While Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine dominates headlines and diplomatic conversations around the world, a quieter Kremlin effort to consolidate effective hegemony over neighboring Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova continues apace.
Like Ukraine, these three states are former Russian possessions whose post-Soviet independence exacerbated Moscow’s isolation from Europe. President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials fear that democratic governments in Minsk, Tbilisi, and Chişinău (not to mention Kyiv) will be more pro-Western and seek deeper integration with both the European Union and NATO. They also fear that pro-democracy movements in these and other former Soviet states will create a contagion effect that could imperil Russia’s own autocracy.
Along with the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s efforts to establish domination over Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova are part of a wider Kremlin campaign to upend the post-Cold War settlement in Europe. Prior to the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Moscow exercised a degree of caution toward these smaller neighbors because of the potential impact on relations with the United States and the European Union. Today, with Washington and Brussels both imposing heavy sanctions and sending increasingly powerful weapons to Ukraine’s military, the marginal costs Russia would face for more aggressive actions toward Belarus, Georgia, or Moldova are limited. And none of these three is capable of resisting Russian aggression on the scale that Ukraine has done.
The United States and European Union have taken commendable action to help Ukraine resist Russia’s onslaught but have done too little to help Russia’s other imperiled neighbors. They should provide additional assistance and a realistic path to deeper Euro-Atlantic integration to ensure these states do not fall back under the sway of an aggressively imperial Kremlin.
Read the rest at Foreign Policy here -
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.