The Russian Federation, the largest country in the world, invaded Ukraine, the largest country located entirely in Europe. These two territorial gigantisms add to the fact that Russia seeks to maintain a sphere of influence in what it calls the “Near Abroad”, or “Russian World”, the post-Soviet states. The combination of all these factors, plus recent Ukrainian military successes, may leave Vladimir Putin with no option but to declare a general Russian mobilization for war.
At the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, we commented here at our space as Ukrainians could suffer from a “short blanket”. The country was threatened with attacks from all sides. To the south, from the Crimea. To the east, from the Donbass territories and Russia itself. To the north, from Russia and Belarus. Even to the west, Russian forces in the Moldavian region of Transnistria could be a threat.
Today, however, Russia is suffering from the short blanket. In the Ukrainian war in recent days, the Russians had to yield more than 1,000 square kilometers, with Ukrainian counteroffensives to the south, in the Kherson region, and to the northeast, in the Kharkiv region. Amazingly, even with great numerical and technological superiority, Russia was unable to establish air dominance even after six months of war.
As a result, the Ukrainians have carried out air and missile attacks against targets in Russian rear, making it difficult to supply and move forces. With tens of thousands of casualties, including dead, wounded and captured, Russia is dangerously running out of reserves for proper troop rotation. The country is also going through a moment of need to adapt to Western sanctions and some of the components of Western origin that it uses to manufacture war equipment.
Russian military presence
Russia is not running out of soldiers or armed forces. The point is that a country that occupies % of the land mass cannot simply deploy its entire army against Ukraine and simply leave its borders unguarded. Nor can you use up all your ammunition overnight and run the risk of not having the necessary means to protect those same borders and your interests.
Mainly, there is also the fact that some of the main Russian military assets are deployed outside the country. Russia is militarily present in Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Syria. It also occupies internationally recognized territories such as Moldova, in the aforementioned Transnistria, since the end of the Soviet Union, and Georgia, in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, since the August war 2008.
Russian-linked mercenaries such as the Wagner Group operate in Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic, among other locations. Will Russia withdraw its troops from these locations, at the risk of creating a vacuum, to reinforce its war in Ukraine? Probably not, although there are occasional case reports, such as an anti-aircraft battery sent from Syria to Crimea. And there is another risk, that of crises in the Russian neighborhood gaining strength, taking advantage of the fact that Moscow is stuck in a quagmire.
Last July, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev received the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for signing agreements in Baku that doubled European imports of Azeri natural gas to at least 20 billion cubic meters per year by 2027. On that occasion, it was written here that the European rhetoric of democracy and human rights to reduce the purchase of Russian gas was nonsense. The point was that Russia is a potential threat to Europeans, while Azerbaijan and Algeria are not.
We also commented that Azerbaijan could use the hard currency to turn against Armenia, its historic rival and who defeated in the recent war of 2020. Armenia, under weak Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, which has suffered an ultimatum from the armed forces, has Russia as its only ally. The Russians were the guarantors and mediators of the peace agreement that ended the most recent conflict, and Russian forces were deployed to the region as peacekeepers.
New war in the Caucasus?
On the night of the day 13 for the day 13 of September, at the time site, it was reported that Azerbaijan is attacking Armenia on multiple fronts. These are no longer fighting in Azerbaijani territory that was occupied by Armenia, or in the breakaway region of Artsakh, also known as Nagorno Karabakh, but attacks against the territory of the Republic of Armenia. Weakened after the latest defeat, the Armenians are at a clear disadvantage against Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani dictatorship uses large chunks of hydrocarbon money for military purchases, and receives equipment and training from its Turkish allies. Shortly after the start of the Azerbaijani offensive, allegedly to contain “Armenian saboteurs”, Pashinyan reportedly already spoke by phone with Putin and French President Macron. Finally, came the “leak” that the Armenian Security Council had decided to officially ask Moscow for help and trigger the Collective Security Treaty, the defense agreement that unites six former Soviet republics.
It is the same treaty that was invoked by Kazakhstan earlier this year, allowing Russian troops to enter the country while the Kazakh armed forces quelled protests. It is about invoking a military alliance at the risk of putting Russia and Azerbaijan at war. The Baku government certainly thinks that the Russians cannot afford another war front and will not come to the aid of the Armenians if a diplomatic solution cannot be negotiated.
Putin would then have to choose between the wear and tear of yet another conflict or seeing an ally being humiliated, diminishing Russian credibility with its other allies. How to deploy even more forces to the Caucasus and maintain the war in Ukraine? If Putin decides to keep the country at war, which he cannot risk losing, he will probably have to order a general mobilization and make his country’s belligerence official. Until then, he will have to deal with the “short blanket” of the biggest country in the world.