Russia is looking for a fresh attack in Central Asia to distract the attention from the war in Ukraine. Kremlin needs a weak target to bully or to destroy, whilemany people in Russia start questioning the effectiveness of the regime
As the progress of Russia’s invasion to Ukraine has slowed drastically, with Kremlin’s military obviously stunned by Ukraine’s heavy resistance, tensions start to rise inside Russia itself. While Vladimir Putin is still enjoying the unprecedented support of the Russians, more and more people in Russia are starting to question the effectiveness of what they call “a special military operation in Ukraine”. With the consequences of the international sanctions beginning to influence the everyday life of common people and, more importantly, news of tens of thousands Russian soldiers KIA or maimed known to their families, the topical question of the society changes from “why not?” to “what for?”.
While political and military experts worldwide agree that the main goal for the Russian Federation is to occupy eastern and southeastern regions of Ukraine with the follow-up of freezing the conflict and boggling down the diplomatic negotiations, the next step of Kremlin may be completely unexpected.
The thing is, most people in Russia had a strong belief that the Ukrainian war would end in a swift and bloodless victory. The idea have been promoted by the propaganda-infused notion of an undefeatable Russian army lead by highly professional generals, which is being shattered now. The disillusionment of the commons does not concern Vladimir Putin as much asthe disappointment of the zealous followers of the “Russian world” ideology, many of which are members of extremist, paramilitary groups. That is a serious headache for the Kremlin, and this ache intensifies with every occupied territory left, with every comrade eliminated by the Ukrainian army. People like the infamous ex-FSB Igor Strelkov, a Russian veteran of the Donbass separatist movement, openly claim that the Russian orthodox nationalists will never acknowledge any result of the Ukrainian war but the occupation of the whole country. Moreover, Strelkov claims that the top brass in Moscow, namely the Defense Minister S.Shoygu, is unfit to coordinate the Russian troops, while some politicians in Moscow are planning to betray Russia and to sign a disadvantageous peace treaty. Kremlin cannot allow leaving in peace people like Strelkov after the war, nor can they prosecute him for being an ultra-patriot.
Another problem is the reaction of the world community, which stands united in the goal to isolate the Russian Federation politically and to shut down its economy completely. The resolve of the US and their allies is getting stronger with each piece of news on Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine, with Moscow’s forces firingindiscriminately and using weapons of mass destruction on civilians.
That is why Russia’s decision-makers are frantically searching for an answer of how to distract the attention of the “angry mob” both inside and outside their borders.
Russia has already faced similar consequences in 2014, right after the occupation of the Crimea and support of the insurgents in the east of Ukraine. Their next move, namely starting a military operation in Syria, surprised most of the international community and conditioned the US and the EU to revise their attitude towards Moscow. This illustrates some of Vladimir Putin’s basic principles: whatever you do, keep the initiative and surprise your opponents.
Besides, Russia’s political and economic influence on the international arena has dwindled to its historical minimum, and the energy exposure level is in the process of being taken away. The only remaining instrument of influence for Moscow is a military threat. Besides, the Russian army has once again to prove itsability to defeat organized troops. One may think about Russia repeating the war in Georgia of 08.08.08, but in that region there is nothing for Russia to gain and everything to lose.
On the contrary, Central Asia countries look like a perfect target for Russia’s new invasion. First, the countries are rich in resources, not only oil and gas, but also rare mineral ores. Second, there are a lot of Russians and Russian citizens living in post – soviet countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Defending Russians, the orthodox religion and the Russian language remain the main justification of the aggression by the Kremlin. Besides, the armies of these countries are much weaker than that of Ukraine, therefore easier to defeat.
That may be a coincidence, but one should not be utterly surprised if after the Victory Parade on the 9th of May 2022 in Moscow Vladimir Putin will start to apply pressure on the new president of Kazakhstan and talk about the historical injustice that the country of Kazakhstan even exists.
By Jacob Koppel, Estonian military expert and observer.