry was well regarded, the most popular politician in the country. As such, Alasania has emerged as the clear leader of the country’s Atlanticist forces—and, given the continued public anger at Saakashvili’s party, he is the only credible political challenger to Ivanishvili.

Second, the Ukraine crisis has brought Georgia’s Russia policy to a breaking point. The notion of mending ties with Russia while continuing on a path of European integration was always questionable; but threading that needle became outright impossible in the wake of Moscow’s aggressive response to the EU’s Association Agreements with Armenia and Ukraine. Armenia was forced into submission, opting instead to join the Eurasian Union; what happened in Ukraine when Moscow failed to obtain a similar outcome is plain to see.

Russia’s efforts in Georgia have taken a backseat to its priorities in Ukraine, but Moscow has hardly been passive. Aside from the systematic subversion efforts already mentioned, the Kremlin continued to squeeze Georgia through is efforts to further consolidate control over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia in South Ossetia, which were the epicenter of the 2008 war. Russia proceeded to deploy barbed wire fences to separate South Ossetia from Georgia; and last spring, it orchestrated a coup that removed an independent-minded leader in Abkhazia, replacing him with a long-time pro-Russian figure, Raoul Khajimba. This fall, Moscow doubled down by proposing a treaty that would further integrate Abkhazia with Russia. In parallel, all indications suggest that Moscow used various channels to put the squeeze on Ivanishvili as well.

Ivanishvili’s closest associates maintained a low profile even in the face of Russia’s provocations. But Alasania did not: He vowed to respond “aggressively” to Russia’s moves to effectively annex Abkhazia, and in October signed an agreement to build a NATO training center in Georgia, which Russia vocally opposed. While he had failed to secure a NATO Membership Action Plan for Georgia in the September summit, he did succeed in obtaining a green light for Georgia to acquire air defense and anti-tank weaponry from NATO countries—a red flag for Moscow. In early November, he was in Paris to conclude an agreementon procuring those very air defense systems when the crisis broke.

It was during that trip to France that Georgian prosecutors suddenly launched two separate judicial proceedings against the Defense Ministry, arresting several high civilian as well as military officials. Reports suggest that Alasania at the last minute received a phone call from Tbilisi urging him not to sign the air defense agreement—with multiple sources pointing to Garibashvili’s aide Mindia Janelidze as the person who placed the call. After Alasania was dismissed, Janelidze was promptly appointed his successor.

Against this background, what should we make of the crisis in Georgia? It is obvious that it has an important domestic, and even personal component. On multiple occasions, Ivanishvili has made it clear that he tolerates only a very limited degree of independence from his closest associates and instead expects full submission. The careful steps that President Giorgi Margvelashvili has taken to establish himself as an independent figure have brought him public criticism from Ivanishvili; in this context, it was likely only a matter of time before he and Alasania finally parted ways. But the timing and context of his dismissal suggests that other factors, too, were likely at play. The elephant in the room, of course, is the nature and extent of the influence that the Kremlin exercises on Ivanishvili.

Should the crisis be taken as evidence that Ivanishvili is, after all, a Russian stooge? Reality may be more complicated than that. After all, the U.S. and EU have not covered themselves with glory lately; their response to the crisis in Ukraine has been underwhelming, with the West proving utterly unable to prevent the dismemberment of Ukraine in ways that are eerily familiar to Georgians. Everywhere in the former Soviet Union, leaders are facing a choice between appeasing Russia and standing up to the Kremlin. Clearly, either choice comes with risks: Saakashvili’s steadfast resistance ended with a Russian invasion; yet when Viktor Yanukovich tried to appease Moscow, that only projected weakness, and whetted Moscow’s appetite for further concessions.

Georgia’s pro-Western leaders, Alasania chief among them, clearly concluded that further appeasement was no longer an option, and hoped for Western assistance to keep Russia at bay. But Ivanishvili does not know the West, and does not appear to have any particular illusions about it. Whatever his relations with Moscow are, he may simply have drawn a different conclusion: that the only way forward is to appease Putin at any cost.

In any case, the crisis in Georgia is of fundamental importance to the future of Georgia’s democratic development and its Euro-Atlantic choice. The damage done by the unabashedly political persecution of Georgia’s leading supporter of Euro-Atlantic integration is sizable. In the process, it has revealed with full clarity the unhealthy and unaccountable dominance of the country by a reclusive business tycoon with few if any links to the West. Clearly, this state of affairs risks negating all the efforts over the past decade or more at building functioning and accountable state institutions in Georgia.

The Georgian leadership will continue to pay lip service to the country’s Euro-Atlantic orientation. In a country where three quarters of the population supports EU and NATO membership, they could hardly do otherwise. But in practice, the evidence available suggests that the country is now led by leaders who have no particular affinity for the West, and who are at the very least susceptible to Russian pressure. In terms of an active and effective policy of Euro-Atlantic integration, Georgia may just have been neutralized.

This, in turn, raises enormous implications for the United States. Across Eurasia, America is fighting the perception that Russia is restoring its sphere of influence, and America is adrift, and unlikely to stand up for its allies. If America loses Georgia, the gains of two decades of bipartisan efforts to build an east-west corridor from the Black Sea into Central Asia will be in question.

Svante E. Cornell is director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. He is the author of Getting Georgia Right (W. Martens Center for European Studies, 2013).
Read 9209 times Last modified on Wednesday, 26 November 2014 22:08





  • 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...