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Ukraine War Has Put a Dent in Russia's Capacity to Project Power Abroad

Russia has invested a colossal amount of military resources to counter Ukrainian advances along the frontline and has managed to hold the defensive lines contrary to the original expectations. However, in as much as it put up a show of strength, the war in Ukraine has debilitated Russia’s capacity to project military power away from its borders.

Even with the absence of a formidable blue water navy, Russia’s aspirations has never fallen short of a global power. Its military endeavor in different parts of the world has given some semblance of it. However, unlike its predecessor, the Soviet Union, Russia is way short of being designated an actual global power. Notwithstanding its limited military capabilities, Russia managed to intervene in Syria to prop up Assad regime and has been able to increase its footprint in Africa. However, as the war in Ukraine prolongs, whatever left of its capacity to influence politics abroad using military force is gradually fading away.

When Azerbaijan launched its offensive against the ethnic Armenians in Nagarno-karbakh region, the Russian peacekeepers were patrolling the enclave. The ethnic Armenians had pinned their hopes on a Russian military intervention in their support but that never materialized. Azerbaijan’s military enhanced by the support from Turkiye, managed to take control of the region. Russia’s military clout has suffered a dent and this episode is a testament to it. 

Even though the relation between Armenian government and Russia had soured recently, the absence of Russian response in Nagarno-Karbakh had primarily to do with Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. At present, Russians cannot afford to spare their military resources for another war. Baku seized this opportunity to take full control of the region for the first time after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

There was a similar trend emanating from Syria where the Russians have reduced their military presence. The invasion of Ukraine has been draining Russian military resources. It highly unlikely that the Ukrainians will fully overcome the Russians but they have managed to inflict enough damage to force Russian policy makers rethink their strategies of military interventions in other parts of the world.

Russia has lost a large number of fighter aircrafts.  It’s Black Sea Fleet has been dealt some humiliating blows by the Ukrainians. In 2022, the cruiser Moskva sank after being hit by the Ukrainian Neptune Anti-ship missile. In September this year, a Rostov-on-Don Kilo class submarine was heavily damaged by a strike made using British made Storm-Shadow cruise missiles. Apart from that, several other surface ships have been damaged or destroyed in different attacks. For most part after the dissolution of Soviet Union, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was in a dilapidated state. It was only after the modernization that began in 2010 that a growing number of western analysts pitched concerns regarding the ongoing development in the Black Sea.  Naval force is a key component if a nation seeks to project its power abroad and even though the Russians still manage a sizeable fleet, it would take an investment in time and other resources to recover from the losses.

Apart from the damage in equipment, a large number of personnel have lost their lives. The total estimates puts a number that easily dwarfs Soviet’s losses of military personnel during its decade long misadventure in Afghanistan. Though the number of Russian military personnel deployed in foreign territories is small, the heavy losses in Ukraine means that the Russian government will be cautious about further losses.

The ongoing Ukrainian counter offensive has not been able to make gains the way it did in Kherson and Kharkhiv last year. Even though It seems the western support hasn’t been able to deliver a decisive victory for Ukrainians, it has certainly helped weaken Russia.

However, though the Russian state has been weakened militarily, it will not shy away from using alternative means to achieve its strategic goals. With a decreased military potential, we might witness an increase in Russia’s grey zone tactics. Russia wields some influence over political actors in NATO member states and with dwindling military coercive capability, the disinformation and propaganda campaign will take a greater priority.

 Apart from that, the use of private military force like Wagner will see a rise. In Libya, for instance, the Russian government has relied on PMC Wagner group to further its strategic interests.  It has played active role in Syria as well. In Ukraine, the Wagner group has had a large presence and was instrumental in the capture of Bakhmut in Donetsk oblast.   However, the increase in outsourcing of military operations to a private military firm only points to the weakening of Russian state’s machinery to directly influence developments abroad.

The war in Ukraine has taken a toll on Russian military resources. The Russian forces are overstretched and we witness a huge loss in lives and equipment. This has put Russia on a back foot as far as its military activities in other parts of the world are concerned. Recent developments in Azerbaijan and Syria is the result of Russia’s waning military might. Russia will seek alternative path ways to maintain its strategic interests. However, Irrespective of how it’s performing in Ukraine, Russia’s aspiration to cement itself as a true global power has taken a hit. The Russian government has been losing its leverage over its allies and unless a resolution in Ukraine is reached soon, the Russians risk further loosening their grip overseas.  


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