"The Magic Skin"
Russian spheres of influence, so carefully constructed for their own belief in their exceptional imperial mission, and controlled for decades by the political spheres of Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, have rapidly begun to weaken. Russia, due to its illusory annexation of Ukrainian territories, is losing international weight and significance in resolving the "Karabakh issue" (which was a Russian lever of influence on both Armenia and Azerbaijan). This is a vivid demonstration of how other conflicts inspired or supported by the Kremlin (Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia) can be resolved.
Despite the fact that the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Karabakh has deep historical roots and origins, it is not purely "bilateral." Throughout the entire post-Soviet period, the interested party was the Russian Federation which always was pouring gasoline on a fire. The Kremlin gained a double benefit by weakening both post-Soviet states and forcing them to turn to Russia as a "mediator" and "arbiter." Specifically, Armenia was destined to play the role of a Russian satellite (people who fervently believed that only Russia's presence would ensure the security of their country and control over the "second Armenian state" - Artsakh, or Nagorno-Karabakh). Azerbaijan, on the other hand, was forced to accept the rules of the arbiter's game and remain in the "Russian orbit" because it lost the so-called "First Karabakh War" of 1992-1994.
Now we can see Russian profound influence is being destroyed, and it is suffering the greatest losses, oddly enough, not in Armenia, but to the cunning mediator.
Firstly, the "peacekeeping contingent" of the Russian Federation in the territory of Azerbaijani Karabakh is unlikely to last until the end of the term established in 2020 (2025). The recent statements from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, demanding that these "peacekeepers" ensure their own security, rebuking the superficial nature of Russian military presence.
Secondly, Armenian society has significant grievances towards Russia as an ally that did not fulfill its obligations. The demonstration on September 19, 2023, in front of the Russian Embassy in Yerevan vividly emphasized the presence of such sentiments. As a consequence of this, there is a question of the country's withdrawal from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and a decision regarding the presence of Russian military bases in Armenia. The evacuation of the latter would signify the practical acknowledgment that Russia has catastrophically lost its influence in the South Caucasus. As for the Armenians in Karabakh, many of them hold Russian passports. Putin's and his propagandists' favorite narrative about protecting Russian speakers and citizens with Russian passports is another example of the crooked mirrors of Kremlin policy.
Thirdly, the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict will have tectonic consequences for all territories occupied by Russia one way or another - separatist entities (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), the unrecognized Transnistria, as well as in the national republics in the North Caucasus.
This means that we can expect an inevitable and fascinating continuance, and for the Kremlin, a painful reduction of its appetites. The Soviet Union left Russia with territorial conflicts as an inheritance, which Russia actively and fairly successfully used to influence the policies of individual states. However, at this moment, the resources and possibilities of this instrument are essentially depleted, and Mother Russia, which Ukrainian armed forces have put in check, will soon be on a diet that involves zero influence over recently independent states that were once under its watchful eye.
We are witnessing not the desired resurgence of the Russian Empire for Putin but the relentless disintegration of it. The myth of its greatness, omnipotence, and the futility of resistance to its army is crumbling. The Russia that exists today resembles a clay colossus that is cracking and crumbling, with Ukraine preparing to deliver the decisive blow.