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A Kinder, Gentler Bear? Why Rumors of Russia’s Post-Soviet Retreat Are Premature

By Jeff Mankoff CSIS

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A Russian shipyard worker uses a cutting torch to breakdown a large bulge section of a Russian Oscar Class submarine at the Little Star shipyard in Severodvinsk, Russia, May 29, 1996.  Russian ballistic submarines are being dismantled as part of the Nunn-Lugar/Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.  DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Todd P. Cichonowicz
A Russian shipyard worker uses a cutting torch to breakdown a large bulge section of a Russian Oscar Class submarine at the Little Star shipyard in Severodvinsk, Russia, May 29, 1996. Russian ballistic submarines are being dismantled as part of the Nunn-Lugar/Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Todd P. Cichonowicz
A Russian shipyard worker uses a cutting torch to breakdown a large bulge section of a Russian Oscar Class submarine at the Little Star shipyard in Severodvinsk, Russia, May 29, 1996.  Russian ballistic submarines are being dismantled as part of the Nunn-Lugar/Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.  DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Todd P. Cichonowicz
Russian Sub
A Russian shipyard worker uses a cutting torch to breakdown a large bulge section of a Russian Oscar Class submarine at the Little Star shipyard in Severodvinsk, Russia, May 29, 1996. Russian ballistic submarines are being dismantled as part of the Nunn-Lugar/Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Todd P. Cichonowicz
Photo By: Petty Officer 1st Class Todd P. Cichonowicz
VIRIN: 160310-D-XT155-004

While 2020 has been an annus horribilis pretty much everywhere, it has been particularly challenging across the periphery of the former Soviet Union. In Eastern Europe (Belarus), the South Caucasus (Nagorno-Karabakh), and Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan), 2020 has brought widespread political upheaval and conflict. Amid this wave of instability washing over its periphery, Russia has played what appears to be a rather passive role. Despite many warnings from Western analysts since the 2014 intervention in Ukraine that Russia would take advantage of instability in its periphery as an excuse to its assert domination over its neighbors or even execute a Crimea-style land grab, Moscow has tolerated the activities of rival powers (notably Turkey’s involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict) while outsourcing much of the dirty work to authorities in Minsk, Yerevan, and Bishkek.

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Dr. Jeffrey Mankoff is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, Center for Strategic Research at National Defense University.