It took President Putin several weeks after
the grotesquely rigged elections in Belarus to formulate a Russian response to the crisis. Far from
being proactive and encouraging a smooth power transition in Belarus, capitalizing on Belarusian's
remarkably positive attitudes toward Russia, the Kremlin chose to invest its influence and
credibility in preserving the status quo. This approach had two immediate impacts: it quickly
established Moscow's complicity in the current violence on the streets of Minsk, thus damaging
public attitudes toward Russia, and at the same time it failed to provide sufficient backing to the
Lukashenko regime to ensure its viability.
Russia's response to the escalation of the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been even more puzzling. Having gambled for years that the best way to
preserve the fragile status quo in this conflict was to supply both Armenia and Azerbaijan with
large quantities of arms, Moscow finds itself with little leverage to silence these guns once this
flawed military balance strategy appears to be on the point of failing. Azerbaijan's offensive
should not have come as a surprise to Russia — after all, President Aliev has repeatedly threatened
to impose a military solution on Armenia in the absence of any progress at the negotiating table.
Yet Moscow appears to have no plan ready for this scenario and was caught unprepared to face an
escalation of the conflict on this scale. As the fighting spreads, Russia's capacity to bring about
a ceasefire, either through its direct influence over the conflicting countries or through
multilateral diplomacy, appears a long way off.
The collapse of the government in
Kyrgyzstan following yet another disputed election will produce a lingering crisis in the region,
which is already reeling under high social tensions. Having asserted its role as the main external
security provider for Central Asia, Russia has a stake in ensuring that the crisis is contained
quickly and effectively. Yet if Moscow has some strategy to achieve this, it has been kept secret.
What appears on the surface is that Moscow has been taken by surprise yet again. Since refusing to
intervene in Kyrgyzstan's first violent crisis in 2010, Moscow has consistently refrained from using
its political and economic leverage to help overcome entrenched political and social divides. With
the large volume of remittances sent home by Kyrgyz workers in Russia and the multibillion-dollar
Russian-Kyrgyz economic assistance fund (set up to compensate Bishkek for the expulsion of an
American military base), Russia could have promoted closer economic integration between that
country's traditionally divided north and south and encouraged a workable power-sharing governance
arrangement. But Moscow has always sided with whichever corrupt elites were in power in Bishkek.
Moreover, it chose to completely ignore the fact that the large-scale exodus of Kyrgyz labor
migrants from Russia, a result of its COVID mitigation measures, could have contributed to the onset
of the current crisis. Russia's wait-and-see approach has exposed the limits of Russia's capacity to
prevent and manage crises in the region.