The consequences of European colonialism in Africa are always evident. Arbitrarily drawn borders have divided tribes and areas of common interest, leading to decades of war, instability and famine. For example, the Somali people in the Horn of Africa were divided three ways—Somalia, Djibouti, and Kenya by the French, British and Italians. Ethiopians were divided three ways, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. The volatile region suffers from near-constant warfare and has recently been a breeding ground for ISIS militants.
Tanks may not like to hear it, but Russia is not only a colonial empire, but it has made exactly the same mistakes with arbitrary borders. Crimea, for example, only became part of Ukraine in 1954, and is a major factor in the war.
Indeed, those arbitrary borders (along with forced deportations and ethnic Russian migration) are a major reason Russia has been able to create so much pollution in its former colonies.
Russia has not only been able to provoke conflict when it suited it, but also to use its perceived power to end conflict when it was the better option. Two of its instruments are the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)—a customs and economic cooperation union, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a NATO-style military alliance consisting of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. When a protest movement threatened the repressive Kazakh regime earlier this year, the CSTO, led by Russian VDV airborne “peacekeepers,” intervened to save the day.
Yet those arbitrarily drawn borders, and Russia’s sudden loss of prestige and military power, are suddenly plunging the region into war.
Earlier this week, ignoring Russian peacekeeping forces (and in at least one case shelling them), Azerbaijan attacked its neighbor Armenia, retaking the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. attempted, whose population was mostly ethnic Armenians. Most of the territory was occupied by Armenian separatists following the 1991-94 war following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Azerbaijan retook some of that territory in the 2020 war, but Russian pressure led to an uneasy truce that finally fell apart this week. To be clear, I lack the knowledge to provide a sober view of the situation, especially in a conflict that stirs emotions like Israel-Palestine. No one gets into this debate and gets out scot-free.
I mean, who can understand it?
As a reply tweet explains:”Armenia is a Christian country with a boy waving an Iranian flag and many people waving French flags. Azerbaijan is a Muslim country and they are dancing with the Israeli flag. Yeah, I’m not the guy to open it all up, as it digs into it 1915 Armenian Genocide by Turkey, a close Azerbaijan ally, and literally hundreds of years of grievances.
Armenia is a member of the CSTO, and has activated the mutual defense clause of their alliance. Yet Russia has shrugged it off. Not only does it lack any additional forces to join, but it is still mad at the current Armenian government for making kissy faces at the EU a few years ago. A rising opponent would be much friendlier to Moscow, so Russia seems happy to see the government weaken and possibly collapse in the next few days.
The European Union, for its part, is dependent on Azerbaijani oil to cover Russia’s shortfall. So their support for a democratic Armenia would be muted by their need for fossil fuels from another authoritarian regime. And the rest of the CSTO is also sitting things out. NATO, it is not.
And part of the reason is because members of the CSTO Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are too busy firing mortars and machine guns at each other. A third of their 1,000-kilometer border is demarcated, and border skirmishes are common. Yet Russia has military bases in both countries that help simmer tensions. Without Russia taking the reins, the chances of war between these two countries increases.
Meanwhile, despite being bailed out by Russia earlier this year, Kazakh dictator Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has been increasingly hostile to Moscow in recent months. It started with denying Russia’s request for troops in Ukraine, then escalated back in June with:
Putin retaliated by arguing on stage that all the territory of the former Soviet Union had historically belonged to Russia, which must have felt like a nuclear bomb to those former republics – they were in the same danger as Ukraine.
The tension has increased to such an extent that China is intrudingSeeing an opportunity to fill a Russian leadership and military void.
After meeting with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in the capital of Kazakhstan, Mr. [Chinese leader Xi Jinping] made it clear that Beijing will not tolerate any encroachment on Kazakhstan’s territory.
“I would like to assure you that the Chinese government pays great attention to relations with Kazakhstan,” he said in a Russian-language readout of the meeting by Tokayev’s office.
“However the international situation changes, going forward we will firmly support Kazakhstan in defending its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity; Strongly support the reforms you undertake to ensure sustainability and growth; [and] Come out clearly against interference by any power in the internal affairs of your country.
There is only one country that threatens Kazakhstan’s sovereignty, so it is clear who it was directed at. So much for Russia and China “No Limits” friendship, declared immediately after the Winter Olympics.
Yet the amount of trouble we might see in Central Asia may pale in comparison to what the disintegration of the Russian Federation might look like. Russia has 85 federal subjects, 21 of which are republics such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Buryatia. If these names sound vaguely familiar, that’s because they make up a disproportionate number of Russia’s war dead in the impoverished region of Ukraine.
Almost all of Russia outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg has historically been ignored by Moscow. Indeed, historian Kalim Galiv argues that the city of Moscow is incapable of it. Acting as anything but a parasite sucking the life out of the rest of its empire.
Considering that point, 1/5th of Russian households lack indoor plumbing, a war is killing tens of thousands of countrymen and maiming countless others, yet this is what Putin says to this day:
You may recall Russia’s push to raise volunteer units in each of Russia’s 85 federal jurisdictions. Forty such units were launched, and then … cricket. what happened
Putin is so paranoid that he has created a separate army that is personally loyal to him, the Rosguardia (National Guard). Suddenly, he was arming farmers directly in the fields? The effort seems to have died a quiet death, and most believe it was due to a lack of volunteers. But I’d be willing to bet that Putin has cold feet, that disarming a potential future separatist movement might prove difficult. (Note, some reports say these troops were absorbed into the new 3rd Army Corps which went and already kicked its ass at Kupyansk.)
There is a very real scenario in which Russia breaks away even more dramatically from the Soviet Union, with dozens of regional “republics” and federal territories seeking independence. This is not a scenario the West is likely to see, as instability in these impoverished regions could easily spill over into wider regional conflicts. And don’t forget, nuclear weapons are stored in many of them, and everyone has learned from Ukraine’s mistake – if anyone has a nuclear weapon they are not willing to give it up.
Russia will lose in Ukraine. The question soon will be how much new tragedy is due to this cause in the Asian continent.
I am fascinated by the amount of equipment the Russians left in Kharkiv Oblast. After Today’s update, the count now stands at over 400 visually confirmed military vehicles, including 61 tanks, 117 armored infantry vehicles, and 20 artillery pieces. I pity the Ukrainian mechanics working to get it all back to fully working condition. Undoubtedly, most of it will be sent to Poland for repair, refitting and updating.