As the Karabakh conflict dominates headlines, followed by a surge in hostilities around Serbia, it is time to examine how Moscow has created fault lines over decades, even centuries, inside and around Russia, for imperial purposes. Of course, all empires have done this, but Moscow is the last to disappear and it is not happening without friction. Most people forget or never knew where geostrategic minefields were laid. So when they flare up, it’s like old enmities spontaneously igniting in dark, remote areas. In fact, many of these regions have been deliberately kept unstable, remote and dark by Moscow. So when Russian peacekeepers arrived, the world was happy to let it happen.
Without going into the ever-controversial details of who owns which territory in Nagorno-Karabakh that fuels the enmity between Armenia and Azerbaijan, it should be noted that Russia has controlled the region since 1813, constantly fueling tensions. The transfer of the Tsar to the Soviet Union in the 1920s made the situation worse. The breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s saw Russian forces instigate and actively participate in civil war. And this is only part of the Caucasus. In neighboring Georgia, Moscow has introduced ethnic separatism into the borders, so that any sign of independence from Tbilisi could spark unrest along the fault lines. Suddenly the provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (to the north) hated Georgia and wanted to secede, begging and getting help from the Russians to do so. This, in the early 1990s, when post-Soviet Russia was supposedly weak and powerless.
We are not talking about a conflict between Christians (Georgians) and Muslims (Abkhazians). Especially since the Abkhazians finally agreed to be completely reintegrated into the Russian Orthodox empire. In 2008, Russian tanks invaded Georgia to protect South Ossetians, provoking violent attacks on Georgian villages and fueling hostilities. How is it that Tbilisi can be considered a worse option than the centuries-old oppression of Moscow? Unfortunately, that is divide and conquer. Meanwhile, the Chechens rose up twice and suffered yet another genocide – around 100,000 deaths in the capital alone – before being led by a Muslim fundamentalist puppet from Moscow, Ramzan Kadyrov. Yes, he who is now helping Moscow in Ukraine with his Chechen militia. Can you imagine? Their loved ones were killed en masse on the very side they are currently fighting for in another country fighting for independence. A level of cruelty-induced depravity that the world has rarely experienced since ancient times. And now Russia is write Ukrainians occupied territories to fight against the Ukrainian army
Further east, in Central Asia, among the many small civil wars that broke out, we saw the strange phenomenon of the Ahiska Turks, deported from their Georgian lands to Uzbekistan by Stalin, suddenly revolting and fighting their Uzbek neighbors . Or vice versa. At the time, strange provocations were reported to inflame the situation. Very strange, indeed, since Uzbeks tend to be quite tolerant of diversity, especially of Turks. The Ahiskas had to leave and dispersed, some in Ukraine where Russian invasions displaced them again. Meanwhile, in the 1990s, in the regions of No Mans Land where the Uzbek, Kazakh and Kyrgyz borders meet, the Russians favored a militia of armed Islamists who, beginning in 1999, launched repeated attacks in Uzbekistan. Yes the Russians. All this is recorded in the book by the highly respected Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, titled “Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam In Central Asia”. You didn’t think, did you, that the Russians had anything to do with promoting extreme Islam?
The immediate effect was that Uzbekistan closed its borders, halted democratization, kept the West out, kept Russian soldiers along its borders, and allowed a classic post-Soviet autocrat to rule the country. for years. A man with whom Moscow could do business. Therefore, when a foreigner writes about the “Stans” of Central Asia (as this column often does), it behooves him to be very wise in speaking out loudly about human rights issues. man, as important as they are. Moscow’s preferred mode of destabilizing its former colonies begins by provoking conflicts, supposedly by defending human rights, generating separatism and intervening to “protect” one group or another. This is precisely what the Kremlin has done repeatedly in Ukraine to “protect” Russian speakers.
Faced with all this, local authorities in post-Soviet countries, frightened by the threat from the Kremlin, tend to treat things harshly and opaquely. Their bureaucracy and police forces tend to operate in old Soviet ways. The combination is highly combustible and easy to criticize by Western observers and Moscow’s hidden accomplices. We don’t yet know what exactly happened and why in Almaty, Kazakhstan, during the 2022 “Bloody January” riots, in which more than 200 people were killed. Why did peaceful protests suddenly turn violent? We may never know. But we know that Kazakh leader Tokayev had to call in Russian-controlled peacekeeping troops. He has since regretted it and now adopts a very anti-Moscow stance. In Uzbekistan too, we do not know exactly what happened during the Karakalpakstan riots of July 2022. An autonomous republic attached to Uzbekistan, a status inherited from the Soviet era, Karakalpakstan is a poor and landlocked region that is very dependent economically from Tashkent. Its leaders seemed to want to integrate into Uzbekistan but, when a law to this effect was tabled in Tashkent, Karakalpak riots broke out and turned bloody. The progression was eerily similar to what happened in Almaty.
And then there are the countries furthest from Moscow, such as Serbia and, until recently, Bulgaria. After having shaken off the Ottoman “yoke” thanks to tsarist intervention, these countries persist in their sympathy for Russia as savior. In view of the events in Ukraine, Bulgarians have finally repented of their illusions and tend to favor European ties in recent times. But the Serbs still see themselves as persecuted Slavs, blind to the atrocities of their own war in the Balkans and those of today’s Russia, and seem ready to provoke provocations in Kosovo to give Moscow leverage against NATO. Ivana Stradner, a prominent commentator on the region now at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, often writes about the Kremlin’s predations. Being of Serbian origin herself, she understands: she has warned for months against incitement against Kosovo.
Now she is to be right. It is high time for the West to understand the Kremlin’s overall tactics, their history and future, as well as the geostrategic scope of the threat.