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Putin Hoped for a Swift Victory in Ukraine to Rebuild his Russian Empire — Instead he may Have Lost all Military Influence

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has cost it thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars – but its military influence has also taken a major hit

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked the demise of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation. Photo: Kremlin Pool / Alamy

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When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Vladimir Putin believed his army would capture Kyiv in two days, and expected a decisive victory, expanding Russia’s borders. The Russian President assumed ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine would welcome his forces and believed a swift victory would strengthen his country’s influence throughout Eurasia, and restore Russia to its imperial past.

Instead, the Russian invasion has been a massive failure. Twenty-six months since the invasion on 22 February 2022, Russia has suffered more than 50,000 deaths and the Russian Federation has reportedly lost “87% of the total number of active-duty ground troops it had prior” to the start of the invasion, “two-thirds of [Russia’s] pre-invasion tanks” have been destroyed, and a third if its naval fleet on the Black Sea has been destroyed or disabled. The destroyed war machines and military hardware have left Russia tens of billions of dollars out of pocket. Hundreds of billions of dollars have also been lost through international sanctions. The loss of life, firepower and money, has been catastrophic, but the impacts don’t end there. Russia’s influence in Eurasia have also waned. This has been most apparent with the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) – Russia’s answer to NATO.

The Russian Federation created the intergovernmental military alliance in Eurasia in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and participants have grown to include countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Throughout its history, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been members. Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan were previously members, but later withdrew.

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Since its conception, CSTO members have held military training exercises and defence
ministers and other political figures have met to strengthen relations between member countries. But recently, that has changed with one report calling it a “lifeless, shambling alliance”.

Armenia’s decades-long fight with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabkah region is an example of Russia’s crumbling influence. Both countries have staked claim over the territory and Russia has attempted to serve as an intermediary in the negotiation process, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine has exposed the soft underbelly of its military capabilities. Once believed to have the second-strongest military in the world, Russia is now seen as having the second- strongest military in Ukraine. This has led Armenia to second guess its reliance on the Russian Federation. Azerbaijan recently launched a series of attacks and forcefully reclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh, and Russia was powerless to intervene on Armenia’s behalf. Russia has since confirmed it will completely withdraw its peacekeeping forces from the region.

Armenia has now determined it can no longer rely on the Russian Federation for assistance. Last year, the Armenians announced they will scale back their involvement in the CSTO. They refused to participate in CSTO training organisations and “renounced its right to take part in the [CSTO’s] leadership rotation”. Now, Armenia has frozen its participation in the organisation and opted to strengthen its relationship with Western organisations and is “considering seeking EU membership”.

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The EU is also collaborating with the Armenians on a new trade relationship and has pledged a $290 million financial package.

Kyrgyzstan has also previously had problems with the CSTO. In 2010, ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks clashed in southern Kyrgyzstan, resulting in over 400 deaths. Kyrgyzstan requested that the CSTO intervene to try and dissolve the situation, but the organisation chose not to.

Several years later, in a border clash between fellow CSTO members Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in 2021, the organisation also failed to intervene despite dozens of deaths. The Kyrgyz government noted the CSTO’s inaction over these two events. When it was Kyrgyzstan’s turn to host joint military exercises in October 2022, the Central Asian country opted to cancel the drills. This was seen as a slap to the face for the Russians.

Kyrgyzstan officials also met with the European Union during the Cooperation Committee and the Human Rights Dialogue and discussed “political and security issues,” economic development, and bilateral trade relations.

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Kazakhstan has also toyed with its involvement in the CSTO. The shift in Russo-Kazakh relations first began in January 2022. At the time, thousands of Kazakhs had gathered to protest their government for raising the price of fuel. The CSTO, under the direction of Russia, intervened with thousands of soldiers sent to crush the protests. Many Kazakhs were unhappy with Russia’s interference.

When the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine, there was a belief within Russia that
Kazakhstan would assist – but that never happened. The Kazakhs, instead, sent millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Finally, like Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan has sought to enhance its relationship with the West. Last year, senior Kazakh and European officials discussed reform and modernisation in Kazakhstan. More recently, Kazakh and European dignitaries met to focus on Kazak-EU trade relations. To date, the European Union accounts for 40% of Kazakhstan’s external trade.

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Three of the CSTO’s final six members are pursuing stronger relations with Western organisations, choosing not to participate in CSTO events and programs, and taking steps to diminish their interactions with the Russian Federation. It has become apparent that Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan are now seeking alternative economic and security relationships with other organisations to find ways that would guarantee their safety. This will lead to a greater decline in the CSTO, and Russia’s influence in the region.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Putin had hoped to rebuild his Russian Empire. Instead, he has caused the demise of the CSTO.

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