As Russia continues to exacerbate tensions in Eastern Ukraine, openly transporting resources in the form of military supplies to rebel contingents and funneling funding to established proxy regimes and operational commands inside Donbas, an interesting byproduct of the conflict is emerging throughout the rest of the post-Soviet space.

In part one of this series, I examine the way ahead as Moscow re-examines the costs in continuing to provide unofficial support for insurgent elements in Donbas, and the benefit of duplicating the strategy implemented in Eastern Ukraine in similar regions where fissures between the national government and the local separatist element regime are characterized by their nature as easily influenced by external interference. Russian support for separatist campaigns in Moldova and Georgia could theoretically tip the balance between a tenuous peace with the capitals in Chisinau and Tbilisi and an insurrection exploding into open warfare and secessionist violence.

Reflections of Russian interference similar to what catalyzed the war in Donbas have been visible recently in the Caucasus, specifically in the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia has pursued a joint military agreement and an integration of foreign policies with Abkhazia, the separatist republic and ‘frozen conflict’ in northwest Georgia.

In South Ossetia, Georgia’s other breakaway region, Russia invested $400 million to re-open the Roki Tunnel. The tunnel, a key route for Russian military forces in their invasion of the breakaway region during the Russo-Georgian war of 2008,  re-establishes a key line of communication linking Russian military and intelligence elements in the North Caucasus with their sympathizers in South Ossetia. Rumors of annexation and accession of South Ossetia to the Russian Federation are rife on both sides of the border separating the breakaway region and Russia.

Central and Eastern Europe. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and the United Nations)

Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and following consistent and uninterrupted efforts by the European Union to integrate states of the former Warsaw Pact and republics of the former Soviet Union permanently into the European community, we are now observing an epochal change in the structure of states and the establishment of borders and ruling regimes throughout Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. These changes and Moscow’s willingness to leverage separatist campaigns such as those in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia to foment support for renewed campaigns of secession are a dangerous hallmark of a resurgent Russia and an imperialist foreign policy.

In Central Asia, Russian strategy has more closely resembled a political co-opting of national governments, working to ensure convergence of national priorities with those established in Moscow. This co-opting has more often taken the form of integration to a customs union and, launching January 1, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Moscow’s vision for the EEU is as a Eurasian balance to the European Union, comprised of the former Soviet republics occupying Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

By pressuring regimes in Minsk, Astana, and Yerevan (as well as Bishkek) to join the EEU, Moscow seeks to burgeon Russian national interests and provide support for the assertive foreign policy of Russian President Vladamir Putin. The purpose of pursuing increased influence over the regimes in the post-Soviet space is to co-opt the national priorities of each individual state, circumventing each government’s effort to create distance between itself and the Russian government, while effectively dominating the foreign-policy goals of each state to converge with those of Moscow. The Kremlin’s control over the national and trade policies in the capitals of the former Soviet republics ensures Russia’s policies will be supported in key geopolitical areas throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia.