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Armenians have a unique perspective on Russian power. On the farthest-most edge of Europe, the former Soviet republic in the Caucasus hosts a Russian army base and belongs to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance centered on Russia. But they also abut Georgia, another ex-Soviet Republic that Russia invaded in 2008. So, even before the Ukraine war, they witnessed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wanton aggression.
In recent weeks, the balance has tipped from Armenians trusting Russia to fearing it.
Spurring the change was Russia’s inaction while another ex-Soviet republic, Azerbaijan, escalated tensions over control of the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, where an ethnic Armenian community resides. Two years ago, Armenia lost the enclave in a short war with Azerbaijan. Armenian officials have requested Russian help in the conflict, reported bne Intellinews, but Russia is obviously preoccupied.
French President Emmanuel Macron recently even claimed that Russia was purposefully stoking tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan in order to destabilize the region, Reuters wrote.
As a result, Armenians recently took to the streets in the capital of Yerevan to call for their country to exit the pact after Russia did nothing to prevent aggression from Azerbaijan, which is not a CSTO member. “The US and Europe are our last hope,” an Armenian protester told Euronews. “I am here today because I want us to get out of the CSTO. The CSTO has become a useless organization for our state. It does not do anything. It does not help it.”
The shift underscores how Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is exposing not only his military’s weakness but also the shallowness of Russia’s geopolitical influence across the former Soviet empire.
“We are seeing the collapse of Russia’s reputation as a security patron, which is happening both at the material level with the massive force concentration on Ukraine, but also on the subjective level of the reputation of Russian security guarantees,” Chatham House associate fellow Laurence Broers told the Guardian.
Meanwhile, Russians escaping the draft have fled into former Soviet republics including Georgia, causing traffic jams and chaos on the border, CNN wrote. Car lines were 10 miles long. Among those fleeing was Mikhail Lazutin, a pro-Kremlin blogger that Newsweek described as Putin’s “top propagandist.”
Even on Russian territory in the North Caucasus, Putin’s grip on power appears to be fracturing. As the Asia Times explained, anti-draft protests have sprung up in the lower and working-class communities in the region that have already contributed disproportionate numbers of men to the war effort in Ukraine.
Even autocratic leaders need to instill confidence to retain power. Putin appears to be losing his ability to do so.