By Dr. S. Fredrick Starr

January 3, 2023

https://www.19fortyfive.com/2023/01/putins-war-in-ukraine-is-brutal-it-looks-like-the-crimean-war/

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As the Russian army struggles to hold on to the Crimean peninsula, we all ask where it is all leading. Most answers are mere speculation, for there are simply too many of what Donald Rumsfeld called “unknown unknowns.” But history may offer some insights. After all, this is not the first time Russia sought to hold onto those lands and the West mounted a military response. We’ve been there before. During the Crimean War of 1853-1856, Britain, France, and Ottoman Turkey confronted tsarist Russia over these same lands. Even though that war is scarcely remembered today, there are striking parallels between that conflict and the present. These earlier events can be divided into three phases.

First, in its nineteenth century war over Crimea, Russia suffered from an unbridgeable technological gap. Nicholas I decked out his troops in fancy uniforms and declared Russia’s army unbeatable, a claim supported by the memory of Russia’s victory over Napoleon earlier in the century. Nicholas hated Europe but was ignorant of its strengths. When a Moscow professor wrote that “We can expect nothing from the West but blind hatred and malice,” Nicholas reportedly wrote in the margin: “This is the whole point.” He was a deep-dyed expansionist, but Russia’s railroads were woefully inadequate, its telegraph system undeveloped, its field commanders had no spy balloons, and its soldiers lacked the percussion handguns with rifled barrels that were standard for the French and British forces.

Even though they were hopelessly outgunned and their generals outmaneuvered, Nicholas’ soldiers fought on, with a will that is absent among their counterparts today. Unlike Putin, Nicholas I was remorseful, yet his war dragged on for a year after the tsar’s death. This slow finale utterly discredited Russia’s military and the bribe-taking and corrupt officer corps that embodied it. Had Britain, France, and Ottoman Turkey struck a premature treaty with Russia, Nicholas’ tyranny would have survived and the old order would have remained intact.

Second, the humiliating defeat and Russia’s faltering economy gave rise to the threat of domestic unrest. Nicholas’ thirty-eight year old son, Alexander II, had no choice but to launch what became known as the “Epoch of Great Reforms.”  Defending his remarkable programs, the young tsar declared that “It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait until it begins to abolish itself from below.” He and his like-minded staff set about instituting westernizing reforms in areas as diverse as the courts and judiciary, banking, local government, and the military itself.

The capstone of Alexander II’s reforms was the abolition of serfdom. This system had condemned ninety percent of Russia’s population to a fate akin to slavery. Emancipation gave peasants the use of land and kept peasant life intact but prevented them from migrating to the cities. For all the inadequacies of its reform, Russia managed to end serfdom two years before the United States emancipated its far less numerous slaves and without the estimated 750,000 deaths of the American Civil War.

Third, for all their prudence and, in some cases, brilliance, the Great Reforms did not last. Within a decade Russia succumbed once more to imperialist fantasies. The immediate cause of the breakdown of the nineteenth century reforms were Polish subjects of the tsar who wanted to enjoy the same rights as Russians. Alexander II had abolished serfdom in Poland but was not about to accede to the Poles’ demand for decentralization and self-government. Others of the tsar’s subject peoples decided that they, too, wanted to gain more control over their destinies. By the end of the nineteenth century calls for autonomy and self-government were heard from Finland to Central Asia. Alexander II’s successors down to the Revolution of 1917 responded with brutal clampdowns.

The Polish crisis not only left the Great Reforms dead or dying, but it unleashed a tide of Russian chauvinism that would lead to the breakup of the tsarist empire. After Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, he was succeeded by his son, Alexander III. Cultural and political imperialism, not decentralization and self-government, became the order of the day. In the end, the great cause of reform in tsarist Russia was defeated by the fantasy of a centralized and homogeneous empire. After 1917 Lenin and the Communists also embraced it, and used their newly formed Red Army to impose it on the populace.   

 

TRAGIC REPLAY?

How significant are the similarities between the Crimean War of 1853-1855 and the present conflict in Ukraine? And what lessons can be drawn from Russia’s failure in its nineteenth century war in Crimea, from the Great Reforms, and from the country’s reversion to autocracy?  

