Almost all of Vladimir Putin's most significant moves during his past 20 (yes, it's twenty) years of rule are clearly reflected in the results of an annual poll run by Levada Center. As of 2019, almost half of Russians (45%) felt ashamed over the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2018, according to the same survey said the share of those who would like to avoid such collapse amounted to 66%, a record high in 10 years. At the same time, Russian citizens felt proudest about the win in World War 2 (87%), the country's leading role in space exploration (50%), and the annexation of Crimea (45%).
Being unable to achieve great progress in further space exploration due to objective reasons, the Kremlin has found "regaining lands" and "strengthening bonds" its main occupation by the end of 2020.
Belarus, Armenia, Abkhazia (Georgia), and Azerbaijan
The toolkit Putin's regime smoothly but consistently applies to the neighboring Armenia and Belarus is pretty much the same: weaken the ruling elite as much as possible and coerce leaders to fully comply with Moscow's orders.
A weakened, hunted dictator is the best option for the Kremlin
In the case of Belarus and Lukashenko, Russia successfully exploited the latter's confrontation with protesters. Moscow's statements and their sequence have all been finely tailored. On the one hand, officials in Moscow "stood up for the people of BELORUSSIA [the Soviet-style name of the country]" in order to promote the idea of the president's illegitimacy and thus weakening him to the verge and claiming to share the view of western powers who have been standing up for democracy. On the other hand, once Lukashenko has burned all bridges with the west, Putin and his team, started unanimously echoing the Belarus leader in blaming the West and "external forces" for all of the country's troubles, since it is a weakened, hunted dictator that is the best option for the Kremlin. Lukashenko has so far remained in the top chair, while this chair now has broken legs and stands many floors below Putin's office. Moscow's campaign targeting Lukashenko was the result of the Belarusian president's unwillingness to integrate his country into Russia, which would give Putin the legitimate right to become head of the new state without needing to hold the notorious referendum on constitutional amendments. Back in the spring of 2020, Lukashenko reached an agreement with the West, and already at the end of summer, Russia's Rostov became the only potential safe place for "Luka" (by analogy with the fate of the disgraced Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine), and that's only if he bows to Kremlin's demands.
In the case of Armenia, neither Putin nor Russia have stood up to Azerbaijan on its path of regaining lands. As a result of a 44-day war this, among other things, led to a drastic deterioration of Yerevan government's positions. After all, the government's desire to pursue a sovereign policy came into conflict with the efforts to maintain this very sovereignty. All claims about Russia having no legal grounds to intervene are nonsense. In 2016, Russia did, for example. In 2008, they deployed troops in Georgia, effectively occupying 20% of the country's territory. In 2014 came the annexation of Crimea… Then there was an assassination attempt on the Skripal family in Britain, the hit job on Khangoshvili in Berlin, and the attempt on Navalny ... Whenever Putin "needs" it, he intervenes. But, in this case, it was "necessary" to subdue and weaken as much as possible the defiant Prime Minister Pashinyan, who has been defending his country's independence, so as not to leave him a choice and regain maximum control over Armenia. As in the case of Lukashenko, as soon as the blow was struck and Pashinyan became the target of harsh criticism and lost part of popular support, Putin immediately voiced public support for Pashinyan, speaking of the Armenian prime minister's "bold" move and an allied stance. I'm not diminishing Turkey's role as a balance in the issue of the war in Karabakh, but I wouldn't recommend anyone to also diminish the resolve of the Russian president to settle issues whenever he believes he really "needs" this.
The result: a weakened prime minister in Armenia upon whom Moscow has forced itself as "main ally", the so-called peacekeepers in Karabakh (who in fact are yet another lever on the region), temporarily satisfied with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Temporarily, because there was no final point in either direction in the Karabakh issue, which is again beneficial to the Kremlin and what Minister Lavrov has been striving for years, promoting the idea of deploying a Russian contingent. I will not remind thinking people of what the Russian "peacekeepers" did in the occupied regions of Georgia in 2008.
While Lukashenko's fate is already predetermined, Pashinyan can still save his country
While Lukashenko's fate is already predetermined, Pashinyan, who enjoys considerable support of the Armenian people, can still save his country and, together with his fellow citizens, recover from war and make a leap forward through transformation and reform. Whether the country has stamina and support to this end we are yet to see, rather soon.
Armenia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, and ... Abkhazia (Georgia)
Without hesitation or lunch breaks, having weakened and subdued Lukashenko, who has for several years been under pressure to integrate Belarus into the Union State; having weakened Prime Minister Pashinyan, Putin meets with the so-called President of Abkhazia (the occupied region of Georgia). And during that Sochi meeting, he "unexpectedly" brings up the topic of (sic!) a Union State with Russia. As a harbinger of future developments, Bzhania and Putin approved a plan for creating a single socio-economic space, which provides for Abkhazia's integration into Russia's legal field.
Abkhazia is already being de facto fully controlled by Moscow
Abkhazia is already being de facto fully controlled by Moscow, as is the occupied region of Georgia, so-called South Ossetia. So why suddenly initiate discussions of "union states"? Is one supposed to be set up with Belarus or Abkhazia? Or maybe with all? It's the so-called president of occupied Abkhazia who was entrusted to voice the reasoning behind the efforts described above, which fully fit into the results of the Levada Center polls. After his meeting with Putin, Bzhania said the Russian president had said that "the situation on the Eurasian continent and in the whole world is developing in such a way that we need special relations with Belarus, with the Abkhaz people, with those who feels close to us. Global processes will move on. And apparently, a group of states in the post-Soviet space, if this meets the interests of their peoples, will organize a kind of union."
No, in 2020 it's not about the countries joining some international democratic institutions or the European Union. It's about the revisited version of the Soviet Union. That very Union, which Georgia, for example, still officially considers "Soviet occupation". It appears that time bombs in the form of territorial disputes in the post-Soviet space have launched their countdown. As for Georgia and Ukraine, which still at least rhetorically proclaim a course of rapprochement with the European Union and NATO, the main factor will be whether pro-democratic forces in these countries are able to prevail and how active the new U.S. administration led by Joe Biden and the European Union leaders professing "business as usual" show support for Tbilisi and Kyiv in their struggle for sovereignty and development against the imposition of Soviet realities and dictatorship.
I hope that the looming threat of the USSR 2.0 becoming a reality will prompt Germany, Italy, and, primarily, the United States to urgently consider Georgia's bid for joining NATO, and then do the same for Ukraine
So far, although Russia is in a really weak position, while Putin has generally become an outcast in the international arena, perceived as dictator and leader of an undemocratic regime, to put it mildly, in the issue of building up a new version of the USSR by undermining neighboring states militarily, economically and politically, Russia has made much more progress than NATO and EU did toward enlargement. I hope that the looming threat of the USSR 2.0 becoming a reality will prompt Germany, Italy, and, primarily, the United States to urgently consider Georgia's bid for joining NATO, and then do the same for Ukraine, in order to save the region from an ultimate disaster. The peoples of Georgia and Ukraine have long deserved this right through reforms, wars with the aggressor, and struggle for sovereignty, as well as the right to choose for themselves how to live their lives and whom to befriend. Meanwhile, happy holders of Russian passports citizenship (including myself), who consider Russia our homeland, no matter where we actually live, should think hard whether we want a find ourselves "back in the USSR", or perhaps raise our heads and fight for our country.