Lawrence Scott Sheets


Lawrence Scott Sheets, who reported for Reuters and National Public Radio on the collapse of the Soviet Union, is the Caucasus project director of the International Crisis Group. This article is excerpted from his new book, Eight Pieces of Empire: A 20-Year Journey Through the Soviet Collapse (Crown, © 2011).


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The Glorious Invasion

Three weeks after September 11, 2001, the day I arrived in Moscow to begin as National Public Radio’s bureau chief, my editors gave me four hours to pack before I was dispatched on an overnight flight to the never-never land of Uzbekistan. It was a temporary stopping--off point before I went on to neighboring Afghanistan. I had never been to Uzbekistan and knew only that the place was renowned as a hotbed of terrified, stonewalling bureaucrats. It had taken the U.S. three weeks to turn Uzbekistan into its biggest regional ally, with the Uzbeks agreeing to provide an air base outside the city of Karshi in the southern part of the country. The U.S. State Department continued to list a yearly litany of Uzbekistan’s appalling human-rights abuses, but the offenses were subsumed under the “strategic partnership” mantra, a concession to the need to fight the war in Afghanistan and worry about human rights later. Before the Afghan War, foreign reporters were a rarity...