In both conflicts Russia was motivated by imperial ideology. And in both cases Britain and France teamed up, joined today by the active participation of the U.S. and other European states. In both cases the Turks opposed Russia. True, their involvement in the 1850s did not thwart the tsar in the Crimean theater itself.  But today’s Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2 drones have knocked out scores of Russian fighters, and their inventor, Selcuk Bayraktar, plans to erect a factory in Ukraine to build more.

Without Russia’s resounding defeat in 1855, it is inconceivable that the Era of Great Reforms would have followed. The same may be true today. To unleash a period of fundamental change, the same conditions that prevailed in 1856 must be present: the defeat of Russian forces in the field; the death of the tsar/leader and the discrediting of his advisors; and the fear of popular unrest within Russia itself. While Putin’s fate remains uncertain, all the other conditions are emerging today. And as in the 1850s, nothing would more surely derail future reforms in Russia or prolong the imperial ideology than for Putin somehow to survive his war, and for the core of his circle to remain intact. Russia’s defeat and the discrediting of its ideology are absolutely essential for Russia to come to its senses and launch reforms.

If and when that happens, Russia’s new reformers will need the West’s support and patience. What it certainly will not want will be ham-handed efforts to shape its reforms from abroad or to take advantage of its temporary weakness. If Russia’s new reformers seek advice or help from other countries, let them ask for it and, preferably, pay for it. Both the U.S. government and American foundations will do well to practice self-restraint this time, as they certainly did not after 1991.

The most sensitive issues that will arise in post-Putin Russia will be the same ones that dominated reformist thinking back in 1856: the definition of Russia’s national borders and the degree of decentralization and self-government to be allowed within them. How widely will the elective principle be applied across the Russian state? Will it be applied only to safely “Russian” provinces? Or will it applied also to the many unassimilated ethnic groups that exist even in the nominally Russian core? If post-Putin reformers fail to address this core issue, their reforms in all other areas will be doomed.

Russia may emerge from the present crisis with different borders than at present, and with ethnic or geographic regions and jurisdictions within them that are largely self-governing. In this connection, it is worth recalling that Boris Yeltsin called for the regions of the USSR “to grab as much sovereignty as you can swallow,” and for the election of regional governors and mayors who would be responsible to locally elected councils, as well as to Moscow. But Putin reversed all this. In the end, however, the Russians themselves must decide these issues.

What can be done to prevent Russia’s discredited chauvinists from reemerging a decade from now, on the heels of a post-Putin era of reforms? Very little indeed, other than to make sure that the reforms are certifiably the work of Russians themselves and not some kind of foreign “project.” Responding positively to requests for new ties with the post-Putin government will help, as will new links in education, culture, the economy, and security. But neither these nor other measures will obviate the need for America, in President Reagan’s words, to “trust but verify.”

 

AN ”ERA OF GREAT REFORMS” LOOMING?

What might follow a Russian defeat? Here we confront a fundamental difference between the two eras: Nicholas, broken by failure, conveniently died in 1855, clearing the way for a change of Russia’s leadership. Had he not died it is likely that he would have been overthrown. But Putin is still alive and intent on clinging to power. But he lacks the resources to hold onto whatever Ukrainian territory he seizes. Should he divert funds to that purpose he will likely face revolt at home. In short, even if Putin wins (which is daily less likely) he loses.

In both of its wars over Crimea, Russia’s troubles trace to overconfidence. But today, unlike in 1853, some members of Russia’s officer corps and many influential publicists still believe they could prevail if the national leadership were not holding them back. Unlike in 1853, this could lead to a declaration of all-out war, an expanded draft, and even to the use of nuclear weapons. This can occur with or without Putin. But leaders of a military coup would face the same constraints as Putin does today. Only the use of nuclear weapons is likely to change this. But even before that point is reached, unrest at home is likely to grow to such a degree as to threaten outright revolution. In short, a military takeover will likely foment and ever more fundamental upheaval within the Russian polity and demands for sweeping reforms.

What is the likelihood that such an upheaval would lead to a twenty-first century version of the Great Reforms? There are reasons for doubt. The war against Ukraine has exposed deep strata of corruption in Russia. Whole sectors of Russia’s economy are riddled with fraud, peculation and outright criminality.

Besides this, Putin quashed all opposition. His security forces brought downEvgeni Roizman, the reformist and anti-war former mayor of Ekaterinburg; attempted to poison Aleksei Navalny and then jailed himwithout access to his lawyer; and murdered Boris Nemtsov, the former vice-premier and founder of an independent political party. Putin’s first “mobilization” or draft led to the emigration of some 370,000 highly educated younger Russians, the very group from which new ranks of reformists might emerge.

