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Sep 15, 2022
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Putin in the ring of fires: the Ukrainian crisis is entering the most dangerous phase

Trouble never comes alone – foreign policy crises, too. The resumption of hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia. “Exacerbation of international friendship” on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Statement by the head of the ruling party of Georgia that the political force he leads can initiate a referendum on opening a “second front” against Russia. Against the backdrop of frankly unhappy news from the fields of the special operation in Ukraine and the “explosion of optimism” caused by this in Kyiv and in the West, all this creates a strong impression: our country has found itself surrounded by a continuous ring of military-political fires.

In fact, there is no “solid ring”. All the crises mentioned above have a completely different nature, a completely different scale and a completely different degree of attitude towards Russia. But if the fire does not take the form of a ring, this does not necessarily make it less dangerous.

The Ukrainian crisis is entering (or has already entered) its most dangerous phase. Vladimir Putin is now facing the most serious test of his more than two decades in power. We don’t yet know exactly what the world will look like in September 2023. But it will certainly be radically different from our current reality.

Let’s deal with the elements of the “ring that does not exist” as their problematicness increases.

Irakli Kobakhidze’s statement is not a problem at all. The return of control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia is, of course, the main “Georgian dream” (not to be confused with the name of the ruling party of the republic). However, the current leadership in Tbilisi is ready to start realizing this dream only if there is not even the slightest risk. Now such conditions are not even close.

In 2008, Georgia became a “pioneer” in terms of armed confrontation with Russia, and it has no desire to repeat this experience. The “proposal” to hold a plebiscite on a “second front” is nothing more than a rhetorical attack on the opposition. Like, look how crazy they are! In no case should they be allowed even close to the helm of a state ship!

In the Georgian opposition itself, the demarche of the chairman of the Georgian Dream, by the way, was perceived in exactly this way: “What Kobakhidze does with his statements is called direct information terrorism and information sabotage.”

Skirmishes on the border of two CSTO member countries, of course, do not have the best effect on the image of this Russian-patronized defense bloc. But NATO also has a similar pair of formal allies and real rivals – Greece and Turkey.

As a rule, things do not reach a direct exchange of blows between Ankara and Athens in the modern era. However, in the context that interests us, the most important thing is not this, but the permanent nature of this confrontation.

The situation is very similar between Bishkek and Dushanbe. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have accumulated extensive experience in border skirmishes and no less extensive experience in temporary (only until the next skirmish) truce. By and large, this does not particularly affect Russia’s interests.

Everything is already more complicated with Azerbaijan. As a result of the 2020 war with Armenia, Baku declared its “complete and final victory.” The victory did take place – but by no means complete. Ilham Aliyev still has a lot of plans, which he intends to implement during his presidency.

Baku plays with Yerevan like a cat and a mouse, while closely watching the reaction of Moscow and its successes on the fields of a special operation in Ukraine. What Azerbaijan is doing is reconnaissance in force, testing the enemy and his main (but by no means unconditional) ally in the CSTO in the face of Russia. However, reckless moves cannot be expected from President Aliyev. He is a very good tactician and no less good strategist, possessing qualities that are very important for a geopolitical player of his level – the ability to wait and the ability to accurately choose the moment for a decisive strike. Now that moment, in my opinion, has not yet come.

This method of exclusion leaves Russia alone with a single—but what!—problem: the Ukrainian crisis and everything that follows from it.

And the following follows from it at the moment: the opponents of the Kremlin feel elated. Returning to the situation “before February 24” is no longer Zelensky’s main strategic goal. They are aiming for more in the form of the “return” of Donbass and even Crimea. In official Kyiv, they believe that they have a “historic chance” and they intend to use this chance in full.

Optimism has clearly increased among politicians in the West. Here, for example, are two symptomatic news that stand side by side in the BBC telegram channel.

News first. Speaking about relations with Russia (is this still a “relationship”?), the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Now is the time for decisiveness, not concessions.”

News two: “Russia’s oil and gas export revenues have fallen to their lowest level in almost a year, despite significant price increases.”

Another “big boss” from Europe, Josep Borrell, said the other day: “Peace talks…. don’t start just like that, they start when conditions allow it.”

Conditions do not allow now – they do not allow from the word at all. To use, describing the current geopolitical moment, such a hackneyed cliché as “the calm before the storm” is somehow even indecent. Let’s call it a lull before the Kremlin’s inevitable (and most likely asymmetric) countermoves. I wonder what exactly they will be?

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