Why Russia starts so many conflicts on its own borders

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The conventional wisdom is that Russia is too nuclear and too big to fail. But it’s also too big to secure — and that means Moscow has pursued a somewhat counterintuitive foreign policy in the surrounding regions. To protect its borders, Russia splinters and shatters its borderlands, from Donbas in Europe to Damascus in Asia. Russia’s vast Eurasian borderlands have become the Kremlin’s buffer zones — a nearly uninterrupted expanse of armed conflict and war.

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Exhibition Review: “Russia — My History” at Moscow’s VDNKh

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Moscow: at the newly renovated VDNKh (Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy), a multimedia, multi-city mega-exhibition called “Russia – my history” is open to visitors at Pavilion No. 57. Hosted at the location of the former “Disneyland” of the multi-ethnic Soviet Union, “Russia – my history” explores the formation of the new Russian national identity in what organizers are calling a “historical park.” It is a sobering look at what national history looks like in today’s Russia.

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Review: Vijay Menon’s “A Brown Man in Russia”

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In 2013, twenty-year-old Duke undergraduate Vijay Menon embarked on a train journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Russia to Mongolia. He subsequently gave a TEDx talk about this trip and later turned it into a book, complete with photographs of the trip: “A Brown Man in Russia: Lessons Learned on the Trans-Siberian.”

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Getting One Thing Straight: “Postmodernists” Are Not the Problem

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Discussions of Trump and Putin as “Postmodern politicians” come in many different forms and degrees of sophistication. My own modest contribution is intended only to dispel a bit of confusion that afflicts many in these discussions: “postmodern” politicians are not the “result” of “postmodernist theories” or of a “postmodern movement.” Such an idea fundamentally misconstrues both postmodernism and our current political and cultural situation.

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The Power of the Past

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Ten years ago, when I began writing a series of novels set in Russia during the minority of Ivan the Terrible, since published under the pen name C. P. Lesley, the last thing I expected was for the books to have present-day relevance. What I wanted, more than anything, was to produce historical fiction that accurately reflected what scholars have learned about social, political, and cultural life in Muscovy, ideas developed in great detail yet still missing, with rare exceptions, even from college textbooks.

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Speak, Memory: The Case of Yuri Dmitriev, Part I

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Dmitriev spent a good part of the 1990s in FSB archives examining case files on purge victims. After finding gaps in the lists, he asked for protocols from NKVD “troikas” – special three-person tribunals created to act as judge and jury in rigged trials. Those documents contained confirmation that death sentences had been carried out. But Dmitriev wasn’t allowed to copy or photograph them. So he would spend all day in the archives, reciting the information into a dictaphone.

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Dispatch from Moscow: Observing the World Cup

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Just steps from the Mausoleum, fans could participate in a mock World Cup soccer match, buy refreshments, or try their luck kicking a ball against the “highly skilled” Robokeeper — the venue’s most popular attraction, which offered amateur players the opportunity to “test the accuracy and power of [their] kick.” 

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Russia is building a new Napster — but for academic research

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What will future historians will see as the major Russian contribution to early 21st-century Internet culture? It might not be troll farms and other strategies for poisoning public conversation — but rather, the democratization of access to scientific and scholarly knowledge. Over the last decade, Russian academics and activists have built free, remarkably comprehensive online archives of scholarly works. What Napster was to music, the Russian shadow libraries are to knowledge.

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What Trump and Putin want from their historic summit

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As his 1972 summit with Mao Zedong approached, President Nixon prepped by considering three simple questions: What did China want? What did the United States want? What did they both want? With a Trump-Putin summit now scheduled for Monday, we invited experts on U.S.-Russian relations to engage in Nixon’s exercise, hoping to identify some common interests between two geopolitical heavyweights. What follows are their lightly edited answers.

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Will it be ‘happy talk’ — or will Trump and Putin focus on arms control and other critical issues?

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With the U.S.-Russia summit approaching, I reached out to former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and current Stanford University political science professor Michael McFaul. McFaul, who recently published “From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia,” a memoir of his time in Moscow, was kind enough to provide his thoughts on the upcoming meeting between the U.S. and Russian presidents. What follows is a lightly edited version of our discussion. 

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Summer Reading Series: Mikhail Zoshchenko’s “Sentimental Tales,” Part III

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“Why does man exist? Is there a purpose to man’s life—and if there isn’t, then is life itself not, generally speaking, in part senseless?” Of course, some assistant or full professor on the state’s gravy train would reply, with unpleasant ease, that man exists in order to further culture and the happiness of the universe. But that’s vague and unclear, and, for the common man, even disgusting.

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