Today's Silk Road is Paved with Oil and Empires

MOSCOW: A perverse dialectic is at work in the Transcaucasus. The more Russia is accused of neo-imperial ambitions, the weaker Russia's actual sway becomes. All the while, Turkish and American influence grows stronger.

It is a grave mistake to think of Russia, like the Ottoman Empire of a century ago, as a "sick man of Europe," incapable of maintaining its strategic and commercial interests, and to regard its traditional allies in the region as available for anyone to poach. Indeed, the idea that Russia and the Transcaucasus can be disentangled is nonsense. The cat's cradle of connections between Russia and the Caucasus are centuries old and impossible to cut. Russia's presence runs deeper than the troops it maintains in the area. Mixed marriages abound; Russian is the region's lingua franca; Russian businesses (like Gazprom) dominate.

Oil, unsurprisingly, is at the root of divisions over the Caucasus. Westerners seek to redraw the medieval "Silk Road" with air and land routes, railways, and multi-billion dollar pipelines but also with wishful thinking. America believes oil can grease the wheels of democracy, insuring independence. Turkey sees its growing influence in the region as a card to play in bargaining for EU membership. Uncertain governments in the region think oil as a magic bullet with which to buy prosperity and social peace without hard work and risky reforms.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images

    The Summit of Climate Hopes

    Presidents, prime ministers, and policymakers gather in Paris today for the One Planet Summit. But with no senior US representative attending, is the 2015 Paris climate agreement still viable?

  2. Trump greets his supporters The Washington Post/Getty Images

    Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America

    • In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. 

    • Sooner or later, Trump's core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.
  3. Agents are bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

    The Man Who Didn’t Save the World

    A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

  4.  An inside view of the 'AknRobotics' Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Two Myths About Automation

    While many people believe that technological progress and job destruction are accelerating dramatically, there is no evidence of either trend. In reality, total factor productivity, the best summary measure of the pace of technical change, has been stagnating since 2005 in the US and across the advanced-country world.

  5. A student shows a combo pictures of three dictators, Austrian born Hitler, Castro and Stalin with Viktor Orban Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images

    The Hungarian Government’s Failed Campaign of Lies

    The Hungarian government has released the results of its "national consultation" on what it calls the "Soros Plan" to flood the country with Muslim migrants and refugees. But no such plan exists, only a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign to help a corrupt administration deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ aspirations.

  6. Project Syndicate

    DEBATE: Should the Eurozone Impose Fiscal Union?

    French President Emmanuel Macron wants European leaders to appoint a eurozone finance minister as a way to ensure the single currency's long-term viability. But would it work, and, more fundamentally, is it necessary?

  7. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now