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The Chechens—The Sons and Daughters of the Mountains

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“These Chechens…They are like wolves coming down from the mountains… I am afraid they will come after me…”, the Turkish character of Vigo Mortensen’s Eastern Promises movie ushered.

This brief yet strong statement concerning the imagination and representation of the Chechens as a wolf pack was what first intrigued me about the so-called Chechen’s warrior culture. Besides the reports of Chechens fighting in Ukraine and Syria, and now that we have recently read that Putin critic Boris Nemtsov was apparently murdered by Chechen hitmen, the Chechen warrior reputation will only prolong itself even further. In this opinionated article, I will briefly describe some anecdotes and stories while researching the warrior culture of three Russian republics (Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan). However, I will limit this article to my experience with the Chechens, coupled with a few anecdotes—there are way too many stories to be shared that, unfortunately, this article would not be enough.

ds1The Caucasus is one of the most diverse places in the world, both ethnically and linguistically. There is a story about Alexander the Great and The Caucasus. The story tells of the fierce resistance Alexander and his men faced while venturing in Vainakh (Chechen and Ingush) lands. Because of this, The Greeks tired of fighting the Vainakh tribe, decided to turn around and march towards modern-day Dagestan. A potential explanation of why you find more tribes and diversity in Dagestan than the more uniform Ingush and Chechen clans. And a potential explanation of why the Russian North Caucasus nations have been, throughout the course of history, more territorial than many other nations in the world, for history makes no distinction: you are either conquered and colonized, or you simply aren’t. The Ingush and Chechens, in reality, never were.

Each republic in the Russian Caucasus is as diverse as the other—politically and culturally. The Ingush, for instance, though physically similar and ethnically related to the Chechens, have had different problems, specifically, because of land ownership and territorial boundaries, with their Christian neighbors, the North Ossetians. And, well, Dagestan, I would describe it as the most diverse of all republics, from its landscapes and its peoples. Dagestan is a world of its own—with numerous ethnic groups and different idiosyncrasies (from Wahhabis to secular-inclined villages).

When I asked a Chechen highlander, in the breathtaking, mountain village of Tazbichi, about why have the Chechens historically fought the Russians for so long, he simply replied with a proud-looking face and a smile: “We are the sons and daughters of the mountains”. Not another word more, not another word less. Only that profound statement. At first, I didn’t understood what that meant, but then I truly understood his meaning: This landscape, this environment, these mountains, what you see and feel, is and has been our home; we have lived and hunted in this land for hundreds of generations. The mountains are our family.

The question most likely, by now, you are probably wondering is: How did some guy from Guatemala end up in Chechnya?

ds2Before telling you my story, first, I would like to ask you a few questions: Have you ever been curious about the unusual, exotic, remote and untraveled landscapes? When you look and read the morning news, about places that have been labeled as ‘failed states’, like Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and so on, but despite of how bad the situation seems to be, still, have you ever wondered what it would be like to talk to a Yemeni tribal elder from an important, politically powerful tribe? Or listen to what the local Mexicans have to say about how the Mexican cartels support the local economy and communities, despite of the violence ravishing Mexico? And, lastly, have you ever been to places (which I’m sure many of my American, European and Canadian colleagues have), such as the beach resorts of Cancun, south Spain and Punta Cana, where there are hordes of tourists, fighting for the few beach chairs and umbrellas? Where you ought to wait until someone, hours later, leaves his chair and umbrella? Well, I have experienced these types of landscapes—from researching conflicts in ‘failed states’ to enjoying a nice beach vacation in a five-star resort. In my case, I prefer the former: the remote, the untraveled, the unknown and the war-torn spaces; I have been writing and personally researching, what I call the ‘warrior culture’ of a place—and eventually looking forward to write a book, about the stories and essence of these dark and remote places. But, I know what you are thinking: this guy is completely crazy. What does adventure-writing has to do with geopolitics or whatsoever? My response: a lot—I will explain this at the end of the article.

            My story with the Chechens and Chechnya began in a hot, humid, typical Florida day, at a Russian-owned deli shop, in the summer of 2010, in Daytona Beach, Florida.

It was the first time I walked into a Russian deli shop. As I walked in, I encountered a well-endowed, tough-looking, mature, bold, white-bearded person, whom the customers—in Russian, of course—seemed to ask many questions, thoroughly putting attention to whatever the old man replied; as if you would see someone asking his grandfather or a respected elder for an advise.

