Putin’s push for a new USSR awakens the bloody chaos of Soviet collapse – POLITICO

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YEREVAN, Armenia — When Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, he hoped to restore the glory days of the Soviet Union in the 1950s, when it was at the height of its power. Instead, it introduced chaos on a scale not seen since the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Across the jagged fringes of Russia’s sphere of influence, from Eastern Europe to the Caucasus and Central Asia, former parts of Moscow’s once vast empire are in outright rebellion. or are left to their own devices as the Kremlin concentrates on its increasingly catastrophic war.

As she loses her grip on her old subjects, new conflicts erupt, alliances are forged, and old rifts open.

Armenia and Azerbaijan

On Tuesday, Azerbaijan began bombing towns and villages deep within Armenia in what marks the most serious escalation in the South Caucasus since the two former Soviet republics fought a bloody war two years ago. year.

A broker from Moscow cease fire paused the 2020 conflict and saw Russian troops deployed in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. However, reports indicate that the Kremlin has withdrawn its best and most experienced soldiers to send them to Ukraine, and in recent weeks Azerbaijani forces have broken through the line of contact and captured a series of strategic heights, the Russians not wanting or not being able to turn them. return.

Armenia is a member of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military alliance and the country’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Wednesday urged the bloc to send “military aid to restore the territorial integrity of the country”. However, other members of the alliance were reluctant to intervene, Kazakhstan exclude deploying troops and Moscow reluctant to get involved in another conflict.

“Russia’s failures in the war in Ukraine mean that its capabilities are more limited and have created a power vacuum in the region,” Armenian political analyst Tigran Grigoryan said after the CSTO. lack to send help. “At this point, Russia is neither willing nor able to contain Azerbaijan.”

Baku has gradually replaced its post-Soviet ties with Moscow with closer relations with Turkey, which provides it with advanced military equipment and trains its troops.

Georgia

The blue and yellow Ukrainian flag is impossible to miss in Tbilisi, hanging from offices and government buildings. Graffiti daubed on the walls denounce obscenities about Putin, while a trendy bar requests visiting Russians sign declarations of opposition to their country’s aggression before being allowed entry.

About a fifth of Georgian territory is occupied by Russian troops and their auxiliaries in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. After losing a war against Moscow and its unrecognized client states in 2008, Georgia has long since fallen out of Russia’s political orbit, but the country is still third on its list of major trading partners.

About a fifth of Georgian territory is occupied by Russian troops and their proxies in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia | Daro Sulakauri/Getty Images

Although the government has strongly protested the invasion of Ukraine, it has not implemented economic sanctions against Russia, which does not mean that there is not pressure to do so. more. Over 60% of Georgians interrogates in the weeks following the start of the war, said the ruling politicians were not taking a strong enough stance.

The rhetoric is heating up. Earlier this week, Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, claims the state should “let the people say if they want to open a second front in Georgia against Russia” by attacking Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Kobakhidze has since said he was joking.

Kazakhstan

In January, Russian troops landed in Kazakhstan as part of a CSTO “peacekeeping” mission tasked with quelling mass protests that threatened to overthrow the government. This does not mean that the Kremlin has gained a reliable ally.

Appearing on stage alongside Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June, Putin received an unexpected snub after announcing that war in Ukraine was necessary to protect the two Moscow-backed proxy administrations in the Donbass. Kazakhstan, Tokayev replied, does not recognize “the quasi-state territories which we believe are what Luhansk and Donetsk are”. So much for gratitude.

A few weeks later, Tokayev Told European Council President Charles Michel said his country was concerned “by the risks to global energy security” created by the war, and offered to “use its hydrocarbon potential to stabilize the situation on world markets and Europeans”.

Moscow retaliated two days later by closing the Novorossiysk oil terminal, preventing Kazakhstan from exporting its large oil and gas reserves through the Caspian Sea. Antique World War II naval mines have been blamed for an urgent threat to the facility, but analysts suspect the timing was no accident.

Kazakhstan officially adheres to Western sanctions against Russia, and relations only seem to be getting worse.

Earlier in August, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev posted on social media saying that “Kazakhstan is an artificial state” and argued that its “wild lands” were originally colonized by the Russians – a chilling echo of Kremlin rhetoric on Ukraine. The post was later deleted and Medvedev, who is also deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and has made a series of increasingly nationalistic and aggressive comments about the war and the West, said it was hacked. .

Moldova

Home to less than 3 million people, Moldova could not shake off Moscow’s influence; its eastern region of Transnistria is a breakaway republic backed by 1,500 Russian troops.

But Moldovan President Maia Sandu wants them to leave and is a strong supporter of Ukraine.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu wants Russian troops out of Transnistria | Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

“Russia’s unjust war against Ukraine clearly shows us the price of freedom,” Sandu said. said.

Molodova and Ukraine won candidate status in June to join the EU, and Brussels is helping the country wean itself off its dependence on Russian energy.

“There is one person who deserves all the medals for putting Moldova on the path to European integration,” Veaceslav Ioniță, an economist and former MP, said earlier this year, “and that is Vladimir Putin.”

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan

On Wednesday, border guards from the two countries exchanged gunfire in clashes that reportedly kill two people.

Reports artillery, armor and other heavy weapons have now led to the evacuation of villages on both sides.

The long, winding border they share is poorly delineated, and the two blame each other for instigating the shootout. In the days of the USSR, the border did not matter, but in recent years Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have repeatedly approached the brink of war.

The Russian Foreign Ministry “expressed its willingness to help the parties find a long-term and mutually acceptable solution to the border issues” and offered to share its “rich experience in border demarcation”.

However, Russia’s military power in the region is eroding. Russia has withdrawn 1,500 troops from its bases in Tajikistan, RFE/RL reported. There are also reports that Russian soldiers stationed in Kyrgyzstan have been withdrawn.

Empires rise and fall

This week’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan showed the scale of the power shift.

Putin met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Samarkand and later admitted that his Chinese counterpart had “questions” and “concerns” about the war in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin admitted that Xi Jinping had “questions and concerns” about the war in Ukraine | Pool photo by Selim Chtayti/AFP via Getty Images

Xi issued a carefully worded statement: “In the face of a changing world, changing times and historic changes, China stands ready to work with Russia to demonstrate great power responsibilities and lead, to instil stability. and positive energy in a world of chaos”. .”

It’s a far cry from the pair’s ‘no limits’ partnership announcement just before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Xi too said that China would “resolutely support Kazakhstan in defending its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Clearly there is a powerful new player in the region.

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