First Look at Geopolitical Orientations

The COVID crisis has upended the planned roll-out of the research results of the Geopolitical Orientations Project (see previous post from February). Fortunately we were finished the survey research process just before the crisis really hit (though we were unable to survey in all the places we had hoped to do so, for various reasons).

We were able to compose a series of short pieces for general audiences on data from the project. While we had positive experiences with various editors, it is worth noting that we do not choose the headings or sub-headings of these pieces nor the accompanying photo. Further, the process of writing for a general audience does mean some compromise on language and framing. The ‘translation’ from academic language to popular language can sometimes be tricky. Here are the pieces that have been published to date:

  1. Data on the Geopolitical Orientation and Aspirations of the Ukrainian people. (Monkey Cage blog, Washington Post)
  2. Data on the attitudes of Crimeans six years after annexation, including trust in various leaders (Monkey Cage blog, Washington Post)
  3. Longer article on political attitudes in Crimea, including perceptions of biggest problems (for Foreign Affairs blog). This article elicited a response opinion editorial from the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, available here, along with our short response.
  4. Article on perceptions of NGOs as “foreign agents” in Georgia and Ukraine (Open Democracy Russia).
  5. Article on attitudes toward the influence of the various “great powers” in Kazakhstan,with an emphasis on perceptions of China before the Covid crisis, and subsequent info war, took hold (Open Democracy Russia).

Our project is structured as a panel survey. Researchers often hope for a “big event” in between the first round of surveys and the second round. Well, we’ve got that and its massively ugly and awful. No one wished for this.

Because of a longstanding interest in geopolitical conspiracies, our surveys did include some generic and specific blame attribution conspiracy statements. One of these was about the spreading of a virus. We’re analyzing that now and will write it up for academic publication, with a general audience version thereafter I expect.

Be safe everyone.


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Forthcoming Presentations on Geopolitical Orientations Research in 2020

Below are my currently scheduled or proposed academic conference presentations for this year (so far). Some are joint presentation with Dr John O’Loughlin, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado-Boulder ( Together with Dr Kristin Bakke, we’ll also be presenting data from our NSF/RCUK project throughout this year at universities and research centers. (My book-in-progress work is separate from all this).

Political Geography Specialty Group Pre-Conference, Boulder Colorado, April.

The Regional Effect in Ukraine Revisited: New Evidence with National Polling Data

Association of American Geographer’s Conference, Denver, Colorado, April.

Popular Support for Geopolitical Conspiracy Theories in Russia’s Neighboring States

Association for the Study of Nationalities Conference, New York, May

Are States on Russia’s Borders Really In-Between Lands? Measuring and Assessing the Geopolitical Orientations of 12 Post-Soviet States.

The Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies, Washington DC, November

With Russia or NATO? Preferences from 2020 survey data for military relations in Western Post-Soviet Eurasia.

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Publications in 2019

Here’s a list of pieces that have appeared in 2019. All were collaborative publications this year. With over 3000 downloads so far, the Crimea paper manifestly generated the most interest. There should, consequently, be considerable interest in our forthcoming work on public opinion in this most disputed of territories.

Those interested in my current book project (which is going very slowly) will find the conversation with Veit Bachmann the most relevant (and hopefully interesting).

Gela Merabishvili’s Ph D research on border walls continues apace. Hopefully he’ll be able to defend his Ph D research this year, and start to get more of his research into the public arena.

J. O’Loughlin, G. Toal, “Does War Change Geopolitical Attitudes? A Comparative Analysis of 2014 Surveys in Southeast Ukraine.Problems of Post-Communism. Online, 15 November.

G. Toal, J. O’Loughlin, “The Crimea Conundrum: Legitimacy and Public Opinion After Annexation.” Eurasian Geography and Economics. 60, 1: 6-27.

G. Toal, G. Merabishvili, “Borderization Theatre: Geopolitical Entrepreneurship on the South Ossetia Boundary Line, 2008–2018,” Caucasus Survey, 7, 2: 110-133.

V. Bachmann, G. Toal, “Geopolitics – Thick and Complex. A Conversation with Gerard Toal. Erdkunke, 73, 2, 143-155.  https://doi.10.3112/erdkunde.2019.02.05



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The Rise of Conspiracist Geopolitics

Video of my opening keynote address “The Rise of Conspiracist Geopolitics”at the Fourth Annual Tartu Conference on Russian and East European Studies. University of Tartu, Estonia, 9 June 2019.ToalTartu



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I am extremely grateful to the ENMISA Specialty Group of the International Studies Association for their Distinguished Book Award of 2019. Thanks in particular to Dr Bahar Baser for the presentation of the award at the ISA meeting in Toronto and to Dr Daniel Naujoks for the photograph.


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The Crimea Conundrum

As part of a special issue on Ukraine 5 years after Maidan, the journal Eurasian Geography and Economics has published an article John O’Loughlin and I wrote on the conflict over Crimea (available free access for a limited time). The article highlights what we term ‘scalar disjunctures of legitimacy,’ which is simply a summary phrase for the fact that most of the world condemns Crimea’s annexation/reunification whereas there is consistent evidence that most Crimeans consider this act as legitimate. The commonplace speech act ‘Crimean annexation’ in much of the world de-legitimates the action. Some go further and give the episode a Nazi-frame, referring to it as an ‘anschluss.’

Framed within the longstanding rhetorical formulas of ‘self-determination’ produces a very different reality. A ‘Crimean people’ living in a recognizable and clearly bounded territory exercised their self-determination right and choose to (re)join the Russian Federation.

We term this essentially contested condition the Crimea conundrum.

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Borderization: A Critical Geopolitics

Gela Merabishvili and I wrote an article on the geopolitical enterpreneurship within Georgian surrounding ‘borderization,’ the construction of a physical barrier to free movement by a de facto state to assert its claim to create an ‘international’ border. The article is one-sided in that it only examines the issue in Georgian political life. A fuller study would examine the issue in South Ossetian political life and within North Ossetia and the Russian Federation more broadly. Nevertheless it is a start on developing a critical geopolitics on an important topic. It is available free access for a limited time at the Caucasus Survey journal website.

Observant readers will know that the front cover of Near Abroad features a Georgian group protesting borderization.Screen Shot 2019-03-18 at 7.05.00 PM


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