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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 19:02 GMT
Moldova
Moldova
Moldova is a landlocked country sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania. Like its immediate neighbors, Moldova is a borderland state contested between Russia and the West. Moldova's small size, flat terrain and strategic location on the Bessarabian gap has made it vulnerable to invasion and control by outside powers throughout its history. The territory that now makes up Moldova was contested between the Ottoman and Russian empires in the 19th century. In the 20th century, the Romanians, Germans and Soviets fought for control over its territory. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Moldova became an independent state for the first time in modern history, with its economic, political and demographic core located in the capital of Chisinau. Independence has not removed external competition for influence over Moldova. The country's political system is roughly evenly divided between pro-Russian and pro-European Union groups that clash — sometimes violently — over the country's orientation toward Moscow or toward the West. Moldova is also divided geographically, with the territory of Transdniestria breaking away from Chisinau's control in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Transdniestria remains de facto out of the control of the Moldovan government and is supported financially and militarily by Russia. Coping with these various internal and external divisions is Moldova's primary geographic challenge.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 19:10 GMT
A horse grazes in front of Kara-Kul lake in the Chon-Ak-Suu valley, 300 kilometers southeast of Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan
Located in the southeast corner of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan borders China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Kyrgyzstan is land-locked and almost entirely mountainous, making economic development difficult. The country has some mineral resources such as gold, but it does not have significant deposits of oil or natural gas. Consequently, Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest states of the former Soviet Union. Its mountainous terrain fosters significant internal political and social divisions, particularly between its northern and southern regions. Kyrgyzstan has two population and political cores distinct from each other — one in the capital of Bishkek and the other in the corridor between Osh and Jalal-Abad. This has created an unstable post-independence political environment in the country, with Kyrgyzstan experiencing two revolutions in the past seven years alone. In 1924, Josef Stalin shaped borders in Central Asia to deliberately divide the Fergana Valley region and its people into three political entities. Kyrgyzstan's large Uzbek and Tajik minority populations in the south, as well as disputes over its limited water resources, have led to tensions and frequent border disputes with its neighbors. Despite the economic, security and political difficulties created by its geography, Kyrgyzstan's strategic location makes it an area of competition between larger powers. Russia is Kyrgyzstan's largest trading partner, and the country hosts a Russian military base in Kant. The United States also has an air base in Manas, a key transit point for NATO military operations in nearby Afghanistan. Taking advantage of this external competition while trying to overcome internal weaknesses shapes Kyrgyzstan's strategy.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:40 GMT
Sudan
Sudan
Sudan is a huge country between Northern and Central Africa which, prior to the independence of South Sudan, was the continent's largest country. Its position has long drawn the attention of outsiders, and once facilitated the birth of powerful empires and city-states. Since declaring independence from the United Kingdom in 1955, Sudan has struggled to manage its expansive territories and ethno-regional divisions. Khartoum, the country's capital, can be viewed as a relatively isolated city-state that must command the vast spaces and people that surround it. Such a mentality helps explain Khartoum's disastrous management of the country's various rebellions and insurrections. Until recently, the country's leadership has preferred to adopt a belligerent approach to dealing with the country's many outstanding conflicts. Because Sudan's borders do not fully align with its various ethnic groups, its internal ethnic conflicts have fueled regional conflict as well. Ethnic groups in the Darfur region of eastern Sudan spill over into neighboring Chad, driving the two countries to wage proxy warfare against each other for years by arming and financing rebels intent on revolution. Sudan's proximity to the Middle East — as well as its cultural and religious makeup — has allowed it to build ties with powers there. Though this has benefitted Sudan by allowing it to attract investment from companies such as Saudi Arabia, it has also engendered greater scrutiny.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:48 GMT
Russia
Russia

Despite being the largest country in the world by area, the Russian Federation occupies territory that is indefensible and unforgiving. The core of Russia, running from the Volga grain belts up through Moscow proper to the Baltic Sea, lacks any natural features to fortify it from attack. This is why the country has traditionally anchored its territory to major geographic barriers far from its core in an attempt to keep foreign powers distant. As a result, Russia has inevitably had to reach east across the frozen tundra of Siberia to the Pacific Ocean, southeast to the Tien Shen mountains of Central Asia, south to the Caucasus Mountains bordering Iran and Turkey, and finally west to the Carpathian Mountains in Central Europe. But, there is one major hole in this geographic expanse: The Northern European plane. The Northern European plane is a gap between the Carpathian Mountains and the Baltic sea which, at its narrowest, is 480 kilometers (300 miles) across. This narrow point, referred to as the Polish funnel, lies just West of Warsaw and reaches down Krakow in the south. Russia has faced three major attackers along this axis; Napoleon, Wilhelm II, and Hitler. Most recently, the expansion of NATO and the European Union into Central and Eastern Europe has raised Russian hackles. Moscow would much prefer to control the lands between Russia and the Polish funnel — pushing as far west as possible — knowing full well that once an attacker has passed that narrow chokepoint, it is an open march to Russia's heartland. For this reason, Moscow seeks to occupy or influence its borderlands, or at the very least, maintain their neutrality. Looking beyond its indefensible borders and largely hollow interior, Russia boasts a diverse population of 144,463,450 people and a powerful military. These armed forces, backed by an autocratic political system, help protect the country's unwieldy land mass. Russia's economy is inherently fragile and highly dependent on commodity exports ranging from grain to energy. The country is traditionally at its most powerful when a strong, heavy-handed leader is in charge, such as current Russian President Vladimir Putin. Despite this, though, the Kremlin must continually deal with internal political divisions, rising ethnic tensions and regional dissidence.

