In trying and failing to reclaim Russian imperial influence over Ukraine, Moscow is actively accelerating the decline of its influence throughout Eurasia, including the former Soviet countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia. Perceiving the fragility of Russian power, governments across the region have begun creating facts on the ground in ways that Russia’s post-imperial power long prevented. Since the start of the “special military operation” against Ukraine, worried neighbors like Kazakhstan have been demonstratively spurning Russia. In the past few weeks, Eurasia has also seen a renewal of conflicts that could be a harbinger of greater instability to come. Regional powers, especially China and Turkey, are more openly pushing back against Russian influence. And now Russia’s mobilization has touched off a flood of migration to other Eurasian states — particularly Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan. This is reversing a longstanding pattern of migration to Russia and bringing many ordinary Russians face-to-face with the resentment still felt in many post-colonial societies.
These developments are the first signs of what is likely to be one of the war’s more enduring outcomes: a diminution of Russian influence throughout post-Soviet Eurasia and the emergence of a more dynamic, if complex, regional order. In other words, it is exactly the opposite outcome that Moscow hoped to achieve with its invasion of Ukraine and effective occupation of Belarus. As the resurgence of fighting in both the South Caucasus and Central Asia suggests, the retreat of Russian influence could allow simmering disputes to boil over and create new suffering for people in the region. Over the longer term though, it could contribute to the emergence of stronger, more effective states — especially if the United States and its European allies can provide a more liberal alternative to the growing influence of countries like China and Turkey.
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Jeffrey Mankoff is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, Center for Strategic Research at National Defense University. The views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.