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Russia reaches a dead end and loses influence on the countries of the former USSR

Volodymyr Yelchenko, a former ambassador of Ukraine to the US and Russia, told RBC-Ukraine about how the CSTO and CIS countries relate to the war unleashed by Russia in Ukraine, why “Putin’s umbrella” does not work, and where the former members of the “country of soviets” aspire. 

Russia is rapidly losing its influence in the post-Soviet space. The countries of the CIS and the CSTO did not support the militaristic moods of the Kremlin and are striving to find new allies for themselves, – Vladimir Yelchenko, a former Ukrainian ambassador to the United States and Russia, told RBC-Ukraine.

Organization of the collective danger treaty

The CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization – ed.) is a stillborn organization from the very beginning. In conditions of more or less peaceful coexistence, it performed “showcase” functions, from time to time they gathered for different summits. But with the outbreak of the war, everything went in the wrong direction. The first signs were when the CSTO summit was held last autumn and the members of the summit reacted very coolly to Putin.

Before that, there was another aggravation of the Karabakh conflict, during which Russia practically betrayed Armenia. Despite the request of Pashinyan (Prime Minister of Armenia – ed.) to provide assistance, neither Russia nor the CSTO countries gave any assistance. Moreover, there were separate statements by members of the organization that they were not going to take part in this. Thus, Armenia was practically left face to face with Azerbaijan. This began the quiet disintegration of the CSTO.

Later we noticed that Armenia refused to host the Summit on its territory. Meetings were canceled in Kyrgyzstan, in Bishkek. That is, in fact, Russia’s “allies” today have come to the conclusion that apart from Belarus, which directly and frankly supported the Russian Federation, at least gave its territory, no other CSTO country has shown any activity and is not going to help it in any way. This applies to the entire post-Soviet space.

Since the beginning of the active phase of the war, the attitude towards Putin and Russian policy has changed a lot. Fewer and fewer countries remain that support Russia. We all know this classic four – Belarus, Iran, Eritrea, North Korea. Now even the CIS countries, which within the framework of the UN, the General Assemblies from time to time voted constructively with Russia, do not do this. It will be interesting to see how this trend develops.

Diplomatic and de facto occupation

Belarus is a union state of Russia. If you read the regulatory documents carefully, there is article number 2, which few people pay attention to. It says in plain text: “The members of the union state are pursuing a coordinated foreign and defense policy.” That is, in fact, we are talking about the fact that Belarus, as an independent state, no longer exists. It is completely controlled by Russia, there are, according to various estimates, several tens of thousands of Russian troops on a permanent basis. That is, in fact, Belarus is occupied by Russia.

Moldova is lucky in the sense that it does not have a common border with the Russian Federation. Technically, it is much harder for Russia to control the Moldovan border. They used to have free transit through Ukraine, even before the time of Yanukovych, when the Russians could transfer equipment or even troops to Transnistria through Ukraine. But this has long passed and Russia has little power and influence, and in the conditions of such an open war there is no other way – neither by sea nor by air they can already deliver anything there, therefore they do not have that influence on Moldova through Transnistria.

That is why I think that the Moldovan government and specifically President Maia Sandu are pursuing a more independent policy from Russia, although the situation there is rather delicate, a fragile coalition led by Sandu, there is a great influence of pro-Russian forces. Moldova, in fact, goes our way in a slightly different way. There are similar features, it is gradually being cleared of the Russian convoy, I think, two or three more cleanings and it will be completely free.

Failed analogue of NATO

When the CSTO was created, then Russia had certain expectations that it would be something like an anti-NATO. She expected that the CSTO would expand its membership over time, and, by the way, relatively recently we saw that Serbia, Syria, India and other Asian countries were interested in the CSTO. Probably, Russia hoped to eventually expand the organization so that it would be really serious, but this did not happen, and now it is already impossible.

If the CIS existed more or less normally for a certain time, the CSTO was conceived as the military wing of the CIS. And it is clear that without the participation and membership of Ukraine this would not have happened. And I remember well those times when the pressure from Russia on Ukraine was colossal – they wanted us to formalize our participation and become members of the organization, but we had the strength and mind not to do this back in the 90s.

NATO, on the one hand, is the United States, Canada, on the other, France, Germany. These are serious, big, powerful countries with a serious military force. These are rich countries, they have sufficient opportunities and funding. The CSTO is the remnants of the Soviet military system, which was still stored somewhere. It more or less worked in the beginning, but over time… Any organization must develop. And the CSTO remained more on paper.

The exercises were held there regularly, but at some stage both Armenia and Tajikistan refused. When there were recent unrest in Kazakhstan, the CSTO peacekeeping mission was introduced, which is essentially a Russian army, which was “diluted” with Belarusians, Kyrgyz, in order to create an appearance. They stayed there for a couple of months or even less, and after that the new president of Kazakhstan gently but persistently asked that these forces be withdrawn. That is, even Kazakhstan, being a member of the CSTO, was not enthusiastic about the presence of troops on its territory.

The only thing that Russia managed to do under the “umbrella” of the CSTO is to maintain its bases and presence in Tajikistan, in the same Armenia, in Kyrgyzstan. That is not even in all countries. But this “umbrella” was created in order for Russia to maintain its presence in other countries.

NATO has respect within the alliance for each other. At the same time, Russia’s typical behavior is to force everyone to do what it wants, and this does not work. It worked when there was a certain respect for Russia, the need to receive financial assistance from it. But the war changed a lot. The same “second army in the world”, which discredited itself not only in the eyes of the West, but also of the CSTO itself. They understand that they can no longer rely on Russia’s military power.

Old Elites

The neutral position of the CSTO in relation to the war is the result of the fact that they are still very dependent on Russia. And financially, and industrially, and even in the military sphere, because both equipment and equipment are provided by Russia, they have no alternative. If we have a clear alternative – NATO, they have no such alternative. They have nowhere to join. And then the elites that rule them are still at the stage at which Ukraine was in the late 90s – these are the pro-Russian elites.

We see that there are practically no democratic elections. Let’s say, Tajikistan – Emomali Rahmon has ruled there since the late 80s and does not change. In Kazakhstan, the transfer of power to a successor, Tokayev, has practically taken place.

All countries must go through a certain evolution, we have gone through it. The positive of this war is that we are getting much closer to NATO, to the EU. Our elite, both political and spiritual, is changing. Such terrible events accelerate the reform processes. And those countries did not follow our path, but there will definitely be reforms. We are already seeing some changes.

This is what Russia is afraid of. Not only did the blitzkrieg fail, Russia is entering a civilizational dead end, but besides this, it is also losing influence on the post-Soviet space. This is precisely what Putin is afraid of, because when he has no allies left at all, this will be a very serious challenge for him.

Source : РБК-Україна