The deli shop, resembled like those picturesque mom and pop stores, in Brighton Beach, New York, given its unofficial label, by the Russo-Ukrainian community, as ‘Little Odessa’. This store, felt exactly like that: the menu was written in Russian, with mouth-watering pictures of fresh rye bread, borscht, Siberian pelmeni; and needless to say about the amazing selections of black tea, vodka, caviar, and other fine Russian products. As I stood, while waiting in line, and listened to the TV—in Russian, of course—I felt I was in a complete different country, since the owner and customers, seriously, glanced at me, silently implying: “Are you lost, son?”.

 

            Priviet…What can I do for you?” very seriously, the owner asked me.

“What would you recommend me? I’d really like to try something authentic and traditional”, I shyly asked.

“Well, I recommend you the borscht…you cannot get more Russian than that. However, this is Ukrainian type of borscht; we are not only Russian but Ukrainian as well; Russia has all kinds of people, with all kinds of different foods”…

Although as ironic as it seems—in light of the current conflict between Russian separatists and Ukrainians—my initial journey into the Caucasus started every Tuesday at lunchtime, whenever on occasional basis, while eating a sandwich or potato salad, the owner decided to talk to me about his experiences in the Soviet armed forces; moreover, his experience relating to the people from the North Caucasus.

ds3By hearing the owner’s stories, regarding his experience in the North Caucasus region, I, in turn, used my own geographical imagination—about the mountains, the valleys and peoples, and how mysterious and culturally untouched it must be—based on the representations and descriptions the owner told me. The owner originally served as a cook in Soviet submarines, as well in the infamous North Caucasus Military District, which oversaw the diverse republics and borderlands of the then-Soviet empire. And that’s when my curiosity for the Russian North Caucasus skyrocketed. The first thing the owner commented was the hardcore nationalism he saw and encountered when dealing with Ingush and Chechens, especially. But what captivated me the most was his narration of inter-clan feuds in Chechnya and Ingushetia, particularly the Chechen interpretation of vendetta.

“Regardless if you were in the army, and were protected by your rank and uniform, like many of my colleagues were, if you ever decided to lay your hands upon a Chechen girl, you would have to think it twice. If one of her relatives would find out, that she’s dating a non-Chechen and non-Muslim, they would intimidate you—and her—regardless of your rank”, the owner once told me.

“Chechens still think and act like a tribal society and each family, has its own patriarch or head of clan—just like that Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart, but in modern times”, the owner pondered with a serious look, finishing his cigarette.

“It’s even worse if you are fighting them and you kill one of their members; doesn’t matter whether it’s a brother, a cousin, an aunt, a relative, or the dog as far as I am concerned”.

The owner went on: “the head of the clan, will choose one of the members of his clan to avenge the killing of his family member; the person he [the patriarch] chooses, will sleep on the floor, grow a beard, and until his family member’s death has been avenged…only then, he will be able to sleep in a normal bed, shave his beard and continue with his life. The Chechens value blood and honor”. Scratching his bald head, in a soft, paused, tone, the owner leaves my table, goes back to the kitchen, silently suggesting: I have too many memories about the Caucasus that I do not want to talk or share.

Eventually, the Russian deli shop, out of the blue, without previous warning, closed—no goodbyes, no nothing. A part of me was sad—I wanted to learn more from the mysterious, white-bearded, bald, Russian person. Yet it was that conversation (blood, feud and honor in Chechnya) that struck me as if you would of encountered an old, battle-hardened American cowboy from the mid 19th century, telling you stories about the Apache tribe. Whether his anecdotes were true or not, I still wanted to know more about Chechens and Chechnya—the landscape, the place, their culture, codes of honor and values, and their so-called tribal mentality.

It was the fall of October 2013. And now instead of being in sunny Florida or in my homeland—Guatemala—I was in the cold, wet, British town of Egham. After living four years in Florida and one in China, I decided to apply for a master degree in geopolitics at a top British university. I wanted to study, reflect and research geopolitics, specifically taught from a geographical point of view. This was one of the principal motivations on why I wanted to study geopolitics. I wanted to focus more on the ‘geo’ than in the ‘politics’. (Needless to say it was in the U.K. where geopolitics internationally aroused—Halford Mackinder’s Geographical Pivot of History, is the best example). Besides academic purposes, there was also another side of the story on why I chose Britain: London Heathrow would be my traveling hub into conflict-ridden countries on which I wanted to personally research. Heathrow would be my gateway into what Mackinder would of called the “World Island”. But Vladikavkaz would be the entrance into the wild, mysterious, Kavkaz (Caucasus).

