January 4, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9116

Russian Columnist Yusin: Problems In Russia's Backyard Are Multiplying, And Moscow May Find It Hard To Cope If Situation Deteriorates In Many Spots Simultaneously

January 4, 2021
Russia, South Caucasus | Special Dispatch No. 9116

Kommersant columnist Maxim Yusin in a column titled "CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]: Too Many Unpleasant Surprises and Disappointments" believes that the major development in 2020 was the instability in the post-Soviet space. He disagrees with the view that Nagorno Karabakh has been pacified to Moscow's advantage and warns that Russia could find itself drawn into a conflict should the fighting resume. The list of problems is all across the board meaning that numerous areas could flare up simultaneously leaving Russia overburdened and searching for an adequate response. Yusin believes that Russia has not devoted enough talent and resources to its backyard in the overconfident belief that the area would remain under Russia's influence come what may. Yusin's analysis follows below:[1]

Maxim Yusin (Source:

"The year 2020 became for Russia a year of new challenges, unpleasant surprises and disappointments, primarily in the post-Soviet space (which Moscow traditionally considered to be a zone of its special interests). In 2020 Russia's lot was to face special challenges precisely in this zone.

"One should start the list [of problems] with the South Caucasus, where the autumn war between Baku and Yerevan caught Moscow by surprise. The Kremlin probably didn't expect such a swift and crushing defeat of Armenia (Russia's ally under the CSTO agreement) and such a decisive, demonstrative (in some ways even provocative) intervention by Turkey in the conflict. Finally, it was possible to achieve a ceasefire, to prevent the seizure of Stepanakert and the Armenian part of Nagorno-Karabakh by the Azerbaijanis. Also Russian peacekeepers appeared in the region.

"But there are risks that the problem was not resolved and, that in the new year Karabakh may become almost the main challenge for Moscow.

"There are no preconditions for a peaceful settlement, and bellicose sentiments on both sides create a threat of Russia being directly drawn into the conflict, although it does not need this at all.

"The second factor of destabilization on the Russian borders was Belarus: after the August presidential elections, the country virtually split. Alexander Lukashenko who found himself in international isolation, hopes to overcome the crisis with help from Moscow. At the same time, he does not abandon the "multi-directional [policy]" that is so irritating to Moscow and is in no hurry to fulfill his promises to launch a political reform.

"The fact, that in the eyes of a significant part of the Belarusian society Moscow is associated with the support of the unpopular president, creates the possibilities for the emergence of anti-Russian sentiments in the country, which has never happened before.

"The third test for Russia in the new year will be the situation in Moldova. In Moldova, as a result of the presidential elections, Moscow loyalist Igor Dodon was replaced by a Romanian citizen, Maia Sandu, who demands the withdrawal of the Russian military contingent from Transnistria. And although Moldova is a parliamentary republic, where the president's power is limited, the threat that the Transnistrian conflict may become unfrozen has increased noticeably.

"Taking into account that this region is separated from Russia by the territory of an unfriendly Ukraine, escalation there could create a lot of difficult political and logistical problems for the Kremlin.

"The list of unpleasant events that happened in the CIS countries in the past year must be complemented with yet another revolution in Kyrgyzstan, a change of power by force. And although the new leadership of the republic does not show anti-Russian sentiments, further destabilization in yet another CSTO member state is an undesirable and dangerous scenario for Moscow.

"On the Ukrainian direction, 2020 brought nothing but disappointments. Illusions that the Kremlin would be able to reach agreement with President Zelensky and his team on at least one of the controversial issues were dispelled. Illustrative of this disappointment was the recent decision to include almost all members of the "Servant of the People" parliamentary faction  (the party of Vlodomyr Zelensky) on the sanctions lists.

"In 2020 there were quarrels even with Kazakhstan (seemingly Russia's most reliable and predictable partner). This is evidenced by the extremely harsh, emotional (and most importantly - public) reaction of the Kazakhstan authorities to the statement bu Duma deputy Vyacheslav Nikonov on the northern regions of Kazakhstan inhabited by Russians.[2] Previously, the sides would try to settle any misunderstandings on this matter behind the scenes, without escalating the issue into an international scandal.

"Kazakhstan's position during the UN voting on the so-called "Crimean resolution", which is annually introduced by Kiev and its Western allies was unpleasant surprise for Moscow. Kazakhstan, which in all recent years had voted together with Russia against the motion, this time significantly abstained. This confirms once again that today even in the Kazakhstani direction, Moscow is not doing that great.

"Thus, in general, the picture taking shape in the post-Soviet space is alarming. And worst of all, all these crises coincided. The risk arises that Moscow will be unable to effectively defend its interests on so many fronts all at once.

"Moreover, in recent decades, our policy on neighboring countries was designed according to the "leftover principle", when the best specialists were not assigned to work with the CIS countries. It was believed, that these states would not get "away" from Russia anyway, and that efforts should be focused on the more promising and prestigious European, American, and Middle East directions.

"Now we are reaping the fruits of this approach."


[1], December 22, 2020.

[2] Nikonov, who chairs the Duma's Science and Education Committee stated that Kazakhstan's territory was a major gift by Russia (and the Soviet Union)., December 12,

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