AMU Homeland Security Legal Studies Military Original

The Destabilization of the Russian Sphere

By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies

Recent weeks have brought about some concerning developments in and around Russia. The war with Ukraine has not only shown the relative weakness of the Russian army, but also destabilized Russian hegemony, encouraging Moscow-aligned countries to use force in order to make territorial gains from other neighboring countries.

RELATED: Weakening Russia and the Need for Effective Foreign Policy

It seems that as long as the war in Ukraine continues without a clear Russian victory, Putin has caused more damage to his regime’s reputation than anyone else could have dreamed of.

The Skirmishes between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Earlier this month, after a period of border skirmishes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, hundreds of deaths were reported on both sides of the conflict. Nagorno-Karabakh, the ethnic enclave of Armenians living in Azerbaijan, has been a flashpoint since 1992. The ethnic Armenians are Christians in a predominately Islamic country and last year Azerbaijan was able to make some considerable gains in that region. This latest exchange of fire was described in a Politico article:

“Violence erupted again last weekend, with officials in both capitals blaming the other for attacking first. Armenia claimed Azerbaijan’s military used drones, artillery, mortars and small-arms fire to target a number of border towns. Azerbaijan, however, said Armenian forces were moving into position for a long-term escalation of fighting. More than 170 soldiers on both sides have been killed in skirmishes over the past few days, officials in Yerevan and Baku claim.”

The U.S. did not go beyond “expressing concern.” The main question is what does this move show about the Russian hegemony in the region?

Hundreds Die in Skirmishes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

A very similar scenario took place in the Kyrgyz-Tajik border. CNN reported that dozens were killed: “Kyrgyzstan has said that Tajik forces using tanks, armored personnel carriers and mortars entered at least one Kyrgyz village and shelled the airport of the Kyrgyz town of Batken and adjacent areas. In turn, Tajikistan accused Kyrgyz forces of shelling an outpost and seven villages with ‘heavy weaponry.’”

Moscow was able to broker a cease-fire last week, but this might be a temporary relief. From the outside this looks like a symptom of a larger issue: Russia is overextended; Putin did not understand the real condition of his military; and perhaps overestimated his popularity among the Russian populace.

Putin Orders Conscription 

There is more evidence that things are not going well for Russia in its war against Ukraine. The Ukrainian counter-offensive has proven successful and Russia is taking some extreme measures.

First, the pro-Russian forces in Lugansk and Donetsk asked for a referendum on unification with Russia, and a move many thought would come: conscription. Conscription, also commonly referred to as a draft, was made official on Sept. 21.

Putin informed his country that he is ordering conscription of 300,000 reservists. The Washington Post noted: “Putin’s blunt, uncompromising rhetoric underscored his growing isolation, as Russia’s war on Ukraine dominated discussions at the annual U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York where world leaders condemned military violence and lamented the global hardship caused by chaos in food supply chains and soaring energy prices.”  

There have been reports that flights outside Russia are fully booked after Putin’s address, as young men flee rather than join the Russian army, famous for its brutal treatment of soldiers and fearing that soon it will not only be reservists called but any able-bodied men. Reuters reported that prices for one-way flights are skyrocketing: “Some routes with stopovers, including those from Moscow to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, were also unavailable, while the cheapest flights to Dubai cost more than 300,000 roubles ($5,000) – about five times the average monthly wage. Typical one-way fares to Turkey shot up to almost 70,000 roubles ($1,150), compared with a little over 22,000 roubles a week ago, Google Flights data shows.”

The next issue on everybody’s mind is the nuclear threats: “Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the threat of a nuclear response in the conflict and ordered reservists to mobilize, an escalation of the war in Ukraine as Moscow seeks to buttress its army’s flagging manpower and regain the offensive following stinging losses on the battlefield.”

“Russia will use all the instruments at its disposal to counter a threat against its territorial integrity—this is not a bluff,” Putin said in a national address that blamed the West for the conflict in Ukraine, where he said his troops were facing the best of Western troops and weapons.” 

The Future of the Russian Regime

We are in dangerous territory. Russia is a nuclear power and has a wide array of nuclear weapons, both tactical and strategic. There is no need to push Putin to the wall. What happens in the future will be a matter for the Russian people to decide. There is too much to lose for an external force to attempt to intervene in the internal issues of a nuclear power. 

The one thing we can all agree on is that Putin is overextended; he simply did not understand the true reality of his army’s capacity nor the Russian people’s willingness to fight. His visions of returning Russia to her imperial heydays (assuming those ever existed) were not based on facts, but instead on wishful thinking. 

Ilan Fuchs

Dr. Ilan Fuchs is a scholar of international law and legal history. He holds a B.A. in Humanities and Social Science from The Open University of Israel and an M.A. in Jewish history from Bar-Ilan University. Ilan’s other degrees include an LL.B., an LL.M. and a Ph.D. in Law from Bar-Ilan University. He is the author of “Jewish Women’s Torah Study: Orthodox Education and Modernity,” and 18 articles in leading scholarly journals. At the University, Ilan teaches courses on international law while maintaining a law practice in several jurisdictions.

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