99 Problems and Extremism in Tajikistan

Another great week at The Diplomat. The best part was meeting my colleagues, and an honored alum, for drinks at the end of the week. We don’t have an office so actually meeting my co-workers is a rare pleasure.

About to get in deep on Magazine Issue 8 next week. I’m very excited about this one–the cover is going to be by August Cole & Peter Singer, it’s going to be fantastic.

Without further chatter, last week’s Central Asia news today:

And I wrote a little in other sections this week as well!

  • Russia is in on the disputed island game in Asia too. Defense minister announced plans to accelerate development on the Kurils, which are disputed by Japan. Japan’s PM was in Ukraine last week and then in Germany for the G7, getting chummy with Europe & the US.
  • Will Almaty be “Keeping it Real” for the 2022 Winter Olympics or will Beijing prove to be a “Joyful Rendezvous upon Pure Ice and Snow”?

99probsI also wrote an opinion piece picking apart Ahmed Rashid’s recent NYT op-ed about jihad’s next frontier, which is apparently Tajikistan. Rashid’s alarmism is astounding and his factual errors embarrassing.

I wasn’t alone in saying that Tajikistan has 99 problems but extremism isn’t anywhere near the worst. Edward Lemon, who specifically researches Tajik foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, is as skeptical as I am. Reid Standish pointed out in Foreign Policy that Russia hypes the threat too.


First Full Week, Oh So Diplomatic

I’m done with my first full week at The Diplomat! I continue to be absolutely floored by how talented my colleagues are. They write! They edit! They might be Pandas! They moderate comments!

I started off this week with a report that labor migrants to Russia, which primarily come from Central Asia, may face a tougher language, history and civics exam come summer. This is a big problem, as the proximity of relatively easy work in Russia has kept states like Tajikistan from actually dealing with their troubled economies and unemployment issues.

Tuesday marked the 5 year anniversary of Kyrgyzstan’s unfortunately unnamed second revolution. and last week was the 10 year anniversary of the Tulip Revolution. I’m not the only one who thinks Kyrgyzstan hasn’t lived up to the hype. (My piece was published earlier, but #TokyoTime says different. Read both!)

As hinted at last week, I did end up writing a review of Farzana Marie’s Load Poems Like Guns: Women’s Poetry from Herat, AfghanistanEven if you don’t think of yourself as a poetry-fan, the first half of the book is history giving great context on the subsequent poetry, which is heartwrenching, beautiful.

I wrote about Kazakhstan some too, to add to the tourism theme from last week. Seems South Korea is all about helping Kazakhstan build theme parks. The embassy tweeted my article, I thought that was pretty cool.

KazakhstanThen I saw that the State Department Office of the Inspector General released the findings of an investigation of the U.S. embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The news isn’t great. Some numbers: over 50 percent of the embassy’s budget comes from the Pentagon, including $10 million for Special Operations Command alone.

Thursday Turkmenistan’s Minsk embassy website was hacked by apparent supporters of ISIS. The neutral state has been making a lot of noise about ISIS on its Afghan border. Whether it’s actually ISIS or the Taliban or someone else is very much unclear. The Minsk embassy site is down still for maintenance.

Russia’s been working on its ‘pivot’ east, with Medvedev visiting Vietnam and Thailand this week. A few deals were settled, a big deal was promised this quarter. Thailand is just happy to have a friend and Vietnam likes that Russia makes China a little nervous. Even if Russia isn’t actually interested in challenging China so much as diversifying because it’s economic relations with Europe are in the trash over Crimea.

Closed out the week with the quiet inauguration of Islam Karimov as president of Uzbekistan. As my colleague commented when reading over the piece, it’s like Orwell meets Monty Python in Uzbekistan. Not a bad comparison.


That’s all from me this week. Nailed down the interview for Issue 6 and next week the pieces will start coming in so I’ll be writing less myself.

How Fares the American Brand?

The subtitle of Robert Kagan’s February Politico op-ed “The Ambivalent Superpower” claimed that the United States and the World weren’t getting a divorce, but they were thinking about it. A Pew Research report released yesterday, however, tells a slightly different story.

