In various statements and articles published in 2021, the Russian leadership made it clear that they considered Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policy positions unacceptable. Russian strategists are realising that merely manipulating conflicts in neighbouring countries is not sufficient to sway them towards integration with Russia. The shocks in an otherwise stable-looking Belarus in 2020 were enough for the Kremlin to surmise that their example and model was not working, regardless of how strong the links, or even chains, tying the countries together. The unrest in Kazakhstan in early 2022 opened another fissure in Russia’s integration model. Russia needed to resort to its Armed Forces to stabilise both Belarus and Kazakhstan. The internal conflict in Kazakhstan was calmed by sending in Collective Security Treaty Organisation troops. While Russia also readied its contingent to quell the popular protests in Belarus, Lukashenka, fearful of losing his authority, suffocated the protests mainly through the brutal violence of his own apparatus.
The Ukrainian leadership has managed to significantly reduce Russia’s influence in the country.
However, the continuing aggression against Ukraine has not produced the desired result for Russian leadership. Ukraine’s westward integration has not been halted. Last year, Ukraine took significant steps towards securing its statehood and sovereignty, which worried the Kremlin and probably led to the view that hopes of a change of course by Ukraine were fading.
Despite the eight-year Russian occupation of Crimea, Ukraine established the international Crimea Platform on 23 August 2021, not allowing the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia to be overlooked or forgotten. Despite Russia’s fierce opposition, the participation of 46 countries in the Platform was a painful setback for Russia, and it had punitive measures in store for at least some of the joining countries.
The Ukrainian leadership has managed to significantly reduce Russia’s political and economic influence in the country. Russian interference in Ukraine’s domestic politics is overt and ongoing. Still, due to restrictions on the activities of a number of influence agents and their economic leverage, Russia can no longer be confident that it could activate enough collaborators to bring about change in Ukraine when it needs to.
However, Ukraine is critical for Russia to pose convincingly as a superpower, at least in Eurasia. Ukraine is the linchpin that keeps Russian imperial ambition together.