Acknowledging all the factors, there exist important forces that might bring a new Russian reformism into being. Russia’s military leadership is itself conflicted. On one side is an aggressive war party; on the other side are large numbers of officers who are appalled by developments in Ukraine and believe that zealots and amateurs are destroying the great traditions of Suvorov and Kutuzov. If they have their way, they would cut their losses, withdraw from the war, and begin the laborious task of rebuilding Russia’s disgraced army.

Whichever faction wins, some kind of reform era is all but inevitable. Putin, who once prided himself as being young and virile, is now seventy. Millions of young Russians today are well educated and widely travelled. They admire the developed countries of Europe, Asia, and America, and consider the great power fantasies of Putin and his ilk to be just that, and a guaranty of backwardness. Worse, they view Putin and his generation as roadblocks blocking their own advancement. If they sense the dawning of reform, many of the men and women who fled abroad will return. And unlike the era of the Great Reforms, change-oriented members of their generation are spread across the entire economy and not confined to the civil service, intelligentsia, and officer corp.

 

THE FATE OF REFORM

These considerations auger well for a possible new era of reform in Russia, but most of them fall into the category of “known unknowns.” But suppose for a moment that all turns out for the best and Putin’s successors turn out to be genuine reformists. What then? Will such a reform era survive and endure into Russia’s future? 

If Moscow’s fate in Ukraine/Crimea today follows the course of tsarist Russia’s humiliating failure in 1853-1856, Russians will find themselves pondering the same questions their forefathers faced. Their success or failure will depend on their ability to solve the age-old conundrum of apportioning powers between the center and periphery, and between state and society. Only the Russians themselves can craft a solution to this Rubik’s Cube. But America and its European partners, if asked, should share their experience. Instead of demanding instant change in countless spheres, as happened after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, they would do well to focus on this core issue, offering their insights, while leaving it to the Russians themselves to adopt, adapt, or ignore their counsel.

Frederick Starr is Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC. 

Published in Staff Publications

Svante E. Cornell
Civil Wars,
Vol. 1 no. 3, 1998

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civilwarsThe many conflicts that have raged in the Caucasus since the end of the 1980s have often been depicted in the media and academia as basically religous in character. The religious differences between parties to conflicts are empjasized and often exaggerated. In particular, the Caucasus has been taken as an example of the 'clash of civilzations' supposedly under way. This article seeks to challenge this perception of the Caucasian conflicts, arguing that religion has played a limited role in conflicts that are actually ehnopolitical and territorial in character. The article argues that seldom are religious bodies of thinking used to legitimize conflict behaviour in this region -- there has been no Jihad in the Caucasus, for example -- nor has the politicization of the parties to a conflict been underpinned primarily by religious identity or theological perspetives. As such, religious conflict can not be spoken of. Furthermore ther has occured no rallying of outside powers along religious lines; quite to the contrary empirical evidence shows hat religious has had little impact -- especially when compared to ethnicity -- in the international ramifications of these conflicts. 

Published in Staff Publications
Friday, 22 July 2022 13:27

Russia Needs Its Own Charles de Gaulle

By S. Frederick Starr

July 22, 2022

https://nationalinterest.org/feature/russia-needs-its-own-charles-de-gaulle-203642

TNI

Even if Vladimir Putin wins in Ukraine, he loses. Anything defined as victory will cost the lives of thousands more of Russia’s young men at a time when the population is shrinking. Simply to hold Luhansk, Donetsk, and other conquered territories against guerilla fighters will require further expenditures of manpower and equipment, both of which are in short supply. Real pacification would call for investments which Russia can’t afford, and the Russian public would oppose. Nor will Putin be excused for having disgraced the Russian military.
 

Win or lose, Putin and his weakened and his discredited system will not long survive. No one knows what will come next, but it is clear what should follow. Russia needs its own Charles de Gaulle, the French general-turned-president who got France out of its disastrous war in Algeria.

Back in 1958 when de Gaulle came out of retirement to become president, France faced an armed uprising by ethnic Algerians seeking independence. France had sent 600,000 soldiers there, who were supported by a million pieds noir, French who had settled there. The strife led to a terrible loss of lives, a revolt in the French army, and a fracturing of society that is still evident today. Far from conceding to such domestic forces, de Gaulle went himself to Algeria, ordered French troops there to cease backing the rebellious Committee of Public Safety, and then declared a ceasefire and granted independence to the Algerians, to be confirmed by a later vote, which took place on 1 July 1962. In its aftermath, 900,000 pieds noir abandoned Algeria.

De Gaulle succeeded because he envisioned a better future France without Algeria than with it and convinced a majority of French citizens that he was right. The best past forward for Putin’s successor is to do the same in Russia.

To be sure, Russia is not France and Ukraine is not Algeria. Ukraine had been ruled by Moscow down to 1991 but is now a sovereign state and a member of the United Nations. Algeria in 1958, by contrast, remained an integral part of the French state. Separation was even harder for Algeria than for Ukraine, which gained independence thanks to the collapse of the USSR. Most important, de Gaulle came to power just as colonialism was everywhere waning, while Putin came to power with the intent purpose of reviving it. De Gaulle took positive action with respect to France’s colonies while Putin used armed force to recapture two provinces of the Republic of Georgia and Ukraine’s Crimea.

Other aspects of de Gaulle’s approach are directly relevant to Russia. De Gaulle pulled out of Algeria not because he thought France was no longer a major power but because he was a nationalist who did not want to lose the rest of France’s empire. Similarly, a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine may be the only way Moscow can continue to hold onto the Kuril Islands, the Russian far East, and even Siberia. For the same reason Russia’s great nationalist writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, writing as early as the 1960s, wanted Soviet Russia to “show good sense” and give up its non-Russian republics, including Ukraine. “Those lands that do not want to stay” should be allowed to leave. Why, he asked, should Russians “continue to pay for the mistakes of [their] fathers”?

In spite of such sound advice, Putin seems likely to barge ahead, and his immediate successor may well choose the same course. However, it is already clear that this will further harden Western opposition to Moscow’s imperial program, lead to the deaths of further thousands of young Russians at a time when Russia’s population is already diminishing, vitiate the Russian economy, and exacerbate tensions within Russian society. Admit it or not, Russia is at an impasse. Like France in 1958, it faces a fundamental choice between policies of the past and viable strategies for the future.

Putin’s Russian supporters may fear retribution when he leaves or is removed. Faced with the same problem de Gaulle issued a general amnesty, which covered the entire French army. Other Russians have convinced themselves that a “de Gaulle gambit” in Ukraine would rob Russia of its glorious past and diminish its role in the future. This is nonsense. Following the withdrawal from Algeria, de Gaulle launched his “politics of grandeur,” which featured staunch opposition to the United States and his two vetoes of Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community, later the EU. To be sure, Russia will have no choice but to abandon hope of reconquering any of the former Soviet republics that are now sovereign states, and it may have to renounce claims on some territories that are now within its borders. But this will still leave Russia with a vast territory and a large and talented population that can refocus its attention on the future rather than remain fixated on the bygone past.

Putin has long since passed the point at which he could do an about-face and pull a de Gaulle gambit in Ukraine. He is a small man, literally as well as figuratively, standing at 5’7” tall, as compared to de Gaulle’s 6’4.” He directs his plaudits not to de Gaulle but to Russia’s expansionist Tsar Peter the Great, who was 6’8.” Putin’s recent actions have further diminished his stature in the eyes of many thoughtful Russians, including many in the army and government.

There is already much speculation as to what or who might follow Putin. French hard-liners point to the fact that long after de Gaulle granted Algeria autonomy and even after Algerians voted overwhelmingly for it, some four-hundred French pieds noir were massacred in the Algerian city of Oran. Frustrated Russian troops have already committed genocide in Ukraine. Could Ukrainian anger also reach such a pitch?

Many alternatives to Putin can already be detected in Russia. These include military hard-liners who resent Putin’s failure to declare all-out war against Ukraine and want him to do so today, military reformers who want to pull back and rebuild their depleted forces and equipment, and many civic forces, including the new class of business leaders, followers of the jailed Alexei Navalny, and other individuals and groups.

Whoever emerges from the inevitable turmoil in Russia, he, she, or they will have to address the open wound that Putin’s Ukraine gambit has opened in the Russian polity itself. Far the best solution, for Russia and the world, would be for his successor to follow Charles de Gaulle’s model in Algeria and convince Russians themselves that their country will have a far better future without Ukraine than is possible with it.

