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The East Today
Robert Kaplan, in Eastward to Tartary, explained his route in terms of U.S. interests: "My plan was to cross what I shall call the New Near East, that part of Eurasia which lies east of the European Union and the newly expanded boundaries of NATO, west of China, and south of Russia. This is a volatile region where the cultural legacies of the Byzantine, Persian, and Turkish empires overlap. It contains 70 percent of the world's proven oil reserves and over 40 percent of its natural-gas reserves. Just as the Austrian empire was “the seismograph of Europe” in the nineteenth century, the New Near East – stretching from the Balkans eastward to “Tartary” – might become the seismograph of world politics and the site of a ruthless struggle for natural resources in the twenty-first. Indeed, the United States military's Central Command, which has responsibility for the Near East and is the closest thing the U.S. has to a colonial-style expeditionary force, recently added the formerly Soviet Caucasus and Central Asia to its area of responsibility."
In the post Cold War era, the tropes of the East-West borderlands have remained similar. But the position of Russia has changed. While in the 19th century it was a marker of the West and Europe, it's become a marker of the East. Anne Applebaum, on a boat with crude ex-Soviets from Odessa to Istanbul, plays with the old trope of a minaret representing the East: "Everything seemed to be made of rich, luxurious materials. The colors glowed: the white houses, green grass, and blue sky were so bright they seemed to come from a postcard. After so many months of brown and gray it was hard to believe they were real. Bigger boats cruised by us, flying the flags of Britain, Germany, America, and France, emissaries from the wider world. The machinery on their decks seemed rich and shiny, the painted letters on their bows struck me as crisp and clear. The Yunost glided beneath a bridge, and the city drew closer. 'Prekrasno,' said Nikolai again. Ahead of us gleamed the minarets of Istanbul. I was back in the West."