New Trends in the Post-Soviet Space
Doctor of Military Sciences
In my previous articles (including “Returning to the Bipolar World. Pandemic and Crisis as Factors of Geopolitics”) on the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the oil market crisis, I drew some conclusions about changes in the world geopolitical situation. First of all, the consolidation of the role of the United States and China as the two leading global powers. Other centers of power, including Russia, cannot compete with them and begin to surrender their positions, still continuing to fight for their own interests.
As noted in those publications, all this leads to increased tensions in the world that is becoming increasingly conflictful. These processes’ impact on the situation in the region of the former USSR and around Ukraine has remained virtually unconsidered. With that in mind, I’d like to share some thoughts with you. Especially in the context of Russia’s goals to regain control over Ukraine, which in turn is of particular importance for both, Ukrainian and Russian interests in the new geopolitical situation.
In this regard, a number of events that lately have taken place in the post-Soviet space and show a fundamental change in the balance of forces there are also indicative. Most of the events are well known. Nevertheless, let’s look at them from a different perspective. In particular, examples of this are:
Failure of Moscow’s attempts to impose on Ukraine its version of the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas
The failure of Moscow’s attempts to impose on Ukraine its version of the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas, which involves the disintegration of the Ukrainian state under the guise of its federalization. Contrary to Russia’s belief in the readiness of the new Ukrainian government to make fundamental concessions on this issue, it has not done so. Which in turn provoked an extremely negative reaction both in the Kremlin itself and in Russian political elite.
Moreover, in contrast to Moscow’s actions to return Ukraine to its sphere of influence, which were accompanied by threats and ultimatums against our state, the Ukrainian side has significantly intensified military cooperation with the United States and NATO. This year, the most resonant manifestations of such cooperation were the joint military exercises of Ukraine with the United States and other NATO countries Sea Breeze, Joint Effort and Rapid Trident. At the same time, in 2020, regular flights of American strategic bombers began in the airspace of Ukraine with the simulation of air strikes on military facilities in the annexed Crimea and the North Caucasus of Russia. In fact, all this was a response to the Russian Armed Forces’ “Caucasus-2020” SCPE and a certain deterrent, a certain signal and response to the constant “rattling” of weapons not only in relation to Ukraine but also the countries of NATO’s eastern flank.
Besides, in October 2020 Ukraine concluded a number of large-scale military-technical agreements with NATO member states. In particular, on the provision by the United Kingdom of a preferential loan in the amount of 1.25 billion pounds for the development of the Ukrainian Navy and the establishment of two naval bases in the Black and Azov Seas, as well as on Turkey’s supply of combat and reconnaissance UAVs and joint production of air defense systems. Also, the United States decided to allocate 250 million US dollars of financial assistance to Ukraine to strengthen its defense sector.
Mass protests in Belarus against the falsification of the results of presidential election
Continuation of mass protests in Belarus against the falsification of the results of presidential election in the country in favor of the Lukashenko regime. At this, despite Minsk’s attempts to maintain control over the situation, it is becoming increasingly radicalized.
For example, from October 26, 2020, Belarusian opposition leaders launched a second wave of protests, accompanied by strikes at the country’s main state-owned enterprises. Besides, the Coordinating Council of the Belarusian opposition has created a new body — the so-called People’s Anti-Crisis Administration with the task of organizing the transit of power in the country. At the same time, the leading Belarusian opposition Telegram channel НЕХТА began collecting and publishing personal data of Belarusian law enforcement officials, which are used to put pressure on them and their families.
For its part, the Belarusian authorities have defined the actions of the opposition as the beginning of a “terrorist war” to undermine the country’s state system. Based on this, A. Lukashenko gave permission to the country’s law enforcement agencies to use firearms against protesters. In addition, the recruitment of so-called people’s guards, designed to assist police in suppressing opposition protests, has been announced.
According to the representatives of the European Parliament, these events are extremely dangerous and can lead to civil conflict (war) in Belarus.
