As Russia increasingly flexes its military and petro-driven economic muscles, the United States continues to lose influence throughout the former Soviet world. Influenced by Russian activity and American negligence, the capitals of the Old World turn increasingly to the Kremlin for support. One need look no further than Western Europe’s voluntary surrender into economic enslavement through its support for Nord Stream 2. By the construction of this pipeline, Europe hands its economic independence to Gazprom as the Russian bear strangles its southern adversary of Ukraine.
At the same time, Russia’s prowess in Syria has led Turkey into buying the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system. India, as well, is returning to the Kremlin arms market. Risking U.S. sanctions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is completing a $5 billion weapons purchase from Russia.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a conflict since 1994 over the internationally-recognized Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. In the late 1990s, there was hope that the United States had influence over both these belligerents. In Azerbaijan, private companies signed the “Contract of the Century” to bring Caspian oil to the international market while bypassing the Russian pipeline system. When the United States failed to react meaningfully to the 2008 Russian incursions into Georgia, however, Azerbaijan turned to Moscow for an estimated $6 billion in weapons purchases.
Despite its protestations of non-alignment, Armenia long has been in thrall to the Kremlin. Moscow owns most of the commanding heights of the Armenian economy, and Yerevan believes its defense treaties with Moscow are essential for its independence. There was hope that the recent assumption of power by opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan meant that Armenia might turn towards the democratic West. His predecessor, Serzh Sargsyan, had pulled out of negotiations for an association agreement with the European Union in favor of joining the Kremlin-centric Eurasian Economic Union.
Armenia’s Russian slant continues, however. Recognizing this, in July 2018 Moscow shipped $200 million worth of weaponry to Yerevan. Armenian Defense Minister David Tonoyan bragged the equipment was so modern that it was not even in service in Russia’s own military. When meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pashinyan said there was consensus — within Armenia, no one ever doubts the strategic nature of Russian-Armenian relations.
Georgia has struggled with Russian military encroachment since the early 1990s. With Russian troops patrolling separatist enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it faces the phenomenon of “borderization.” This is a policy in which the Russians move border markers deeper into Georgian territory. The strategic Baku to Supsa pipeline was completely within Georgian-controlled territory as recently as July 2015. Today a portion is under land claimed by South Ossetia.
Despite these problems, Russian and Georgian officials hold bilateral talks on a regular basis, and economic ties have been renewed. As The Economist says, tourist signs in Tbilisi’s old town now are as likely to be written in Russian as in Georgian or English.
One of the earliest examples of post-Soviet, Russian military intervention is the tiny Republic of Moldova. Russian troops fought on the side of Transnistrian separatists in the early 1990s, and continue to prevent the Moldovan government from exercising control over the province. Despite this, Moldova also is taking steps to improve relations with Moscow. Russian tourists continue to visit the country without need of a visa, and its President Igor Dodon advocates closer ties with Moscow.
East or West, Russian influence is growing at America’s expense. The United States needs to actively re-engage with the world community before Russian overtakes English as the language of commerce.
James J. Coyle, Ph.D., is a non-resident senior research fellow at the Atlantic Council. He previously was director of Middle East studies at the U.S. Army War College, first secretary for political-military affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey, and a special assistant to the FBI/New York Joint Terrorism Task Force. He is the author of “Russia’s Border Wars and Frozen Conflicts” (2017).