Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has been engaged in quite a few military conflicts that created permanently tense and unstable “frozen zones.”
The New York Times published an article on Wednesday, where it detailed Russia’s international military operations, often described by the West as aggression.
The article comes amid Russian ongoing military operation in Syria, where it bombs U.S.-trained rebels to bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has killed over 230,000 people.
In the times of the Cold War, the Kremlin invaded both neighboring countries and countries far away from its borders, including Afghanistan, Cuba, Vietnam, and Angola.
The ongoing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Syrian military campaign is in some respects an attempt to regain the Soviet prestige for Russia. Moscow “never quite lost its appetite for exerting influence after the Iron Curtain fell,” according to the newspaper.
Besides, the Russians have been studying the Americans “to death” for over 30 years, and the end of Cold War, in which the U.S. believes it won, actually enhanced Russia’s studying of America, not reduced it, according to a British historian, as reported by ValueWalk on Thursday.
The U.S., in its turn, has lost a lot in terms of knowledge of Russia, because the Americans think they won the Cold War, Jonathan Haslam said, and added that “there is an asymmetry here.”
Frozen conflict in Ukraine
During the post-Soviet period, Russia has made quite a few statements by invading various countries and defying U.S. global dominance. The New York Times lists a few examples of that, including Ukraine, Crimea, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh.
In Ukraine, about 8,000 people have died as a result of clashes between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian government forces.
The eastern Ukrainian conflict began as a result of February 2014’s coup, in which Russia claims the U.S. is responsible. According to Western reports since the beginning of the conflict, Russia has sent thousands of troops as well as advanced military equipment across the border into Ukraine.
This month, the conflict turned into a frozen conflict after Russian, Ukrainian, Germany and French leaders negotiated a peace deal, which drastically brought down the tensions in the region. The deal is expected to be fully implemented by the end of this year.
Crimea, South Ossetia and Abkhazia: frozen isolated zones
In Crimea, separatists protected by Russian ‘green man’ held a referendum in March 2014, in which an overwhelming majority of residents allegedly said ‘yes’ to Russian annexation. However, the results of the referendum have not been recognized neither by Ukraine nor the West.
Ever since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, the relations between Russia and the West have seen its worst since the end of the Cold War.
In Crimea and Ukraine, Putin showed his KGB mastership by conducting successful covert operations and espionage. According to Jonathan Haslam, we are about to see the same operations in Syria, where Putin plans to send in hundreds more of his troops.
In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia in order to ‘defend’ the two impoverished breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from ‘oppressive Georgian rule’. In just five days of fighting a war against Georgia and sending its most advanced military hardware in the region, Russia managed to consolidate control of their territory.
After the war, the Kremlin recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries. In 2014, Russia and Abkhazia signed an agreement that provided Moscow with a superior role over the country’s military and economic affairs.
Russia: the defender of Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh
In Transnistria, a thin strip of land between the Dniester River and Ukraine, Russia stations there about 1,000 of its troops, who ‘defend’ the independence declared by the country in 1990.
After Transnistria declared its independence, it waged a war against Moldova two years later. After four months of the conflict, Russia negotiated an international peacekeeping force in which the Kremlin played a dominant role.
Russia has taken advantage of the conflict to interfere in internal affairs of Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe.
Azerbaijan and Armenia, both former Soviet states, have engaged in war for more than two decades over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has acted as a de facto independent country after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic consists of predominantly ethnic Armenians, but the area is recognized by the West as part of Azerbaijan. The West has repeatedly accused Russia of escalating the conflict in the area.
Will Putin turn Syria into a frozen zone?
As for the Middle East and Syria, Putin is playing a new game there. Is Putin capable of ending the Syrian war, in which so many countries are already involved? Is he capable of bringing back the full control over Syria to Assad?
Putin is using everything possible to achieve what he wants: missiles, warplanes, jets, warships – but is it all enough? Or will Putin have to deploy its ground troops to finish the job? And is the Russian President prepared for that?
All these questions will most likely be answered within the next few weeks. As for now, it is clear that Mr. Putin is becoming a major geopolitical player. Many experts believe that all Putin wants is to distract the West from the Ukrainian conflict.
However, other experts claim that Putin’s ultimate goal is to prove the West that under his leadership Russia is becoming the kind of superpower the Soviet Union used to be.
The Kremlin’s official goal of the Syrian invasion is to regain the control over Syria to Assad. And some Western analysts begin to realize that even the dictatorship of Assad is better than the current state of affairs in the Middle East: hundreds of thousands people killed and millions of refugees fleeing to Europe.