Azerbaijan’s moving to direct force to restore the country’s territorial integrity
Azerbaijan’s moving to direct force to restore the country’s territorial integrity, namely the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh and neighboring Azerbaijani regions, which were captured by Armenia between 1992 and 1994, with Russian support. At this, the advantage of Azerbaijan over Armenia in terms of its military potential allows it to confidently fight today.
Under such circumstances, Baku, given the almost thirty-year old frozen conflict and the inability of the world community to resolve it peacefully, completely ignores calls from Russia and Western countries to cease hostilities and agrees to return to a peaceful solution to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict only if Armenia withdraws its troops from Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkey is openly siding with Azerbaijan not only politically but also providing it with military-technical and other assistance, which is in fact the first case of direct intervention of NATO member state in armed conflicts in post-Soviet territories. Moreover, on October 27, 2020, President of Turkey R. Erdogan demonstratively warned Russia against crossing the “red lines” in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Revolution in Kyrgyzstan against the falsification of the results of parliamentary elections
Another revolution in Kyrgyzstan in October 2020, which was the result of the government’s falsification of the results of parliamentary elections in the country. As a result of the revolutionary events, the President of Kyrgyzstan S. Jeenbekov, who came to power in 2017 with the support of Russia (a representative of the pro-Russian Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan), was forced to resign.
At this, a number of experts do not rule out the possibility of Beijing’s involvement in the change of power in Kyrgyzstan, because of the collapse of its relations with China in favor of the Russian Federation. Under such conditions, the issue of Bishkek’s repayment of its 1.7 billion US dollar debt to China, which is the largest part of Kyrgyzstan’s foreign borrowing, has become more acute.
Worsening of the internal situation in Moldova on the eve of the presidential election
Worsening of the internal situation in Moldova on the eve of the presidential election in the country on November 1, 2020. In particular, at the end of October this year the journalistic association RISE Moldova published a number of materials on the tight relations with Russia of the current President of Moldova I. Dodon (pro-Russian representative of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova).
In turn, the Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service S. Naryshkin, who is gaining more and more political weight in the Russian establishment amid recent events, accused the United States of preparing a revolutionary scenario for Moldova to prevent the re-election of I. Dodon as president. According to the Russian special services, in case of I. Dodon’s victory mass riots are planned to be organized through pro-Western forces in Moldova, as in other “color” revolutions in the post-Soviet space.
Moscow is losing its influence in the post-Soviet space, which is a continuation of the trend of weakening of Russia’s position in the world
In general, all of the above mentioned indicates that Moscow is gradually losing its influence in the post-Soviet space, which is a continuation of the trend of weakening of Russia’s position in the world. Consequently, Russia is losing the opportunity to implement its geopolitical plans to restore the semblance of the Soviet Union or at least control over the territories of the former Russian Empire. Instead, there is an objective increase in the presence of other centers of power of the global and regional levels in the region, primarily the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Turkey and China.
At this, the aggravation of the RF’s economic problems, which is becoming systemic, in fact, deprives it of the opportunity to effectively defend its interests. This problem also applies to Russia’s armed forces as one of the main tools for implementing its foreign policy. For example, in August 2020, the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation made a proposal to reduce military spending by about 30 %. In October 2020, such proposals were supplemented by the initiatives of the Ministry of Finance to reduce the number of servicemen of the Russian army and navy by 10 %, as well as to reduce the cost of their maintenance.
…Moscow continues its confrontation with the West and attempts to keep the countries of the former Soviet Union in the sphere of Russian influence. It only changes the forms and methods of actions…
According to Russian experts, the situation in this sphere is reminiscent of military reforms in Russia in 2009–2012 under the leadership of then-Defense Minister A. Serdyukov. In particular, at that time, the negative effects of the global crisis forced Moscow to start large-scale reductions in its armed forces under the guise of optimizing them and bringing them up to modern standards.
However, all this does not mean Moscow’s refusal to try to confront the West and keep the countries of the former Soviet Union in the sphere of Russian influence. Russia is only changing the forms and methods of its actions, based on its capabilities.