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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:54 GMT
Oman
Oman
Located at the extreme southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sultanate of Oman is a mix of cosmopolitan port cities, rugged mountains and a wide desert interior. Divided by mountains and deserts from neighboring Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, Omanis have integrated themselves with other Indian Ocean communities for much of their history. With few water resources and population centers isolated by topography, Oman's geography has fostered three distinct cores. The cosmopolitan economic elite of Muscat, the tribal groups in Salalah and the Ibadi religious core in Nizwa. Maintaining unity of these cores is Oman's primary geographic challenge. Muscat, Oman's largest port and political and economic capital, is separated from the rest of the country by the Al Hajar Mountains. The al Qamar Mountains surround Salalah, Oman's second largest city and a regional tourist destination. Dhofar's mountains and dense vegetation helped harbor members of a Marxist-inspired rebellion against Muscat's rule for much of the 1960-70s. Oman's government revenues are dependent on oil and gas reserves that are located in the central desert region south of Nizwa. This region was once home to the Ibadi Imamate that clashed with the coastal-based Sultanate for centuries. The Musandam Peninsula, northwest of Muscat, places the critical shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz within Oman's territorial waters. The British granted Oman control over the peninsula during their withdrawal from the region in the 1970s. Positioned between Peninsular Sunni Arab and Shiite Iranian spheres of influence, Muscat has had to pursue a flexible foreign policy strategy to balance between the two regional powers. Oman has traditionally relied on the major naval power of the day — formerly the British, today the United States — to help maintain this balance and protect its sovereignty.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:59 GMT
Myanmar
Myanmar
The core of Myanmar is the fertile Irrawaddy River valley. The region, a long, flat area that is relatively easy to consolidate, is vulnerable to invasion from the surrounding mountains, particularly the Hengduan Mountains along the northern border with China. Invading Mongols and the now-dominant ethnic Burman, for example, twice overthrew governments in the Irrawaddy valley. Though control of Myanmar's surrounding mountains provides security for the valley's core, it can also stir conflict with the various ethnic groups that inhabit the border regions. As a result, Myanmar has never completely solidified its own territory. The country borders Bangladesh and India to the west, but a mountain chain separates and protects it from those neighbors. To the northeast, likewise, high mountains and rugged jungle provide a formidable barrier against China. The Shan Plateau to the east poses less of a physical challenge, allowing various ethnic groups to move easily across political boundaries. Historically, the absence of a barrier has facilitated Myanmar's communication with Thailand and Laos, while also making for more frequent conflict with them. Myanmar's location makes it a natural bridge between the Indian Ocean basin, Southeast Asia and southern China. Coupled with the country's energy resources — including oil and natural gas — its position has made it a target for foreign intervention, whether overt, as with the United Kingdom or Japan, or less direct, as with China's recent ports, pipeline and transport infrastructure projects. Foreign interference, like internal ethnic conflict, is a perennial concern for Myanmar because of its physical geography.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:30 GMT
United States
United States
The United States encompasses territory spanning from the Arctic Circle and Central Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic. The Greater Mississippi Basin is the United States' core and serves as the underpinning of its role as a global superpower. The basin hosts an extensive network of navigable rivers that overlay the world's largest contiguous piece of arable land. This naturally interconnected river system facilitated integration among settlers and allowed for cheap transport of goods, providing the United States with the ability to feed itself efficiently and rapidly build up industry and capital to expand west. The Midwestern core gave early America strategic depth, while an expanding U.S. coastline, naturally indented with deep harbors, provided its opening to the world. After reaching the Pacific coast in the mid-19th century, the United States found itself insulated by two oceans. On the continent itself, geography again has worked in the country's favor: lakes to the north and deserts to the south insulate the United States' population centers, with both Canada and Mexico facing too many natural constraints of their own to seriously rival it. This unparalleled level of wealth and protection gives the United States options that few to no countries can claim. For one, the United States has used its wealth and security to build up the world's largest navy. Control of the world's major sea-lanes gives the United States the power to facilitate or deny trade to allies or rivals of the day. The onus therefore is on the United States to carefully manage its engagements abroad and build up strategic allies to protect its overseas interests and preserve its strength at home.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 16:41 GMT
Iceland
Iceland
