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The Caucasus region has always posed a heightened threat to the Kremlin and to this day is a serious systemic challenge. The policy of forceful suppression of the “rebellious peoples” in the 90s was replaced by the policy of the so-called core containment.
However, the need for a constant fight against the Chechen armed opposition and the generous funding of the Kadyrov regime, the difficult social and criminal situation in Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that has been smoldering for 30 years, require constant efforts to preserve Russian influence in the region. as well as resources, which the Kremlin authorities have less and less every day.
In Transcaucasia, the Kremlin has long maintained a balance between the gaining strength of Baku and weak Yerevan, strengthening the latter by membership in its integration blocs (EAEU, CSTO). At the same time, he promoted his interests in the region under the guise of mediation functions.
But this policy worked until one of the parties had a stronger and more decisive ally who proposed a more profitable alliance. This happened with Azerbaijan. Turkey’s support radically changed the situation, as a result of which the policy of containment lost its core and lost its effectiveness. The Armenian-Azerbaijani war became a serious challenge for Russia, which was formed in the border area under the leadership of other regional powers.
Contrary to fears, the transition of the war from Nagorno-Karabakh to the territory of Armenia, and, as a consequence, the need to involve Russia in the conflict, is practically impossible. Baku has clearly indicated its intentions – to return only its lands. Moscow’s entry into an incident with violation of the CSTO provisions has a number of “side effects.” This is not only the technical impossibility of supplying the 102nd Russian army in Gyumri, but also the loss of the status of an informal leader, containing the conflict, if one of the parties is supported. In this case, the fate of the NKR becomes practically a foregone conclusion, and Moscow ceases to be the guarantor of the security of Yerevan.
However, the ousting of Armenia from Artsakh (as a result of a military defeat, either on the initiative or at the “request” of the world community) will automatically be equated to the defeat of Russia. This will also put an end to the Moscow-led CSTO, since at the time of the organization’s creation (1992) the conflict already existed, and accordingly the Kremlin consciously accepted Armenia “with a dowry.”
Thus, both the tragic course of the conflict and the expected ending will create a precedent extremely undesirable for Russia, which, moreover, will be strengthened by military losses in external theaters. An unfavorable background will be created by the defeat by the Turks of the Russian-Syrian coalition in Idlib in early 2020, as well as the destruction of the “Wagnerists” in Libya by Turkish drones in April this year.
However, the list of threats does not end with external challenges. There are many internal problems, the activation of which against the background of the defeat in Transcaucasia will add headaches to the Kremlin regime. The success of the Turks in Nagorno-Karabakh will be perceived as an indicator of Russia’s weakness and will most likely lead to a surge in pan-Turkic sentiments. As a result, the Tartars, Bashkirs, Kumyks, Chechens, Tuvans, Chuvashs, Yakuts will be subject to the Pan-Turkist ideology within Russia. All this together will strengthen the centrifugal tendencies, which to a large extent still exist today.
In the event of violent persecution or harsh suppression of such manifestations by the Kremlin (which is more than likely), the internal agenda may collapse into an extremely negative scenario – the resumption of sabotage and terrorist acts on Russian territory performed by Islamic radicals. It should be remembered here that in the terrorist attacks that took place in Russia in the 2000s, the performers were guided by personal motives – they avenged their murdered relatives. Therefore, the new violence will significantly increase the already high interethnic tension not only in the Caucasus, but also in Moscow.
On the whole, the situation is developing in the direction of Russia’s rapid loss of its influence in its traditional field along its borders. If Nagorno-Karabakh, albeit with heavy losses, but comes under the control of Azerbaijan, this will be the end of one of the main smoldering conflicts supported by Russia to please its regional leadership, and will lead to its displacement from the territory. In sum, this will strengthen the pro-Western orientation of political elites in other post-Soviet republics, as a result of which they will more decisively unleash problems imposed from outside.
Thus, the Armenian-Azerbaijani war exposes Russia’s incapacity for a wide range of external and internal challenges, which in turn lowers Moscow in the global hierarchy of the world order, in which it tried so hard to rise.
At the same time, against the background of a rapid decline in its rating as a regional power, Russia is weaving an artificial cocoon of its popularity and greatness, based on the ideology of almost a century ago, launching fireworks from military warehouses and demonstrating its “pukkyksons” on the leader’s birthday. But, as it turned out, they cannot even protect their closest allies in the military bloc.