Guatemala, the place, the country—most commonly and derogatorily labeled as the ‘banana republics’—on which I was born, has been ravished by war and conflict since the post-colonial period, which, in turn, has prompted me to study—academically and personally—world conflicts, particularly in the world region that I love the most: The Global South. From the guerrilla conflicts in Central America—i.e. Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua—to more unheard conflicts in places like Guadalcanal Island, in the Solomon Islands. But apart from the fact that I come from the ‘Global South’, let me tell you, my dear reader, that there is also a little bit of ‘Global South’ in you. Yes, in you. In the coffee and tea you drink; in the fruits, vegetables, and chocolate you eat; the fuel your car uses; the cobalt mineral inside your smartphone; and, in the tacos and kebabs you eat after a crazy Friday night out with your friends. Regardless whether you live in New York, London, Vienna, Toronto or Tokyo, you experience on a daily basis the Global South. And, though Russia can be labeled, based on physical geographical terms, as a ‘northern’ country and ideologically as an ‘eastern’ country (apart from Moscow and St. Petersburg), Russia, can be, essentially, considered a part of the Global South. This was the impression I had when I first was at Vladikavkaz airport in North Ossetia and Alana—manual baggage handling, no gates, a very short and bumpy runway followed by the taxi drivers standing literally next you, as you waited for your luggage—oh yes! The warmth and kindness of the people made me feel just like I was somewhere in the tropics; however, without the heat and mosquitoes.

Vladikavkaz is the invisible border inside the Russian North Caucasus, indirectly making North Ossetia and Alana a Christian enclave nestled between Muslim neighbors—primarily because North Ossetia borders Kabardino-Balkaria and Ingushetia, which are of Islamic majority. Locally—Vladikavkaz, that is—is known as the entryway towards their ‘badly’ behaved, rebel neighbors, Ingushetia and Chechnya. I say badly, because the 2004 Beslan Massacre, was still well and alive inside the hearts and minds of the North Ossetians, more notably, all Russians. Vladimir Sevrinovsky, whom I met through another Russian acquaintance, was my guide, friend and expert for this expedition. (If you would want a guide for the Caucasus, Vladimir, was the perfect guide—he thoroughly knew the most remote places of Russia and, more importantly, Russian ethnic idiosyncrasies).

ds4At the airport, when I picked up my luggage, Vladimir already had hired a taxi driver. Our taxi driver had a thick, dark mustache, almost resembling to that of Josef Stalin, with an impeccable shave, a medium-sized height and a chubby figure. Our taxi driver, a North Ossetian, was extremely friendly and happy to see a foreigner who had come all the way to Kavkaz (Caucasus). The taxi driver drove us to many interesting points in Vladikavkaz—for free. However, when he understood the true reason of why I was in the Caucasus—the Ingush, Chechen and Dagestani warrior cultures—he automatically told Vladimir that he had to take me to the cemetery to pay tribute to the departed hostages that died. His smile, friendliness and happiness, suddenly turned into a grumpy, serious look. He wanted me to see what the Ingush and Chechens did to the North Ossetians (the terrorists that participated in the school takeover, apparently were of Ingush and Chechen ethnicity). What our taxi driver really meant was: Before you even dare and study these ‘savages’, you must first see what they did to us, to our people and to all of Russia.

What 9/11 was for the entire American and Western world, the Beslan Massacre was the 9/11 Russian version of tragedy—I respectfully paid homage to the deceased. No questions, only silence. The beginning of my expedition was filled up with more questions than answers, notwithstanding. If the Ossetians were majorly Christians, why weren’t they so opinionated against other Islamic republics—Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia, for example—as they were against both the Ingush and the Chechens? Were the Ingush and Chechens perceived as the same belligerent group? Or were they perceived differently amongst their fellow Caucasus neighbors? What do the Dagestanis had to say about the Chechens and Ingush? And what did the Ingush had to say about the Chechens?