S. Frederick Starr is founding chairman of the Kennan Institute and chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute.

Published in Staff Publications

By Erica Marat and Johan Engvall

May 12, 2022

https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/05/10/soviet-imperialism-colonialism-ukraine-kazakhstan-georgia-moldova/

Foreign Policy

For many of Russia’s neighbors, the war in Ukraine has accelerated the process of breaking out of Moscow’s orbit and abandoning loyalty to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime. While governments from Moldova and Georgia to Kazakhstan are distancing themselves from Putin’s offensive in Ukraine, the war is also prompting a deeper reexamination of the meaning of the past in former Soviet territories. The idea of “brotherly nations” promoted by the Soviets is now overshadowed by the notion that Soviet Russia may have never pursued true equality with its neighbors—not now, nor a century ago when the Soviet empire was established through mass violence.

Thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is becoming just another neighbor in the eyes of Kazakhs, Georgians, Moldovans, and others.

Several governments have shown greater independence from Moscow than expected. Last month, Kazakhstan declared it wouldn’t hold a military parade to celebrate the Soviet interpretation of its World War II victory. Earlier, Kazakhstan reportedly also refused Russia’s request to supply troops in Ukraine. Both Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan expanded cooperation in rerouting energy supplies to Europe bypassing Russia. As explained by the Kazakh deputy foreign minister, “If there is a new Iron Curtain, we do not want to be behind it.”

The more a country is politically free and allows space for the critical reappraisal of its past, the less its public is likely to support Russia’s regional dominance.

Long-serving Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov spoke out in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, including in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea. Perhaps due to political pressure from Russia, he was later removed from his position and appointed to another post. Kyrgyzstan’s foreign minister was sacked as well—likely because of insufficient public support of Russia’s war.

In Moldova, which depends on Russian energy supplies and hosts hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees, President Maia Sandu said her government is following Russia’s actions in Transnistria with “caution and vigilance.” A few days after the Russian invasion in Ukraine, Moldova applied for European Union membership, along with Georgia and Ukraine. Both Moldova and Georgia face Russian occupation of parts of their territories (Transnistria as well as South Ossetia and Abkhazia, respectively), which they don’t recognize as legitimate.

Acts of everyday resistance to Russia’s war in Ukraine in Central Asia and the South Caucasus vary from small businesses posting “Slava Ukraini” (Glory to Ukraine!) next to their products and civil society groups collecting humanitarian aid for Ukraine to members of the public wearing yellow and blue: the colors of the Ukrainian flag. The Russian war symbols Z and V are rare or banned by the state.

Seeing the Soviet regime as a colonialist government both unites nations around a joint history of trauma and builds resistance to Russian attempts to subjugate them. Russian modern imperial ambitions in Ukraine or Georgia look offensive in these countries. The more a country is politically free and allows space for the critical reappraisal of its past, the less its public is likely to support Russia’s regional dominance.

In Kazakhstan, a critical look at its history of mass starvation that killed millions of people have now spilled from academic discussions into the public. In Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, historians and activists now openly blame the Soviet regime for purging national elites. In Ukraine, a sharp turn against alignment with Russia in 2014 came as Moscow annexed Crimea and the occupied Donbas.

Reexamining the Soviet past is taking place despite the fact that most international scholarship still sees the Soviet empire as a modernizing power of a backward people, especially in Central Asia. The seeming equality among nations of the empire and its anti-capitalist stance earned a large following among the anticolonial left in both the West and especially in formerly colonized countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The war in Ukraine is revealing the human costs of the empire’s expansion today even in the face of grassroots resistance. Like Putin’s increasing control of Russia today, the Soviet system was totalitarian, controlling the everyday lives of its people and superimposing Russian culture on all ethnic groups.

Distancing themselves from a romanticized view of their Soviet pasts, these societies are now generating pressure for political change at home—challenging the type of post-Soviet authoritarian leadership model that has been common across the region and has its roots in totalitarian rule. In the past several years, protesters in Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Ukraine demanded reforms to post-Soviet state institutions, such as police and intelligence services that are designed to serve the political elite and not citizens.

Anti-regime collective mobilization is a sign of a more politically engaged society that expects participation in decision-making and free elections. Ukraine’s resistance to Russian occupation is the ultimate example of how domestic pro-democracy mobilization rejects authoritarian rule.

