Tensions are continually increasing in periphery states around Russia as military support continues to build for breakaway states. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has been able to maintain military presence in its former territories by supporting many de facto states that broke away from their former Soviet controlled territories (1). Examples include Abkhazian and South Ossetian regions of Georgia, Transdniestria in the republic of Moldova, and in the majority Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. By backing these regions militarily, Russia has been able to maintain influence and power in modern conflicts.
Although small, these regions are shaping up to be huge staples in Russian foreign policy. According to some estimates, the Kremlin is pumping roughly $300 million into Abkhazia and at least $100 million into South Ossetia and Transdniestria (2). One of the main purposes of these regions is to act as a buffer or foothold. Abkhazian and South Ossetia regions help off set the tensions between former Soviet republic of Georgia and Russia. Republics like Donetsk and Luhansk, although also used as buffers, give a strong foothold in Ukraine for Russian military presence (2). These states are increasing in aid and in numbers. Recent military buildup at the ports of Latakia and Tartus in Syria and other support suggests that Russia is preparing to spread this strategy to the Alawite State, giving Russia a grip on the Mediterranean and more leverage over the United States (2). Meanwhile, support grows in similar states farther north.
In Moldova, military support to the Transdniestria region of the republic has been increasing following the 2009 election when a member of the Alliance for European Integration was elected president of neighboring Moldova. (3) The election of Mihai Ghimpu ended a two-decade reign on Russian-friendly political control in the country. Despite Russian help in earning Transdniestra’s independence from Moldova during the Transdniestra War in 1992, Moldova remained friendly for those two decades. Now Transdniestra is vital to countering European influence coming into Russia’s periphery.
Russian military buildup Caspian, Baltic, and breakaway states has come in response to the deployment of the European Missile Defense System and other factors increasing United States and European Union influence in the region. (4) This is especially important in the continuing Ukraine conflict. Russia kept this strategy during the Kiev uprising as it supported Crimea after its annexation and other separatist movements in eastern Ukraine. (1) With militarily supporting the Russian-friendly Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, it is clear that Russia’s strategy for maintaining a sphere of influence has not changed.
With the recent election of Donald Trump, the fate of US support for Ukraine has been called into question. The Kiev is still hopeful that the new president will provide lethal weapons to Ukraine. Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) said that the Republican Party has always been “sufficiently clear and consistent” regarding their stance on Ukrainian support (5). However, this past July, Trump broke long-standing Republican tradition and worked to create a pro-Russian stance that would not promise arms to the Kiev, which they have requested (6). Instead, both Obama and Trump have promoted increasing aid and non-lethal equipment to the war-stricken country. President Elect Trump has kept a vague stance on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and does not consider Russia to be a threat to Europe (6). He has also called for the reduction of NATO and normalized relations with the former superpower. Meanwhile, the frontlines of the Ukrainian conflict are seeing up to 2,900 explosions in a day, military support is increasing to Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Minsk Agreement is still up in the air (7).
Russian power and influence is rising in its periphery. 27 senators have pleaded to President-Elect Trump to support the Kiev in its request for lethal weapons in order to counter this power and influence (8). In June of 2015, President Obama denied weapons to Ukraine in spite of recommendations from his top European and military officials (6). But fear of escalating the conflict is arbitrary when the violence is far from over. It is unclear what will change for Ukraine as a result of Trump’s presidency. What is clear, however, is that a change in the US stance on Russia could spell disaster for Ukraine and possibly other periphery states.
(1) Chausovsky, Eugene. "For Russia, Some Conflicts Are Colder Than Ever." Stratfor, November 17, 2016.
(2) Bhalla, Reva. "The Logic and Risks Behind Russia's Statelet Sponsorship." Stratfor, September 15, 2015.
(3) "In Moldova, Transdniestria Stands Its Ground." Stratfor, 2013.
(4) Russia's Military Buildup in Central Europe (Dispatch). Performed by Abe Selig. Youtube. April 18, 2012.
(5) Interfax-Ukraine. "Turchynov hopes Trump’s administration approves lethal weapon provision to Ukraine." Kyiv Post, November 30, 2016.
(6) Rogin, Josh. "Trump campaign guts GOP’s anti-Russia stance on Ukraine." The Washington Post, July 18, 2016.
(7) Gibbons-Neff, Thomas. " 2,900 explosions in a day. Heavy artillery and tank fire returns to the front lines in Ukraine." The Washington Post, December 20, 2016.
(8) Gehrke, Joel. "Senators ask Trump to send lethal aid to Ukraine." The Washington Examiner , December 18, 2016.
Image: © Ukrphoto | Dreamstime.com - Russian Minister of culture Vladimir Medinsky and Minister of culture of South Ossetia Madina Ostayeva