After an adventurous week in Ingush tribal lands—the militarized, Dzheirakh valley—along Vladimir, we changed course onto Chechnya, where I was received with the highest honors and welcoming by our Chechens hosts (Murad and Ruslan). “In Chechnya, in this fine land, that Allah the all mighty gave us, you are most welcome”. Murad continued, “in this land, you are our guest, thus you are protected by our highest codes of honor: the guest is sacred and untouchable”.

When I asked, Murad what he meant by ‘untouchable’, Murad bluntly replied: “This means that even if someone would try and do you harm, they would have to fight us first. Here in Chechnya, you are under my clan’s protection. We have rules; we have codes; we have the Adamallah…”

What do tribes and clans have to do with geopolitics? My response: Islamic extremism often grows in tribal societies within the Muslim world; for example, whether they are the Kanuritribe of Borno State in Nigeria, who make up the leading structure of Boko Haram; whether they are the Syrian and Iraqi Sunni tribes who, out of discontent with the Iraqi-Shiite government, joined ISIS, by allowing them to settle from Al-Raqqa to Al-Anbar; whether they are the Ghilzai Pashto tribes of South Afghanistan, who eventually became the all-powerful Taliban; whether they are the Al-Houthi rebels from Yemen, who have recently wreaked havoc in all of Yemen; or whether they are members of Abbu Sayyaf fighting in the islands of Mindanao and Basilan in the southern Philippines, it is important to understand tribal structures and their internal codes to further understand their interpretations of warfare. By understanding tribal dynamics and codes, we are, in fact, delving into the geopolitics of political identity—and the repercussions that come with it. In a nutshell, the Islamic world is still a tribal society. And for us, in the Western world—or Latin America in my case—if we really want to understand the geopolitical effects of a tribe in grief, the cases of Iraq, Syria and Yemen, should give us a good head start.

In his book The Spirit of the Wolf, Shaun Ellis talks about how wolf packs were admired by the Native American tribes, considering them as another type of respected tribe. According to Native American folklore, there is a story that narrates how the Native Americans considered that to kill a wolf, was to eventually challenge the wolves to kill one of their own members. Therefore, they made a deal: to respect the wolves, so the wolves would respect the Native American tribes, and split the hunting grounds. In Chechnya, I realized that earning the trust of the Chechens is like earning the trust of a wolf pack. This means to earn the trust of a Chechen clan. At first you will be sniffed to make sure that you are not hostile. Secondly, you will be growled to make sure you are not easily intimidated. And thirdly: they will protect you as one of their own…

The rest, my dear readers, I will leave it to your imagination…

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Eastern Europe

Fundamental Reform Can Secure Armenia’s Long-Term Future

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In the past year, the world has changed an unfathomable amount; every country has faced new challenges in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recession. The new global situation presents not only challenges but also the opportunity to think about new ideas, to work out how our energy and focus can be used to create a better future for individuals across the world.

Armenia is one country that has faced existential crisis in the past year; the pandemic, the economic crisis and of course the war in Artsakh. The war has exacerbated socio-economic issues, aggravated social division and resulted in ongoing political instability –all factors that have raised questions about Armenia’s future as a nation and on the global stage. Despite the pain of the last year, it has also given us the opportunity to reflect and rethink our model for fundamental reform in Armenia.

I have long argued that for Armenia to be truly successful, we need to unite and focus on the country’s future. We have a historic responsibility to our ancestors, those who faced persecution, to heal from the past and build a successful country for our children. By building on our unique identity and historic experiences, we can use them to guide our future. However, first we must face up to serious questions on how we would like Armenia to look in twenty to thirty years’ time.

Currently, lack of opportunity is causing Armenians to vote with their feet and leave the country, with an estimated 200,000 intending to leave Armenia this year. To stop this, we must together provide a future of opportunity and belief in success stemming from a change in mindset.

I do not believe that all of the problems we face can be solved by the Armenian state. Instead, both the Armenian authorities and the diaspora should leave political disputes aside in order to consolidate and, alongside international specialists and humanitarian organisations, assist in the building of new institutions, good governance and the development of the country. Engaging with international partners is critical to raising standards and finding effective solutions.