In the face of this tide of new expectations, incumbent autocratic leaders are increasingly in peril. For example, in Russia’s closest ally, Belarus, President Aleksandr Lukashenko only managed to survive a prolonged popular uprising in the fall of 2020 once he received support from Putin. Lukashenko was able to suppress the protests, but the collective grievances of Belarus’s society have not been solved. In the early days of the invasion, Belarusian railway workers sabotaged Russia’s supply of equipment to Ukraine. The brave act damaged Russian logistics, preventing the Kremlin from moving troops and materiel forward.

Kazakhstan’s political setup is similar to Russia’s—a president sits at the top of a pyramid of power, doling out posts and assets to allies in return for loyalty and a cut of the spoils. But following Kazakhstan’s nationwide uprising in January, the country faces the test of transforming into a more representative political system. Despite decades of authoritarianism, citizens mobilized in historic protests to demand better economic opportunities and the end of the president’s unlimited political power. Many in Kazakhstan’s uprising were young people of the same age as the independent state itself. They now see themselves as agents of change, willing to risk more than their parents could stomach.

Moscow’s ability to influence national decision-making processes in former Soviet territories appears to be waning. Despite Moscow’s objections, Russian only remains a state language in Belarus, although it retains the status of an official language in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Azerbaijan switched from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet in the early 1990s while Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are at different stages of the same transition.

Only four countries have joined the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, and the intergovernmental military alliance the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has six members, Russia included. Both of these Russian-led organizations are likely to become ever more unpopular among political incumbents and the public. Even after the CSTO intervention in Kazakhstan in January, which helped President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev secure his hold on power, the Kazakh government has shown greater opposition to Moscow’s war than expected.

Russian political influence is also declining because Russian culture is losing its dominant position and has to compete with other worldviews for the hearts and minds of younger generations. These more diverse generations are formed by domestic as well as foreign influences, whether from Turkey, the Persian Gulf, or Europe. Traditional and nationalist-oriented values tend to resonate in more rural areas while liberal ideas and values are usually concentrated in urban centers. Large pro-Ukraine protests were held in Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Moldova. Even in countries like Kyrgyzstan, where the government banned antiwar protests, a few brave activists still filled the streets.

Rather than be pawns that are moved around on the Kremlin’s chessboard, Russia’s neighbors are increasingly turning into active players in the international arena.

Separation from Russia does not necessarily mean these countries will seek a closer alignment with the West. Political incumbents in Central Asia and the South Caucasus may be more inclined to seek closer ties with China and Turkey. Countries that depend on Russia’s political and military support—notably Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan—may still show careful support of close ties with Moscow. But even there, political leaders shied away from publicly siding with Putin’s rhetoric of “denazification” in Ukraine. The unpredictable consequences of Russia’s war might leave these states no other choice but to diversify their diplomatic relations.

Rather than be pawns that are moved around on the Kremlin’s chessboard, Russia’s neighbors are increasingly turning into active players in the international arena—and have not hesitated to play external powers against one another to extract maximum benefits. They prefer to maintain ties with many regional powers; Russia is becoming just another neighbor, along with the EU, China, Turkey, and Iran.

In that way, Central Asian countries are becoming more like other countries in Asia and Africa—searching for multilateralism rather than solely attaching themselves to one actor: Russia. The ability of these states to resist Moscow’s pressure to support the invasion of Ukraine would not have been possible without their long-standing efforts to preserve their sovereignty and identity themselves by diversifying their diplomatic alliances.

To understand the effectiveness of Russian power in the former Soviet space, it is no longer sufficient just to know the Kremlin’s intent. Former Soviet colonies are on the verge of breaking away from the last remaining legacies of Soviet rule. The war in Ukraine points at the need to consider countries formerly occupied by the Soviet regime as entities with their own complex domestic processes despite Russia’s efforts to direct and dominate them.

Many citizens of former Soviet states in Central Asia and the South Caucasus now see Russia as a belligerent neighbor engaging in genocidal violence rather than as an historic ally. Time is thus not on the side of Putin’s imperialistic and nationalist crusade to reassert Russia’s exclusive control over its neighboring countries—because Moscow’s neighborhood is no longer a collection of its former colonial subjects.

Published in Staff Publications

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