The breakup of the Soviet Union brought freedom, independence, and sovereignty to its member republics without clearly demarcating their borders. The non-demarcated boundaries created numerous conflicts and points of contention in countries across the South Caucasus. The origins of these border disputes trace back to Joseph Stalin’s nationalities policy of delimitation from the 1920s. The policy aimed partly to change the administrative division of the USSR and partly to adjust the boundaries of its territorial units while serving Stalin’s efforts to consolidate power. The still-frozen conflicts of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh are three examples of the legacy of Stalin’s policy.
On Thursday, June 13, 2019, two tankers, the Kokuka Courageous and the MT Front Altair, were damaged in explosions in the Gulf of Oman, after transiting through the Strait of Hormuz. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking at press conference, attributed the attacks to the Islamic Republic of Iran. United States Central Command subsequently released a video, which purports to show an Iranian-operated patrol boat removing a magnetic mine from the side of the Kokuka Courageous after it appeared to fail to detonate. U.S. President Donald Trump, speaking to Fox and Friends, repeated both allegations. The alleged Iranian attack comes just weeks after four tankers were targeted with limpet mines in a similar attack near Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the Houthis, Iran’s client in Yemen, , have been linked to a recent cruise missile attack on a Saudi Arabian civilian airport in the city of Abha.
On a recent trip to Taiwan, I visited the island of Kinmen, one of Taiwan’s outlying islands located off the coast of China’s Fujian Province. Kinmen, more commonly known as Quemoy to a Western audience for its role in the Second Taiwan Crisis in 1958 as well as the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate. Mao Zedong even tried—and failed—to invade the island in 1949. The purpose of the trip was to reconnect with old friends and revisit some of the sites of the island: civilian and military tunnels, some of which housed naval vessels; traditional villages; and beaches. The history of the island, particularly how the people lived during the martial law period in Taiwan when the island was militarized and when the PRC and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government would shell each other, is an important case study in how a population copes and adapts.
Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s 448-page report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election revealed insights into Donald Trump’s campaign, uncovered 10 possible instances of obstruction of justice, and provided plenty of material for late-night comedians. The report concluded that “the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.” However, the report also claimed that it could “not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in the election interference activities.”
In the first scene of Ukrainian President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky’s hit sitcom Servant of the People, three faceless oligarchs stand above Kyiv’s Maidan Square one week before the presidential election. They agree to stop competing with one another to buy the election, and to instead let the best man win. “Unsupervised democracy,” one oligarch comments, “I like this kind of game.” From the show’s outset, its message is clear: Ukrainian politics have long been dominated by corrupt oligarchic interests. But with the election of Volodymyr Zelensky’s honest, middle-class protagonist, that era is over.