Dr. Gavin Helf is a senior expert on Central Asia for the U.S. Institute of Peace where he works on Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Before joining USIP, Dr. Helf worked as a senior democracy and governance advisor in the USAID Asia and Middle East bureaus, covering democracy promotion and countering violent extremism portfolios. From 2007-2009 he worked at USAID Iraq, managing and helping design much of the democracy and governance, community peace-building, and civilian assistance portfolios there during “the surge.”

Dr. Helf studied, lived, and worked in the USSR and its successor states from 1984-2007, mostly in Central Asia and the Caucuses, with nongovernmental organizations and USAID. From 2005-2007 he was a democracy and governance advisor at USAID Armenia. From 2003-2005 he worked as a consultant on Central Asia. From 2000-2002 he was director of grant programs for the Eurasia Foundation. From 1997-2000 he was Central Asia regional director for the International Research & Exchanges Board based in Almaty.

Dr. Helf graduated with a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in political science from University of California at Berkeley. He has taught Russian and Soviet foreign policy, comparative politics, and security studies at Notre Dame, Cornell, The George Washington University and Moscow's International University. He was also a guest lecturer at the National War College, The U.S. Military Academy and The Foreign Service Institute, among others.

Publications By Gavin

With Friends Like These: How Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Hurts Central Asia

With Friends Like These: How Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Hurts Central Asia

Monday, February 28, 2022

By: Gavin Helf, Ph.D.

While accepting Russia’s big footprint in their security and economic lives, Central Asian countries have tried to conduct “multi-vector” foreign policies. These countries know that having good (or at least balanced) relations with Russia, China and the United States is important in the long term — and that Central Asian leaders who’ve tried to play the big powers against each other often wind up the loser. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

What to Make of Kazakhstan’s Seemingly Sudden Unrest

What to Make of Kazakhstan’s Seemingly Sudden Unrest

Friday, January 7, 2022

By: Gavin Helf, Ph.D.;  Donald N. Jensen, Ph.D.

What started last week as a protest against fuel price increases has quickly turned into a nationwide movement that is taking aim at Kazakhstan’s elite political and economic leaders — in particularly, the semi-retired former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose continued role in political affairs has become a focal point of popular discontent. The demonstrations have become increasingly violent in recent days, as protesters clash with Kazakh police and Russian military personnel have been brought in at the request of Kazakhstan’s president. USIP’s Gavin Helf and Donald Jensen discuss where these explosive protests came from, Moscow’s increasing role in the crisis and where Kazakhstan goes from here.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

How the Region is Reacting to the Taliban Takeover

How the Region is Reacting to the Taliban Takeover

Thursday, August 19, 2021

By: Gavin Helf, Ph.D.;  Donald N. Jensen, Ph.D.;  Garrett Nada;  Tamanna Salikuddin;  Andrew Scobell, Ph.D.

While the Taliban’s swift advance into Kabul over the weekend has left much of the West reeling, Afghans themselves will bear the brunt of the militant group’s rule. Beyond Afghanistan’s borders, its neighbors will feel the most immediate impact. Earlier this year, Russia, China and Pakistan affirmed that the future of Afghanistan should be decided through dialogue and political negotiations. How will they engage with the Taliban now?

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Central Asia Prepares for Taliban Takeover

Central Asia Prepares for Taliban Takeover

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

By: Gavin Helf, Ph.D.;  Barmak Pazhwak

Last week’s conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan was originally supposed to focus on regional connectivity in South and Central Asia. But the Taliban’s surge in recent weeks consumed the regional conference and has many in the region wary of what’s next. As U.S. and NATO forces draw down their military presence in Afghanistan, the country’s northern neighbors have witnessed Taliban fighters swiftly overrun most of the rural parts of northern Afghanistan, establishing control over nearly all of the 1,500-mile border between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. By all indications, Central Asian states are preparing for a new reality in Afghanistan, one where the Taliban control most, if not all, of the country.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & PreventionGlobal Policy

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