My research focuses on a variety of transnational phenomena, such as democracy and autocracy promotion, counterterrorism and security assistance, Islamic radicalization, and nexus of trafficking and terrorism. All of my studies highlight the role of “intangibles,” i.e., beliefs, discourses, and ideologies, and their role in shaping states’ domestic politics and foreign policy through interactions with material factors and socio-political contexts. In International Relations and Foreign Policy Analysis, this emphasis on mental, cognitive, and discursive constructions has been closely attached to critical theory, constructivist approaches, and psychological theories. My research, too, has been informed by these perspectives.
Geographically, my expertise lies in Eurasia, a large and diverse area encompassing eight former Soviet Union republics: Russia, five Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), and three republics of South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia).
The following are the research trajectories that weave together my regional expertise with substantive focus on transnational phenomena. See my CV for the complete list of publications, which copies are available on ResearchGate.
See Current Projects for this new line of research
That democracies don't fight each other has become a truism of international relations. Despite the sheer number of studies on this subject, the jury is still out about what factors explain the robust association between democratic regime and peace. Contributing to this debate, "Liberalism and Religion: Amplifiers of War between Democratic and Non-Democratic States?" (Democracy and Security, with Brittnee Carter) tests the association between liberalism and religion on militarized disputes in the politically and religiously similar and mixed state dyads. In "Democratic or Cultural Peace?: Examining the Joint Democratic Peace Proposition through the Lens of Shared Emancipative Values" (forthcoming in the European Journal of International Security, with Brittnee Carter) we test whether a specific type of culture rooted in emancipative values vitiate the impact of democracy on peace.
Another study of democratic peace (with Crandal, Beasley, and Cox) draws on the Perceptual Theory of Legitimacy to theorize the use of covert force by democracies against other democratic states. The study made a contribution to the ongoing debate about democratic peace thesis (that democracies don’t fight each other) by bringing psychology to bear on the issue involving the U.S. use of clandestine operations against other democratic states, and highlighting the impact of perceptions, ideas, and information.
Counterterrorism and Human Rights
My interest in counterterrorism and its intersection with human rights can be traced back to my dissertation research, which appeared as a monograph, Counterterrorism Policies in Central Asia in 2011, and a series of articles in peer-reviewed journals. The book, which received an Outstanding Academic Title award by Choice, and is reviewed here, examines the dangerous tendency of counterterrorism policies of the Central Asian states to grow more alike amid propensities for divergence. It applies a reference group approach from social psychology for demonstrating the impact of powerful states on other governments' perceptions of terrorism and counterterrorism policies. In addition to assessing the scope and brutality of Central Asian states’ responses to terrorism, the book offers a succinct account of counterterrorism policies of Russia and the U.S., and regional organizations spearheaded by these actors.
Central Asian counterterrorism policies are further explored in “Combating Terrorism in Central Asia: Explaining Differences in States’ Responses to Terror” (Terrorism and Political Violence), “Convergence of Counterterrorism Policies: A Case Study of Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia” (Studies in Conflict & Terrorism), and “Security Rights Violations in the Context of Counterterrorism: Analysis of the Post-Soviet Nations” (The International Journal of Human Rights). I demonstrated the utility of reference groups perspective for explaining states’ security policies in “Between Commitment and Pragmatism: Assessing International Influence on Human Rights Practices in Georgia” (Journal of Human Rights) and “Reference Group Perspective on State Behavior: A Case Study of Estonia’s Counterterrorism Policies” (Europe Asia Studies).
Russia’s counterterrorism received in-depth exploration in “Russia’s Counterterrorism Legislation, Warts and All: Overview and Assessment of the Legal Framework for Combating Terrorism in the Russian Federation", and “Russia’s Counterterrorism Policy: Variations of an Imperial Theme" (in Counterterrorism Policies, ed. Scott Romaniuk).
Democracy/Autocracy Promotion/Authoritarian Persistence
One of the recent trends in the broader literature on external actors and democratization is to examine international forces that promote nondemocratic models of governance and development, resist the spread of democratic institutions, and obstruct international democratization in other ways. My studies follow this line of research by exploring the role of external actors, such as Russia and China, in sustaining authoritarian regimes in Central Asia. My book on Democracy Promotion in Central Asia (University of Kentucky, 2015) applies a framing perspective, borrowed from psychology, to conceptualize and analyze democratizing efforts of the US and EU, and counter-efforts by Russia and China. As a specific representation, packaging and positioning of issues related to democracy and democratization, a democracy promotion frame gives prominence to the communicative power of ideas and highlights limitations of approaches emphasizing “the method,” rather than the “content” of democratization. The book has been reviewed in International Affairs, Europe-Asia Studies, Democratization, and Choice Connect. A brief interview about the book appeared in The Diplomat, and a shorter version of the study was published in Cambridge Review of International Affairs.
I have also theorized and researched the discursive strategies employed by authoritarian regimes to retain their power in “Central Asian Conceptions of ‘Democracy’: Ideological Resistance to International Democratization” and “Authoritarian Legitimation: Assessing Discourses of Legitimacy in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan” (Central Asian Survey). Those interested in the overview and assessment of the literature on the topic may find my piece on “Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia” particularly useful.
“Eye on the International Image: Turkmenistan’s Nation Branding” that appeared in my edited volume, Nationalism and Identity in Central Asia: Dimensions, Dynamics, and Directions examines the external legitimization strategy used by the Turkmen government.
Russian Politics and Foreign Policy
My research on foreign policy draws on the critical geopolitics perspective, which views foreign policy as a social, cultural, political, and discursive practice of constructing, defending and living the alternative claims about the “truths” of global politics. How political leaders define and redefine these geopolitical visions of international life matters crucially in explaining specific outcomes of their states’ foreign policies. See “Critical Geopolitics on Russian Foreign Policy: Uncovering the Imagery of Moscow’s International Relations” (International Politics), Russia’s Foreign Policy Toward Iran: A Critical Geopolitics Perspective (Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies), and chapter on Russia’s Foreign Policy in Central Asia (Routledge). I have also written on Russia’s security and foreign policy and examined whether Russia’s own IR theory has greater utility at accounting for Russia’s foreign policy actions.
My recent study, “A New Russian Holiday Has More Behind It Than National Unity” examines the political functions of historical commemorations using the example of the new Russian holiday, the Unity Day, celebrated on November 4th that replaced the October Day celebration on November 7th.
Securitization of Islam
In my research on religion, conceived of a system of beliefs that manifests itself through discourse, I utilize a theory and method of discourse to highlight susceptibility of any religion, Islam in particular, to the phenomenon of instrumentalization (“Islam and Power Legitimation: Instrumentalization of Religion in Central Asian States” and “Islam in Kazakhstan: A Survey of Trends and Conditions for Securitization”). The latter refers to a deliberately discursive process of packaging the references to Islam with certain themes for varying its connotations and emotional appeals, and highlighting selected aspects of religion while muting or disparaging others. Other publications on Islam in Central Asia suitable for teaching purposes include, “Terrorism in Central Asia: Dynamics, Dimensions, and Sources” and “The Multiple Faces of Islamic Rebirth in Central Asia”.