When Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, he did so with most of our world’s leaders fearing the power of the Russian military. Russia was considered an unbeatable juggernaut for years, but that perception has changed since February 2022.
It didn’t take long for world leaders to realize that the Russian invasion was not going as well as Putin had hoped. Global media pounced on Putin’s failures and praised Ukraine as it battled to fight off Moscow’s invasion. But this could have serious consequences.
While it’s good, Russia isn’t winning the war in Ukraine. The destruction of the country’s reputation as the world’s second-greatest superpower has put humanity at far greater risk mostly because Russia’s neighbors are no longer afraid of Moscow or its military.
“Everyone knows Russia is not the unbeatable empire Moscow was at pains to portray itself as both outwardly and inwardly,” wrote the Telegraph’s Svitlana Morenets, adding just as Moscow eyed up Ukraine, other countries are now looking at Russia hungrily.
Morenets argued that the Kremlin should be wary about creating a world where territory can be taken by force because such a reality would only invite other powerful countries to start picking off pieces of Russia for themselves, and we are already seeing changes.
Shortly after it became apparent that there was little Russia could do while embroiled in Ukraine, countries that had had long-standing disputes with Moscow began asserting their politics and facing down the country that had ruled Eurasia since World War II.
Japan was the first to voice its dissatisfaction with Russia and pointed out that Moscow was still occupying parts of what Tokyo considered Japanese land in the Kuril Islands.
“It is completely unacceptable that the Northern Territories have yet to be returned since the Soviet Union’s illegal occupation of them 77 years ago,” a Japanese statement read in February 2023 according to a report from The Russian New Agency (TASS).
TASS noted that the statement from the Japanese government was the first time the words illegal occupation had been uttered in reference to the Kuril Islands since 2018.
Though it may not seem like much to most onlookers, the reintroduction of such strong language at the international level revealed exactly how diminished Russian prestige was in the eyes of its neighbors, and not all of them will be as benevolent as Japan.
One of the most worrying signs of things that may still be to come for Russia came from one of its only remaining allies, China. In March, an altered image circulated around the internet allegedly showing Central China Television airing a map with Russia after its collapse.
The image was later proved to be fake according to Reuters but the debate it ignited in China revealed that boiling below the surface of the country’s limitless partnership with Russia was tension to see the land taken from China by Moscow returned to the fold.
Big parts of Manchuria—former Chinese territory— were lost to Russia at the end of the Second World War according to Noēma Magazine, and still belong to Moscow today. Manchuria is now strategically important for China and awash with badly needed natural resources.
“Important cities and military harbors were built on these lands,” Noēma Magazine said, adding that under Russia the area was largely underdeveloped and that Chinese migration to the area has come to worry Moscow. But why would that be worrying for the Kremlin?
One theory could be that China would use the same excuse to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine in order to justify an invasion of parts of Russia that the Chinese government may want to see returned since they could prove to be vitally important in the future.
As of now, nothing is likely to happen in Russia’s far east but there is a case to be made that the area known as Kaliningrad could see an invasion from Poland if Russian power and prestige continue to slip away in Ukraine.
In May, Poland returned to using the historical Polish name for the city of Kaliningrad, which gives its name to the Russian Kaliningrad enclave. The unilateral renaming of Kaliningrad to Krolewiec seemed to anger the Russians according to The Guardian.
“We know that throughout history Poland has slipped from time to time into this madness of hatred towards Russians,” Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a briefing.
Poland has made no claim on Kaliningrad as of now but the situation does raise some interesting questions. If Russian power continues to decline, could we see an invasion from one of Russia’s neighbors aimed at retaking their historical lands?
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