For example, in order to put pressure on the United States, the leadership of the Russian Federation is manipulating the issue of extending the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). In particular, Moscow rejects Washington’s proposals to include in the New START issues of nuclear tactical weapons reduction.
At the same time, the information campaign aimed to make Western countries believe in the existence of state-of-the-art weapons systems in Russia, which allegedly have no analogues in the world, has recently become more active. But Russians conceal the fact that most of these systems are still under development or testing and cannot be used in actual combat.
Besides, Russia explains a number of planned exercises that have been held in Belarus recently as a reaction to the events in Belarus and the “intervention of the West in them”. In particular — the anti-terrorist exercise of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus “Slavic Brotherhood-2020” in September 2020 and the CSTO peacekeeping exercise “Indestructible Brotherhood-2020” in October 2020.
To make the above-mentioned exercises more resonant, they were accompanied by flights of long-range (strategic) aviation of the Russian Armed Forces in Belarusian airspace. However, in reality, they were not directly related to the protests against A. Lukashenko in Belarus.
In the same way, as Moscow’s reaction to Azerbaijan’s forceful actions to restore the territorial integrity of the country, the Russian media presented the planned for October of 2020 exercise of the Caspian Military Flotilla that was a part of the final inspection of the Russian Armed Forces for 2020. By the way, in a similar context, the exercise “Indestructible Brotherhood-2020” was commented regarding Azerbaijan, and was called “preparation of the CSTO for the deployment of peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh”.
However, despite Russia’s commitments to its CSTO partners, it has not provided military assistance to the ruling regimes of Belarus, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan in crisis situations. At the official level, this was explained by the Kremlin’s lack of grounds for applying the relevant provisions of the Collective Security Treaty. But the real reasons for Moscow’s position were not only the lack of necessary funds, but also the threat of new sanctions from the West and the danger of Russia’s clash with Turkey in the Caucasus and China in Central Asia.
By the way, the intensification of the armed confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan began immediately after the completion of the “Caucasus-2020” SCPE, which was presented by Moscow as evidence of the “unity” and “effectiveness” of the CSTO.
…Russia still is ready to use force in post-Soviet territories, which can be done in case of critical developments…
Despite this, Russia still is ready to use force in post-Soviet territories, which can be done in case of critical developments. Such cases may be: beginning of a civil war in Belarus; Ukraine’s offensive actions to liberate the occupied territories of the Donbas, etc.
Note, that Russia still has sufficient resources, we may even say potential, to continue the confrontation with the United States and NATO, at least in the nuclear sphere. For example, despite the economic problems, the Strategic Nuclear Forces of the Russian Federation are maintained in readiness and are being modernized. Evidence of this is the continuation of the process of rearmament of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, as well as the actual invariability of the intensity of their combat training.
Besides, in response to the USA’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty, Russia has begun to strengthen its capabilities for the use of tactical nuclear weapons. By the way, it is for this reason that Moscow refuses to include the issue of reducing tactical nuclear weapons in the prolonged New START treaty.
…The situation in the region of the former USSR expands the freedom of action of post-Soviet countries to defend their interests…
At the same time, the situation in the region of the former USSR expands the freedom of action of post-Soviet countries to defend their interests before Russia. All this fully applies to Ukraine and allows it to move to a more active course to restore the territorial integrity of the country on its own terms.
In particular, at this stage it may concern the implementation of Ukraine’s initiatives to create new formats for resolving the conflict in the Donbas, amendments to the Minsk Agreements, as well as creation of an international negotiating platform for the restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea. At the very least, the entire “state machine”, and not only the president, the government, law enforcement and special services, including civil society, must work on this in unison.
Of course, this will remain an extremely difficult task. However, Russia will no longer be able to talk to Ukraine from a position of strength, although it will continue to put pressure on our state, including in the military sphere. In turn, along with continuing efforts to find a political solution to the Donbas problem, this situation will continue to require Ukraine to strengthen its defense capabilities on the eastern direction.
No one will talk to the weak.