The Kremlin knows better than to throw too many resources at one area for long.

By Ekaterina Zolotova

Its Ukraine offensive having ground to a halt, Russia’s military on September 1 starts drills in an unlikely location: the Far East. Taking place at the Russian Eastern Military District’s training grounds, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan, Vostok 2022 will involve more than 50,000 personnel and more than 5,000 weapons and pieces of equipment, including 140 aircraft and 60 vessels. With the Ukraine war dragging on longer than anticipated, the apparent slowdown in Russian operations – beginning a few weeks ago around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – may be deliberate. The Kremlin may be pausing for a strategic rethink.

A state of Russia’s size, with Russia’s diverse set of neighbors, is bound to be pulled in multiple directions from time to time. Starting east and moving clockwise, Moscow faces China’s rise, terrorism and general instability in Central Asia and the Middle East, chronic war in the Caucasus, Turkey’s rise, the war in Ukraine, instability in the Balkans, and NATO’s reawakening and likely enlargement. Russia’s war in Ukraine presents opportunities for the Kremlin’s enemies as well as dissatisfied regional actors to upset the status quo in other parts of Russia’s periphery.

Russia

Caucasus

The first region bordering Russia to destabilize since the start of the war was the Caucasus, a critical intersection between the Black and Caspian seas, and between Russia and the Middle East. Soon after the war began, Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives started making more frequent trips to Brussels, which saw an opportunity to seize the initiative from a distracted Moscow and mediate in a long-standing territorial dispute. Ultimately, though, Western activity in the region remains a distraction, and Russia still has peacekeepers there and plenty of other leverage. The other day Moscow ensured a three-way agreement among itself, Armenia and Azerbaijan was fulfilled. The deal saw Azerbaijani forces assume control from Russian peacekeepers of the city of Lachin in Nagorno-Karabakh as well as two villages in the Lachin region.

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