So far, attempts at developing Armenia have been blighted by a failure to unite and mobilise both the nation and diaspora. It is not an easy task, currently there are roughly 10 million Armenians living in over 100 nations. However, we must transform the relationship to one of interdependence and trust.

Until now, members of the diaspora have largely been viewed as a source of charitable aid – this causes disconnect and indifference. Instead of charity, which I believe is detrimental to Armenia’s future as it prevents organic, conducive reforms, the diaspora should invest in long-term projects with meaningful impacts. I believe a shared vision and hope for Armenia can be created through collaboration and the implementation of impact investment. However, a strong Armenian diaspora must become more aware of their responsibility in helping the Armenian nation develop, and by updating and strengthening their institutions, enhance and ensure the preservation of Armenian worldwide heritage.

Commitment and shared responsibility will encourage desire for success and provide a crux for wider development. A blend of commercial, social and philanthropic projects will help build a better more sustainable future for Armenia. Multi-purpose anchor projects – breakthrough projects used to serve the interests of the nation and its people – will help societal evolution.  Anchor projects in the education, technological, scientific and tourism sectors will serve as a way to unite a fragmented nation, by drawing people together through communication and exchange of ideas. Long-term investment and visionare necessary, as social impact investments slowly manifest themselves over 20-25 years. Therefore, close working relationships are essential, investors need to want to be part of the conversation and want to see the projects evolve to impact the wider community.

Re-establishing Armenia as a hub of excellence in education would not only aid development and attract investment, it would attract others to the country. Investment into educational projects is investing in Armenia’s future, and promotes talent, trust, collaboration and multiculturalism –in doing so educational projects have wide-ranging personal, local and global impact. Armenia has already shown it has the potential for success in the educational sphere; with the Tumo Centre, American University in Armenia, Russian-Armenian University, French University and United World Colleges movement all having centres in Armenia. We must utilise the opportunities we have for the implementation of further educational projects.

Additionally, investment into the science and technological space would have wide reaching effect. The development of science and technology is both tangible and lucrative.It will also drive explosive growth in the health, environment and knowledge economies. The FAST Foundation is leading the way in innovation in Armenia, numerous projects support budding scientists, technologists and innovators in Armenia and the global stage. It will amplify and empower scientific advancement in the country, aiming to position Armenia as the technical and scientific hub of the region.

By fostering a competitive economy in Armenia, we can attract further foreign direct investment and also immigration. Additionally, we need to encourage good governance by developing effective and accountable governmental and societal institutions, which commit to excellence and professionalism. Impact investment and the championing of good governance will create an attractive Armenia, where not only Armenians want to live, but also the diaspora, international students and businessmen and women. This would bolster demographic security by dampening the desire for emigration and creating the social and economic atmosphere needed to raise the birth rate in the country. A growing population would mean a larger workforce, which would allow Armenia to become a self-sufficient global player, one that can build regional and global alliances.

Whilst our geographical location at the crossroads of civilisations brings many benefits, we also face regional security threats, which was painfully evident during last year’s 44-day war. In order to bolster Armenia’s position regionally, we must first acknowledge our security situation and construct a more effective and forward-looking defence system. This will take a shift in thinking and a significant increase in spending, but more modern military thinking is needed to protect our borders and people. A reinforced and innovative security system will allow us to look forward and act to guarantee Artsakh’s physical freedom and security.

Armenia faces many challenges, but it also has a number of strengths and competitive advantages – which we must use; not only do the diaspora provide resources and experience of other systems, we are bilingual nation and a nation located at the cross-roads of four civilisations. Armenia’s geography between the Middle East, Europe and the Caucasus means we can take advantage ofa working relationship with the European Union through the Eastern Partnership whilst being a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia in particular is interested in Armenia being competitive, and at the same time is the right ally to ensure regional security.

If we build on these advantages and focus on inter-dependency and responsibility, Armenians and the Armenian diaspora, in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian institutions, can build a successful country. By developing on a local level, we can look to eradicate inequality and push for a fairer more open society, one that is beneficial for all Armenians.

A strong Armenia with modern institutions and a well-educated society will improve the country’s position regionally and on a global scale; allowing Armenia to become a bridge between cultures and organisations.

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Eastern Europe

Shocking results of survey in Lithuania

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Lithuanian authorities in recent future could face harsh criticism from society and disagreement with current foreign and domestic policies.

