26.10.22 Review

Due to the War with Ukraine, Russia is Losing influence in the Post-Soviet Territory, but it Could Lead to Serious Destabilisation in the Whole Region

The aggravation of long-standing conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan and between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the open distancing of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev from Moscow, and the mass exodus of international companies and Russian elite to Central Asia and Transcaucasia have made the international expert community talk about Russia's loss of influence in the post-Soviet territory. By starting a war in Ukraine, President Putin, who has been purposefully expanding this influence for many years, has achieved just the opposite effect, analytical centers write. However, this process will not only lead to the defeat of Russia's imperial ambitions but also the growth of "gray zones", conflicts, and threats in the former post-Soviet area, if no one else takes Russia's place in the region.

The German Society for Foreign Policy (DGAP) has published an analytical review arguing that the war in Ukraine accelerated the decline of Russian influence in the post-Soviet region and given rise to a review of the Kremlin's role in the region by the international community and the national elites of post-Soviet countries.

Targeted efforts supported by rapid economic growth and accompanied by effective suppression of internal forces within Russia allowed the Kremlin to become the leading player in the post-Soviet area in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe, according to the review. Russia has been attracting migrants and investment for years. Opening production facilities in Russia almost automatically meant access to markets in most of the post-Soviet territory for international companies. Russia was seen as a mediator and peace guarantor in resolving conflicts between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Post-Soviet elites saw the Kremlin as a guarantor of preserving authoritarian regimes in their countries.

With the outbreak of war, everything has changed, DGAP experts write. It became clear to national elites in the former Soviet countries that Russia is not a role model of political culture but a real threat to their sovereignty. Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon asked the Russian president at the CIS summit not to treat Central Asia the same way as it was in Soviet times. The international business began to actively relocate to other former Soviet countries. 1On October 19, the president of Kazakhstan said that more than 50 global companies moved from Russia to Kazakhstan, just as many companies have moved to Uzbekistan and Armenia. Tens or hundreds of thousands of Russia's scientific and cultural elite have moved to Central Asia and Transcaucasia. The Russian passport has ceased to be attractive and has become a source of life threat. 

Russia's weakening due to its invasion of Ukraine caused the escalation of many frozen conflicts, according to DGAP. At the end of April 2022, the Transnistrian Ministry of State Security was attacked in Tiraspol. In the following days, a series of attacks on the Tiraspol airport and other infrastructure facilities followed. In August 2022, military clashes took place in Nagorno-Karabakh, the most intense since the signing of the ceasefire agreement and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in 2020, and the role of chief mediator, which Russia had traditionally played in the Karabakh conflict, was taken over by the EU. In September 2022, active military clashes emerged between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The escalation of frozen conflicts occurred for several reasons, DGAP experts believe. First, the Kremlin's attention is completely taken by Ukraine, and it simply lacks the resources to prevent and resolve these conflicts. Second, Russia needs more soldiers sent from these regions to Ukraine.

However, the West should not be too happy about Russia's loss of influence in the post-Soviet area, Marlene Laruelle, director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at Georgetown University, wrote in the "Foreign Affairs" article. First, the Kremlin's reduced influence will lead to the emergence of new gray zones and new ethnic and territorial conflicts in the post-Soviet states. Some players will take advantage of a weakened Russia to forcefully change the status quo of frozen conflicts in their favor. Second, a weakened Russia in Central Asia would contribute to the growth of drug trafficking from Afghanistan to Europe and the spread of radical Islamic ideas in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Western countries will need more time to respond to emerging challenges. Although Russia's role in the post-Soviet region is declining, Moscow will remain an important player in the area because of its extensive historical, economic, and cultural ties. However, according to Laruelle, the longer the war in Ukraine lasts, the faster they will disintegrate, and Russia's importance to post-Soviet countries will diminish.