A good rule of thumb for the Caucasus is: “If you think you know what’s going on, just wait a minute.” Then sit down and read recent releases by Thomas de Waal and Oliver Bullough: they provide welcome insights into this most fractious and unpredictable part of the world.
An expert on Chechnya and Nagorno-Karabakh, de Waal worked at London’s Institute for War and Peace Reporting before coming to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington (hired, as rumor has it, in order to stir up new ideas in the reflecting pool of Caucasus analysis in DC). The Caucasus: An Introduction is an excellent resource for journalists and diplomats, or anyone who needs to learn fast. It is compact yet comprehensive, with maps and colorful “side-bar” sections about everything from Georgian wine to “Soviet Florida” (as Abkhazia was once touted).
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Alex van Oss is the Chair of Caucasus Area Studies at the Foreign Service Institute.