A Year of Unrest in the CIS | Analyst Picks| RiskMap 2021
A year of unrest in the CISNabi Abdullaev | Partner
The calm and pragmatism with which Russia has reacted to instability in Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Moldova may not last through 2021.
Crackdowns on peaceful protesters in Belarus and the country’s growing isolation from the West could push the country into Moscow’s folds. Armenia, having bitterly absorbed defeat in the October 2020 conflict with Azerbaijan, will likely have a leadership change in 2021. Moldova, now led by a new pro-Western president will test the limits of Moscow’s patience with demands to remove Russian peacekeepers from its breakaway Moscow-backed separatist province. In Kyrgyzstan, competing interest groups have brought violent crowds onto the streets which are likely to depose the country’s leaders in recurrent bouts of a local colour revolution. Georgia remains torn between patriarchal conservatism and aspirations to join the West, and every election divides this small nation into emotionally charged camps.
Moscow views the unrest near its borders pragmatically and has less resources to invest in controlling the former Soviet republics. One red line remains intact – these states can go through massive unrest and even regime changes, but they should not get closer to NATO and the United States.
This pragmatism could end if US President-elect Joe Biden decides to actively support pro-Western forces in the CIS, something President Donald Trump took no interest in during his presidency. Moscow has already demonstrated it is willing to take action to stop its neighbours drifting out of what the Kremlin sees as its historic zone of interests, including sending troops into Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.
Domestically, as Russia heads toward parliamentary elections later in 2021 amid growing public discontent over the government’s handling of COVID-19, the country will see more draconian laws stifling the political process and breeding isolationist sentiment and suspicion toward outsiders. This process will further strengthen the powers and impunity of domestic law enforcement and security agencies; both already exercise significant control over the country’s economy.
Should Russia’s behaviour near its borders provoke the new US administration into action, there is a backlog of sanctions, bills and targets available as a safe way for the US to respond. New US sanctions will make life for business in Russia even more difficult than it is now, even if Russia decides not to counter with sanctions of its own. There will be fewer Russian companies to partner with, and even more companies to avoid. The breadth of business opportunities will shrink, and the burden of compliance will rise.