Geography is the stage on which the play of History unfolds. As a kid, I loved studying the great wards of history and—not surprisingly—I was drawn to the maps that showed flanking maneuvers, bottlenecks, marching around mountains, getting lured into marshlands, etc. I especially was intrigued when a local force used superior knowledge of the local terrain to defeat a superior, invading force.
This video shows the geography of the Crimean Peninsula through of the Russian occupation of the peninsula. Before 2014, the land was controlled by Ukraine and Russia has controlled and annexed the land. The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine was a continued expansion of these territorial ambitions, and if Ukraine’s full goals are to be achieved, reclaiming the Crimean Peninsula would be an final step. The naval stronghold of Sevastapol, the tiny narrow neck of land, the swampy lagoons, and the Black Sea are all discussed in this video looking at the Russian advantages in maintaining control and Ukraine’s difficulties in trying to recapture this territory.
“In 1983, the 61-year-old empire looked like it would be eternal. In just a few years, Soviet communism was relegated, just as Reagan had predicted to much ridicule, to ‘the ash heap of history.’ The leaders of the new Russia that emerged in its place themselves echoed the language of ‘evil empire’ when they spoke of the Soviet past: During the 1996 elections, President Boris Yeltsin told supporters at a campaign rally they had to win ‘so that Russia can never be called an evil empire again.’ An idealized image of Soviet communism also bubbled back up among progressives in the West, especially after the reputation of democratic capitalism was left tarnished by the war in Iraq and the Great Recession.” SOURCE: Reason Magazine
The quoted article is by Cathy Young, an American journalist who lived her first 17 years in the Soviet Union. Her perspective than is hardly neutral and dispassionate. For the goal of reevaluating the legacy of the Soviet Union, especially for young people how weren’t alive during the times of the USSR, I think that her background is incredibly helpful to understand what is life behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.
Energy prices have risen across Europe in the last year, and as winter approaches many fear that an energy crisis might be on the horizon. This brings up many questions, with the first and most obvious one being, why did energy prices rise? Complex global markets are, well, complex, but large geopolitical events are often the stage for trade disruptions that can lead to shortages. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in April 2022 was a major move, one that many European countries were quick to condemn. Russia is an energy exporter with large oil, coal and natural gas reserves. Russia supplied 40% of the EU’s natural gas before the war, but only 9% now after the Nord Stream 2 pipeline ceased being utilized. Nord Stream 1, which pipes gas through the Baltic to Germany, has a very limited flow currently (officially, this is annual maintenance, but skeptics note that the flow is lower than regular maintenance and suspect Russia is putting the squeeze on the EU). This summer’s heat wave wouldn’t have been as big and issue if energy were abundant and relatively cheap in Europe.
Europe has stumbled into an energy crisis because of these geopolitical maneuverings. Natural gas is a primary energy source, but one that is especially used for heating and therefore, more critical in the wintertime. The United States and European countries sought to impose strong economic sanctions against Russia, hoping to cut into Putin’s revenue stream and stop the war; or at least not feel as though they were funding the war. This overvalued the power of an embargo of an and underappreciated the reliance of the European economy and standard of living on access to affordable energy.
Natural gas prices in Europe were at times in the summer, 7 to 8 times more expensive than gas in the United States. Many private individuals, small businesses, and any business with a thin profit margin, felt the squeeze of energy bills. Russia isn’t backing down from any economic sanction, saying that other regions besides Europe will gladly buy Russian gas. China has kept Russian production from grinding to a halt, effectively breaking the westward embargo, by sending it East. Consequently, Europe is facing the negative consequences of the economic sanctions more so than the Russian energy sector.
This map can go a long way towards explaining what the Donbas region is, and why it is seen as strategically important to both Russia and Ukraine. This BBC article makes a strong argument that capturing all of the Donbas region would now be Putin’s primary objective. What “winning” this war has meant for Russia has changed; especially now given that a quick takeover of the entire country of Ukraine is impossible. I see 4 reasons why Ukraine has done better in the first month of this war than some expected: 1) the government did not collapse under pressure, 2) the Ukrainian people took up the cause with patriotic fervor, 3) the Russian military was not the power that many expected, and 4) the international sanctions were more impactful in an integrated, global 21st century economy than they would have been just 50 years ago. At the start of the war Russia had (IMHO) much grander ambitions on what would have constituted a victory, but now, control of the entire Donbas region is still the prize that they’ve coveted and would represent an new idea victory. SOURCE: BBC
While many countries have anti-natalist policies (policies to discourage more births), other countries with declining populations have pro-natalist policies in an attempt to increase fertility rates. While not an exhaustive list, this list gives a few more examples that teachers can use to show how countries in stage 4 of the demographic transition are dealing with declining fertility rates.
This week, soldiers from Germany and Belgium are settling into a new posting in Lithuania as part of the latest NATO troop deployment. Will their hosts—and the region—feel more secure as a result of their presence?
This video from the Economist shows how shifting political situations in one country can create some powerful ripples elsewhere. It also shows how fluid geopolitical alliances can either embolden a waxing power, or create anxiety among states that might be waning in regional influence. Supranational allegiances can weigh heavily on smaller states.
The collapse of the former Soviet Union was one of the biggest political events of the 20th century with long-reaching cultural ramifications. The generations of state-sponsored atheism followed by a variety of new political policies has meant that religious freedoms vary greatly in the regions that were once a part of the USSR. This article gives a good breakdown of all the former SSR’s and the state of religious freedom today in each of them.
Conventional wisdom in the West blames the Ukraine crisis on Russian aggression. But this account is wrong: Washington and its European allies actually share most of the responsibility, having spent decades pushing east into Russia’s natural sphere of interest.
Ukraine is culturally, economically, and geographically connected with Russia. It is a territory that Russia cannot afford to lose as a part of their sphere of influence. John Mearsheimer, in his article Why Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault, gives a detailed account of NATO expansion and how it effected the Russian demand for hegemony in East Europe. Ultimately it is his conclusion that it was this expansion that provoked the Russians, and the current crisis is on the hands of the West. The will of a majority of Ukrainians is be begin economically aligning more with EU/NATO countries. Ukraine decided against Russia, and Russia responded with force. Here is an article where scholars weigh in and mostly disagree with the author’s provocative assessment.
This is a politically inflammatory title for an op-ed article, given the recent Russia’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Regions and economic regional linkages form and continually reform. Our most likely business partners aren’t necessarily our best friends.