Georgia, Transnistria, Crimea, and Donbas are just some of the territories at the expense of which Russia is restoring the Soviet Union. The occupiers and collaborationists prevent the population of these regions from developing. Predatory peacekeeping in these regions, obviously, did not lead to peace. If peace is not a goal, then what is the goal? Why does Russia continue to freeze conflicts? What do Russia and Putin, in particular, want?
The Kremlin has long used hard and soft annexation tactics to restore the territory of the former Soviet Union. There are at least a few military conflicts that would not have turned into frozen ones if the Kremlin had not supported one of the parties.
- Transnistrian conflict. If Russia had fulfilled its commitments undertaken at the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit and had withdrawn its 14th Army from Moldova by 2001, the “conflict” would have been resolved long ago.
- Nagorno-Karabakh. The conflict would not have become frozen if Russia had not supported Armenia.
- Georgia. In 2008, Russia conducted military air, ground, and naval interventions in Georgia and then strengthened its position with cyberattacks and influence campaigns. Since then, 20% of Georgia’s internationally recognised territory has been under Russian military occupation.
As for Ukraine, it is too early to classify the “conflict” as “frozen,” and it is not appropriate to call it a “conflict” at all. Ukrainian service members die every month at the hands of the occupier and Russian weapons.
Since 2014, the Kremlin has been using a significant arsenal of hybrid wars towards Ukraine. Russia wages armed aggression and also resorts to a set of economic, energy, and information means of destabilising the country from within.
Information sabotage, espionage, defamation of government agencies, support for destructive forces are used against Ukraine. Such large-scale actions are aimed at blocking Ukraine’s pro-European course, preventing its integration into the EU and NATO, creating and maintaining the Russian-led internal political crisis in Ukraine against the background of weakening the economy and restoring Russia’s sphere of influence. In addition, the destruction of Ukrainian statehood is intended to show its citizens the catastrophic consequences of any protest activity.
Issue of Belarus
To date, Vladimir Putin uses a combination of war and occupation in Ukraine, while using soft tactics of non-occupation annexation in Belarus. Putin calls the first steps in such an annexation “closer integration.” However, such integration with Moscow always means less freedom and more opportunities for Russian influence.
At present, Russia’s pressure on Belarus is total given Belarus’ dependence on Russia in virtually all spheres: from political and economic to military and energy. That is why Putin is forcing Lukashenka to agree to the creation of a Union State of Russia and Belarus.
Recently, under the influence of the Russian leader, the President of Belarus made sharp statements regarding Ukraine at his press conference. He threatened to “bring Ukraine to its knees” hiding behind Putin and said that “Ukraine trains militants for Belarus.” Lukashenka uses fake external threats to Belarus’ statehood allegedly posed by Ukraine and other Western countries to justify his repressive methods and restrictions on the rights and freedoms of Belarusian citizens.
However, if Russia gains full control over Belarus, it will be a direct threat to Ukraine. After all, half of the country will be surrounded by Russian forces, and the Russian military will be stationed in Belarus, the Russian-occupied Crimea, Donbas, and Transnistria.
“To return” Ukraine
Vladimir Putin’s goal is to return Ukraine to Russian influence and gradually reintegrate it into Russia’s post-Soviet structures. After all, Putin perceives the existence of modern Ukraine as an “anti-Russia” project. He claims in his article about Ukraine that the Russian authorities will never allow “our historical territories and the people close to us who live there to be used against Russia.”
Putin’s theses echo the Soviet school history textbooks. Experts on countering misinformation advise analysing this “message” in more detail. After all, it has its purpose and audience and has even become mandatory for study in the Russian army.
The Russian president has repeatedly called the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. “First of all, I must admit, and I said earlier, that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. And it was a real drama for the Russian people. Tens of millions of our citizens and compatriots found themselves outside the Russian Federation,” Putin said.
He chopped many well-known propaganda narratives in his “message” — “Modern Ukraine is entirely the brainchild of the Soviet era. We know and remember that it was largely created at the expense of historical Russia. Suffice it to compare the lands reunited with the Russian state in the 17th century to the territories with which the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic withdrew from the Soviet Union.
Putin’s article uses distorted history as another weapon against Ukraine in a hybrid war. It is about how to influence the agenda in Ukraine, to shift the important emphasis to secondary and meaningless issues.
Conclusions: do not whet Russia’s appetites
Russia continues to try to expand its borders. All previous conflicts are Putin’s actions aimed at “holding hard” Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, and Moldova, and if possible, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Europeans should ask themselves: how wise is it to turn a blind eye to Putin’s actions? What is his real purpose?
After all, the Russia-Ukraine hybrid war is not a local, peripheral conflict. The Kremlin’s aggression poses a threat not only to Ukraine’s statehood and sovereignty but also to the unity of the EU and the political system of Europe on the whole. For more than a year now, Moscow has been trying to discredit basic European values, disorient public opinion, and form an influential pro-Russian lobby in the European establishment.
The Russian president regards the seizure of Ukraine’s territory as a springboard for a geopolitical offensive in Central and Eastern Europe. Putin wants to change the balance of power in favour of Russia and review the results of the Cold War. Russia aspires to become a “world power,” a major dominant force capable of governing global world processes. If the “collective West” will leave Ukraine face to face with the aggressor, it will only whet Putin’s Russia appetites, expand them to the Baltic states, and, perhaps, it will want to “absorb” you next.
Marta Barandiy, Editor-in-Chief of Brussels Ukraїna Review