The recent opinion poll has become the clear indicator of people’ dissatisfaction with government’s policy which resulted in loss of sovereignty of the country.

Lithuanian analysts were very confused with the results of the latest survey. On November 7-30, 2020, a representative survey was conducted by the company Baltijos tyrimai: 1004 residents of the country participated in it, the error of the results does not exceed 3.4%. The results of this survey shocked the researchers.

The study called “Lithuanian society’s susceptibility to disinformation. Narrative analysis.” (“Lietuvos visuomenės paveikumas dezinformacijai Naratyvų analizė”) made by Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis was presented by one of its author – Gintaras Šumskas.

In an interview with Delfi, he admitted that this time the respondents were not given prepared statements with which they had to agree or not, they were not asked questions so that they could be interpreted ambiguously.

The analysis revealed the following narratives: COVID-19 destroyed the health care system in Lithuania, COVID-19 is used to manipulate and rule the society, Lithuania does not have an independent foreign policy, the Lithuanian educational system lays down the wrong values, the collapse of the USSR did not bring anything good, NATO takes away from members states money that would be better spent on the social sphere.

According to the results, it could be said that Lithuanians not only observe the situation but they analyse and make conclusions.

In time when COVID-19 pandemic almost seriously interfered with the normal daily life, the government wastes money conducting military exercises, deploying foreign troops and even increase military expenditures. The more so, in time when people have no money to burn their relatives who died from coronavirus, Lithuanian authorities declare that military threat is stronger than COVID-19.

The most surprising are the general answers. For example, 66% of the survey participants agree with the statement that “Lithuania is in vain to quarrel with Belarus and Russia, since bad relations will bring economic damage”, and more than half (54%) are convinced that “Lithuania does not have an independent foreign policy – everything is dictated by Brussels (EU) “, and 32% believe that Washington is in charge of Lithuania’s foreign policy.

There is nothing to add. Everything is said by ordinary people during survey.

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Eastern Europe

Latvia: No railway, No NATO

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According to Latvian Foreign Ministry, the arrival of the multinational Allied battlegroup in Latvia in June 2017 concluded the deployment of forces under NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic States and Poland, thereby implementing the decisions made at the Wales and Warsaw Summits. Canada is the framework nation for the battalion-size NATO battlegroup deployed to Latvia, with Albania, Czech Republic, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain as contributing nations. These Allies are sending, on a voluntary and rotational basis, their troops and combat-ready equipment to Latvia to deter any possible aggression, should the need arise.

As a host nation, Latvia must provide all the necessary host nation support to meet the needs of NATO and the Allies involved. The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

These responsibilities place great burden on a host nation. Latvia’s ability to support foreign troops on its territory often is in doubt.

Thus, Latvia faces decline of its railways. 

Even after a radical reduction in the volume of Russian transit, Russian-origin cargo (going from or to Russia) continues to make up the lion’s share – more than 62% of the transit traffic. Another 25-28% of cargo is of Belarus origin.

In other words, the implementation of Russian plans to reorient its export-import cargo turnover by 2025 means subtracting about 11.78 million tons from the current load indicators of the Latvian railway. Taking into account the agreement with Minsk, redirecting its flow to Ust-Luga, Latvia expects a loss of another 5.32 million tons. Thus, the Latvian cargo traffic in the next 2-3 years will lose another 17 million tons, or 89.4% of the load.

The situation is complicated by the fact that initially the Latvian railway network was built on the basis of the possibility of ensuring a freight turnover of 90 million tons per year. Those 4.5 million tons that will remain by 2024–2025 will certainly not be able to allow Latvian Railways to achieve at least a self-sufficiency level.

So the infrastructure will have to be trivially disassembled with removing the rails, closing traffic control centers, selling rolling stock and closing branch lines.

Hence, approximately in 2025, Latvia will take an honorable second place, after Moldova, in the ranking of countries that have lost the Soviet transport heritage and have slipped to the level of a remote peripheral region of the world.

Which is, in a way, funny. With the decline of the Latvian railways, most likely, NATO will also withdraw its multinational Allied battlegroup from Latvia. Since ensuring its deployment requires decent cargo transportation, which in peacetime is too much expensive without a railway. So, Latvian authorities will no be able to fulfill the obligations as a host nation.

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