A considerable number of acute and complex developments have been happening in Russia’s near abroad. We can say that since Russia’s independence, most of the serious challenges it has faced have emerged from this region. They include both the problems arising from Russia’s relations with the near abroad, and the problems arising from the relationship between these countries, as well as the internal problems of each individual country: Transnistria, relations between the Baltic countries and Russia, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, the confrontation between Russia and Georgia in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the problem of Crimea, the crisis in Eastern Ukraine and other similar problems are long-standing and intractable. In addition, from time to time, emergencies occur, such as the permanent instability of the political system in Kyrgyzstan, the serious ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan in 2010, the military conflict in South Ossetia with Georgia in 2008, colour revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, protests in Belarus in 2020 etc. act as a huge and complex source of problems and crises, which take up an enormous amount of resources and energy spent on Russian diplomacy and, to a certain extent, ties its hands.
In the post-Cold War era, many new hotbeds of conflict and contradictions between Russia and the West have emerged in the near abroad. After the admission of the countries of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states into NATO, the expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance to the east and the integration programmes of the European Union began to affect the borders of Russia and its interests. And if Russia endured the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe and the Baltic Sea with difficulty, it considers NATO’s further encroachment into its near abroad completely unacceptable. The deployment of US military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan has caused on-and-off friction between Russia and the US for 13 years. In the past few years, conflicts between Russia and the West in the near abroad have continued. The most serious of these were the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, the Ukraine crisis that erupted in 2014, and the subsequent issue of Crimea and the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. In the course of these events, Russia and the West experienced an intensification of conflicts, which led to the atmosphere of the Cold War. The West imposed large-scale sanctions on Russia and their relationship fell into a deep crisis.
Future challenges remain serious
Russia has achieved significant achievements in the near abroad, and Moscow’s relations with most of the post-Soviet countries have been maintained and developed. Russia’s authority and influence in Central Asia is growing. This is especially reflected in the improvement of relations with Uzbekistan. The CSTO remains stable and the EAEU continues to develop, as it moves towards the implementation of the goal set for 2025 to create a common market for goods, services, capital and labour. Russia successfully mediated in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and helped Belarus to stabilise its regime. However, the future challenges for Russia in the near abroad are still formidable and could become increasingly serious.
The problem of hot spots in the near abroad cannot be resolved in the short term. This is especially true of the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh problem, the issues of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, diplomatic conflicts around Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. These conflict issues in the near abroad, and the division and confrontation they cause, will become sources of great regional upheaval. In addition, some neighbouring countries suffer from serious internal problems, political instability, economic backwardness and acute social problems that could lead to political and social instability.
NATO’s presence in the near abroad is likely to grow further, primarily in the Baltic Sea region, the Black Sea region and the Caucasus. This will turn the near abroad into a battleground for a new Cold War between Russia and the West. The security position of Moscow will worsen and Russia’s sense of insecurity will increase, which may lead to new contradictions and conflicts.
If we consider Russia as the starting point for processes in this region, then the trends in the near abroad are such that the growth of centrifugal forces outstrips the growth of centripetal forces.