Iceland is an island country situated at the confluence of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Most of Iceland’s terrain is uninhabitable. The island's interior, known as the Icelandic Highlands, is a combination of glaciers, volcanoes and lava fields. Two thirds of Iceland’s 320,000 inhabitants live in the lowlands surrounding Reykjavik, the country’s capital and largest city. Protecting Reykjavik (Iceland’s core) is the country’s main strategic imperative. The Icelandic economy historically depended heavily on fishing, which still provides 40% of export earnings. In recent decades, Iceland's economy has diversified into manufacturing, service industries and finance. Balancing its isolation with external economic integration is Iceland’s primary geographic challenge. Iceland has especially strong cultural and political ties with the other Nordic countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, because the island was under the rule of the Norwegian and Danish monarchies between the 13th and 20th centuries. Iceland became independent in 1918, and a republic was declared in 1944. Iceland's location also makes it geopolitically significant for Europe, particularly in light of the growing relevance of energy resources in the Arctic area. Moreover, Iceland’s location in the so-called GIUK (Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom) gap is strategic for naval military operations in the North Atlantic. Because of its geographic isolation, Iceland has to make a constant effort to keep strong economic ties with the rest of the world. The country therefore has to continuously reach a balance between maintaining independence and fostering deep ties with its eastern or western neighbors. The population's indecisiveness concerning Iceland's EU membership reflects that struggle.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:20 GMT
Georgia
Georgia
Georgia is located in the Caucasus region, a transcontinental zone between Europe and Asia, and is surrounded by powerful neighbors that have controlled part or all of the country throughout much of its history. These include Russia to the north, Turkey to the southwest and Iran to the southeast. Georgia's core is found in the capital city of Tbilisi, where the country's economic, political and demographic resources are concentrated. But because of Georgia's largely mountainous terrain, the country has distinct regional differences and contains various non-Georgian ethnic groups that have traditionally maintained autonomy from Tbilisi. These groups, most notably the Abkhazians and Ossetians to the northwest and north, have posed a separatist problem for the Georgian state. The territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia established de facto independence from Georgia with the help of Russia in a 2008 war. Because of Georgia's disputes with Russia and its military vulnerability, Tbilisi has sought to integrate with Western blocs like NATO and the European Union. However, Georgia's geographic distance from Europe and its exposure to Russia has made that a difficult prospect. Thus, Tbilisi also seeks supplementary partnerships with countries like Azerbaijan and Turkey.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 14:32 GMT
Mir Castle in the Minsk region of Belarus.
Belarus
Belarus is a landlocked country located in Eastern Europe. The country is almost entirely flat with little in terms of geographic barriers or protective features. Belarus' borders to the east with Russia and to the west with Poland and Lithuania are virtually wide open. One exception though is the Pripet Marshes on its southern border with Ukraine. Due to the lack of these barriers and the presence of more powerful states in the region, Belarus has been historically a difficult independent state to sustain. Belarus sits in the North European Plain, the geopolitical superhighway of Europe. This is the area that has historically been the prominent invasion route of European powers like Germany and France into Russia and vice versa. Russia took control of Belarus from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 18th century, incorporating it into the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union. Belarus was subject to Nazi occupation during WWII, in which the country lost more than 25 percent of its population, but then was reincorporated into the Soviet Union with the Germans’ defeat.The 20 years of independence since the fall of the Soviet Union is the longest Belarus has known in its modern history, but it still in many ways serves as a de facto buffer state between Russia and Europe. Belarus was one of the most industrialized republics of the Soviet Union, and it still maintains a large industrial base centered in its capital city of Minsk. Belarus has fertile agricultural lands and is one of the world's leading producers of potash and other fertilizers. It is also a key trade and transit hub for Russian energy to Europe, making the country an enduring focus of competition between Russia and the West.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 14:53 GMT
Central African Republic
Central African Republic
The Central African Republic is a landlocked country in the heart of Central Africa. The country shares borders with Chad to the north, Sudan to the northeast, South Sudan to the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo to the south and Cameroon to the west. The Central African Republic's prospects for economic growth are severely limited by its geographical location, which has increased the costs of imports and exports while hampering connectivity. Unsurprisingly, the country is one of the world's least stable nations. Moreover, the government in Bangui, the country’s capital, remains woefully unable to assert its power beyond its immediate environs. In fact, large swaths of the country remain effectively outside the government’s control, as militant groups and gangs have proliferated in many areas. The assistance of outside powers and international organizations have done little to enhance Bangui’s authority in recent years. A former French colony, the Central African Republic has struggled to achieve stability since independence. Instead, periodic conflagrations have rocked the country, occasionally precipitating French military intervention, such as in 2013. An additional challenge for leaders in Bangui is the near continuous meddling of their regional neighbors, which have sought to exploit the Central African Republic's security vacuum to grab some of the country's vast mineral resources. At present, the country’s long-term prospects appear bleak due to its deep structural deficiencies.
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