Ukraine conflict and the Russian influence areas

A Russian helicopter during its military operations (Credits: Homoatrox, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Until now, the Ukrainian conflict has not changed the situation in the Russian influence areas where regional players mainly preferred to maintain neutrality and avoid any confrontation with Moscow.

The situation of the Ukrainian crisis is still screwing up. According to a source interviewed by the Interfax news agency, it is “unlikely” that the second round of talks between a Russian and a Ukrainian delegation will occur today, March 2nd, 2022, as reported yesterday. The Russian media agency TASS said that the second round of talks was postponed and should take place in Belarusian territory, in the western area of ​​Bialowieza Forest.

The Russian military claimed to have captured the strategic city of Kherson in southern Ukraine. According to the Russian Defence Ministry’s daily briefing, the group of troops of the Lugansk People’s Republic, with fire support from the Russian Armed Forces, are continuing their offensive operations, establishing control over the settlements of Starbelsk and Svatovo. Meanwhile, the Donestk People’s Republic’s military troops have expanded the offensive zone, launching control over the territories of Kalinovka, Lebedinskoye, Pionerskoye, Karl Marx, Nikolevka and Osipenko. The Russian ministry also reported that the Russian Armed Forces continued to strike at the Ukrainian military infrastructure, such as the facilities of the Ukrainian Security Service and the 72nd Main Center for Psychological Operations located in Kyiv. Yesterday the Russian army forces targeted the hardware broadcasting of the TV, disabling broadcasting communication. Since the beginning of the military operations, the Russian troops have neutralised 1502 objects of the Ukrainian army infrastructure.

According to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, since the beginning of the conflict, Russia lost around 5,840 soldiers, 40 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), 30 planes, 31 helicopters, 211 tanks, two boats, 355 cars, 85 artillery pieces, 60 fuel tanks, 3 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), 862 armoured personnel carriers and nine ant -aircraft warfare. The mayor of the northeastern city of Kharkiv reported that at least 21 people died, and another 112 were injured in Russian shelling. According to reports from the Ukrainian army, the Russian military forces attacked a hospital while the umpteenth firefights were recorded in the streets. Shortly before, a missile had hit an apartment building in Zhytomyr, a hundred kilometres west of Kyiv. The bomb crashed not far from the local hospital, according to Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko. Four people died, and at least three were injured. At least 136 civilians have been killed so far since Russia began military operations in Ukraine last Thursday (Russia attacks Ukraine).

Current dynamics in Russian influence areas

In a video published online yesterday and spread via Twitter, a Ukrainian soldier invited international and regional actors to exploit the current situation to erode Russian presence and influence in strategic areas. In the video, the soldier stated that, since the Russian army is fighting in Ukraine, countries such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova might conduct military operations and resolve those ‘frozen conflicts’ or border issues that have characterised the Eurasian chessboard. What appeared to be a propaganda video published to boost morale hid a real possible threat for the Russian interests in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Pridnestrovie/Transnistria, Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabakh. By the way, the situation in those countries is stable, and neither Moldova nor Azerbaijan and Georgia seem to want to create frictions with Russia.

Indeed, even though on March 1st, 2022, during an online briefing for journalists, Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu said that his country is preparing for different scenarios due to the Russian threat in Pridnestrovie/Transnistria, Chisinau has not yet supported the U.S. and European sanctions against Moscow, showing the will to maintain its neutrality and regional stability. On the one hand, Popescu stressed that the Moldovan Government had been insisting for years on the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria, but t is did not happen. At the same time, the Government is now aware of all the risks and is preparing for them. Popescu also commented on the possibility of recognising Pridnestrovie by the Russian Federation and repeating the  Ukrainian scenario. On the other hand, the Moldovan minister said that there are parallels between the Ukrainian and Moldovan situations, but there are geographical and historical differences and that Moldova is a neutral country.

In Georgia, the ruling political party Georgian Dream chairman, Irakli Kobakhidze, stated that Tbilisi does not want to be drawn into the Ukrainian conflict. According to him, in the Caucasus, both Georgia and Azerbaijan refused to impose sanctions against the Russian Federation, but the Ukrainian side did not withdraw w its ambassadors. Despite thousands of protests held daily in Tbilisi demanding to join the financial and economic sanctions imposed by the West against Russia, the Georgian Government is still firm in its position to avoid any frictions with the Russian Federation even though local sources reported that Tbilisi moved some military hardware at the Abkhazia borders while the Armed Forces of the Republic of Abkhazia have been put on alert.

As previously stated, Azerbaijan did not support sanctions against Russia disappointing those citizens that on February 27th, 2022, organised a meeting in support of Ukraine. The reason, as the former Azerbaijani Foreign Affairs Minister  Tofig Zulfugarov stated, might be Baku’s will to avoid any mistakes in the Nagorno-Karabakh issues. Armenia also took a neutral position in the Ukrainian conflict even though the Armenian society, unlike the authorities, reacted extremely emotionally to the war in Ukraine, and people’s opinions were highly polarised. Harsh statements can be found both in the address of Russia in connection with the initiation of hostilities and in the address of Ukraine. Many recall Ukraine’s total support for Azerbaijan during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.