The US and the World aren’t thinking about a divorce just yet, though the World is a touch disappointed with regards to American surveillance activities and philandering with drones. Drops in opinion of the US can be directly linked to American actions and policies, whether it is the Snowden leaks or sanctions on Russia.

General US favorability - PEWThe world holds generally favorable views of the US, with the exception of the Middle East

Europe and Africa hold the US in the highest regard, with the notable European exceptions of Germany and Greece. Both Germany and Greece have consistently held lower opinions of the US compared to the rest of the EU.

In 2012 German views of the US fell from 62 percent favorable the previous year, to 52 percent favorable.  This year’s 51 percent positive view is unsurprising given the very public effects of the Snowden revelations last summer and subsequent disclosure of NSA surveillance activities. Last week, in a move not often seen between allies, the German government demanded that the top US spy–the CIA’s Berlin station chief– be expelled from the country.

Most gained and lost - PEWAnother unsurprising fall of opinion occurred in Russia–a drop of 28 points–from 51 percent favorable to 23 percent. Ukrainian opinion tilts positively, at 57 percent, but has dropped since it was last measured in 2011.

But global opinion of the US has not dropped evenly, and in some countries favorable opinions of the US are on the rise. Populations in Poland, the UK, and France, have rising opinions of the US and despite no progress in the Middle East Peace process, positive Palestinian views of the US nearly doubled, from 16 percent to 30 percent.

With the exception of Tunisia and Israel, where opinions of America remained consistent with 2013, anti-American opinions in the rest of Middle East prevail.

The Pew report comprehensively covers the US-China dichotomy in other sections, but interestingly, opinions of the US in China rose. Half of the Chinese surveyed gave the US a “thumbs up.” The last time the US broke even in China, at 58 percent, was in 2010.

The global public’s view of the United States is largely unchanged from 2013. Among the thirty-five countries surveyed in both 2013 and 2014, the median favorable assessment in 2014 is 62%, unchanged from 2013.

In general, the US and the World are on decent terms–as far as the surveyed publics believe.

Check out the full report online here, as a PDF here, and as a nifty interactive map here.

Russia-Europe Energy Interdependence in Two Graphs

The Russia-China energy deal Wednesday, followed by Thursday’s tag-team veto of  a UN draft resolution to refer Syria to the international criminal court, has the United States and Europe understandably peeved. On the energy deal, some initial reactions focused on a dramatic “what now for Europe?” question. The answer is unsatisfying for conflict hawks: not much. Russia and China certainly win, but Europe does not necessarily lose.

Looking at data from Eurostat and the US Energy Information Administration, it is clear that Europe is as important to Russia as Russia is to Europe.  The first graph below, from Eurostat, outlines the sources of Europe’s gas imports. Russia leads, with Norway close behind.


This second graph, from US EIA, shows where Russia exports its gas to. Europe accounts for 81% of Russia’s exports.


The recent deal with China does not necessarily effect Russian gas trade with Europe. New fields in Siberia will supply China. As Julia Nanay of IHS said on PBS Newshour, the gas deal will ultimately “add to the world’s resources…” Russia benefits, eventually, by opening a new market. But Europe does not necessarily lose.

Watch: PBS Newshour | May 22 | Russia-China gas deal may influence U.S. strategy on Ukraine

Russia-China (Finally) Ink Natural Gas Deal

Early reports indicated that Vladimir Putin would be returning to Russia without finalizing a massive, decades-in-the-making, natural gas deal with China. The two sides reached agreement late Tuesday and news outlets have spent Wednesday highlighting the $400 billion Russia hopes to bank via Gazprom for transferring natural gas from Siberia to China.

While official details are still scarce, reports from Russian state media match up with expectations. Russia Today reports that, under the deal, Russia will supply China with 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year “via the eastern ‘Power of Siberia’ pipeline, which crosses Siberia and reaches China’s populous northeast regions.”

The impetus for the deal is unsurprising. Both China and Russia seek to diversify. In Russia’s case, away from reliance on Europe as a main customer. For China, to fuel continued growth. Also unsurprising, though a touch premature at this juncture, are Western fears about what this means for Europe. Continue reading