Isolation in the former CIS
The post-Soviet space is not a politically unified whole today, and membership of former republics in various integration projects (Collective Security Treaty Organization, Eurasian Economic Community) hasn’t contributed to a certain general line being worked out. This repeats the experience of 2014, when the annexation of Crimea triggered a very cool reaction from many CIS members, including those nominally friendly toward Russia, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan.
By summer 2022, the coldness of Minsk and Astana toward the actions of Moscow again made itself felt. Minsk didn’t officially change its rhetoric and didn’t restrict the presence of Russian troops on its territory, but its dodging of direct participation in the hostilities became more and more obvious. Meanwhile, the discussions around Kazakhstan at the St Petersburg economic forum and the subsequent suspension of operations by the Caspian Pipeline Consortium represented clear signs of growing problems in Kazakhstan-Russia relations – despite the assistance provided by Russian troops in early 2022 during the unrest in Alma-Ata and Astana.
Interestingly, the cooling of relations with Belarus and Kazakhstan has been partly offset by a relatively loyal reaction on the part of Georgia and Armenia. Tbilisi was noticeably cautious in its remarks about Moscow's actions. Although the countries still don’t have diplomatic relations, Georgia hasn’t been included in Russia’s list of “unfriendly” countries. In Yerevan, the view that it was Russia that “saved” Armenia during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war has gained wide popularity. The idea of Russian support is especially significant against the backdrop of Azerbaijan's recent actions, which can be interpreted as ideological preparations for a new offensive. The periodic excesses in the Karabakh conflict zone can be seen as an element of pressure and ambiguity on the part of Azerbaijan and Turkey – the specter of a second front makes Moscow nervous.
Window for bargaining and concessions opening back up
Despite the near-complete rupture in Russia's relations with many foreign countries, the window for compromise on local issues is still not closed. In some cases, it is through intermediaries, with the grain agreement an example, while in others it is the result of direct interaction. Following the release and return to Russia of pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who had been in an American prison for more than a decade, similar expectations arose regarding Viktor Bout and possible swap initiatives from Moscow.
The sides didn’t offer a clear political interpretation of how such agreements and swaps are taking place at the height of the Ukraine conflict. It would seem that in the current atmosphere of emphatically harsh rhetoric, any talk of retreat or concessions sounds like "betrayal" or "treason."