Before Ukraine: Russia’s armed forces in Moldova, Chechnya, and Syria

The full article titled "Quasi-Internal Armed Conflicts as a Tool of Geopolitics: Russia’s armed forces in Moldova, Chechnya, and Syria" was published in the Summer 2023 (Issue#30) issue of the Line of Defence Magazine (pages 34-39).

LoD Editor: "Taking an historical perspective, [...] the 2022 invasion of Ukraine is a recent example of Ruscism-fuelled expansionism, and that the international community’s failure to notice the pattern established by Russia in previous conflicts has set a dangerous precedent."


This article reassesses three armed conflicts conventionally classified as internal, which became key milestones in the re-emergence and strengthening of Russian imperialism, climaxing today in the ongoing invasion of the sovereign neighbouring state – Ukraine.  It argues that the Transnistrian War in Moldova (1990-92), two Russian Chechen Wars (1994-96 and 1999-2009), and the Syrian civil war (2011 – present) are examples of the Kremlin’s applied expansionist political strategy, disguised as either peacekeeping or counter-terrorist efforts, aiming at exporting its military presence and regaining global ‘great power’ status. The international community is blamed for the lack of political will to notice and react effectively to the rising hostility and aggressiveness of the international stance and radical ideology of the Russian Federation and for a continuous appeasement to the point when Moscow became reassured in its impunity and the right to coerce other nations to its will disregarding any international law. It reveals links between the three conflicts and the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and highlights how the politics conducted by the Russian Federation is a global threat.


 Abboud, S.(2021). Making peace to sustain war: The Astana process and Syria’s illiberal peace. Peacebuilding, 9(3). 326-343. DOI: 10.1080/21647259.2021.1895609

Albulescu, A.M. (2022). Political order and escalation in the Republic of Moldova: Between accommodation of secessionist demands and stalemate with Transnistria. In A.M. Albulescu, Incomplete secession after unresolved conflicts: Political order and escalation in the post-Soviet space. (pp. 69-108). Routledge. 2022. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003194934-3

Allison, R. (2013). Russia, the West, and military interventions. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199590636.001.0001

Amos, H. (2011, August 25). News Analysis: Russia Damages Image in Arab Spring. The Moscow Times. https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2011/08/25/news-analysis-russia-damages-image-in-arab-spring-a9152

Berti, B. (2023). From cooperation to competition: Localization, militarization and rebel co-governance arrangements in Syria. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 46(2). 209-227. https://doi.org/10.1080/1057610X.2020.1776964

Ceban, E. (2022, May 5). What you need to know about Transnistria. Open Democracy. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/what-you-need-to-know-about-transnistria/

Davis, J. (2022-present). Russian Media Monitor. [YouTube Channel]. Retrieved June 1, 2023, from https://www.youtube.com/@russianmediamonitor/

European Council (1999, December 10). Conclusions of the Helsinki European Council: Declaration on Chechnya (10-11 December 1999). European Union. https://www.cvce.eu/en/obj/conclusions_of_the_helsinki_european_council_declaration_on_chechnya_10_11_december_1999-en-3d33f58a-19b9-4cc1-8009-614e377f45fb.html

Foley, E., & Kaunert, C. (2022). Russian private military and Ukraine: Hybrid surrogate warfare and Russian state policy by other means. Central European Journal of International and Security Studies, 16(3). 172–192. https://doi.org/10.51870/ULJU5827

Gaeta, P. (1996). The armed conflict in Chechnya before the Russian Constitutional Court. European Journal of International Law, 7. 563–570.

Galloway, A. (2023, May, 28). Putin’s private army should be listed as terrorists: opposition. The Sydney Morning Herald. https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/putin-s-private-army-should-be-listed-as-terrorists-opposition-20230525-p5dbdw.html

Goltz, T. (2015). The paradox of living in paradise: Georgia's descent into chaos. In S. E. Cornell & S. F. Starr (Eds.), The guns of August 2008. Russia's war in Georgia (Rev. ed., pp.10-27). Routledge.

Gülseven, A. (2021). A failed independent movement in the context of the great powers competition: The North Caucasian struggle for independence (1917-1920). Nevşehir Hacı Bektaş Veli Üniversitesi SBE Dergisi, 11(1), 245-259. https://doi.org/10.30783/nevsosbilen.873522

Hernesson. (2023, May 25). The notorious Wagner Group is operating in New Zealand? [Online forum post]. https://www.reddit.com/r/newzealand/comments/13r1a16/the_notorious_wagner_group_is_operating_in_new/

Hill, W.H. (2012). Russia, the Near Abroad, and the West. Woodrow Wilson Center Press with Johns Hopkins University Press.

Illarionov, A. (2015). The Russian leadership’s preparation for war, 1999–2008. In S. E. Cornell & S. F. Starr (Eds.), The guns of August 2008. Russia's war in Georgia (Rev. ed., pp.49-84). Routledge.

International Federation for Human Rights. (2022, June 9). Wagner in Syria: Appeal to European Court of Human Rights after case dismissed in Russia. [Press Release]. International Federation for Human Rights. https://www.fidh.org/en/region/north-africa-middle-east/syria/syria-russia-wagner-appeal-european-court-human-rights

Johnson, C.R. (2022). Post-partition violence and peace: Stay-behind minorities and minority returns in Georgia and Moldova. In C.R. Johnson, Partition and peace in civil wars. (pp. 87-113). 2022. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003131090

Kassymbekova, B. (2023, March 11). The Road to Democracy in Russia Runs Through Chechnya. Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/03/11/russia-chechnya-democracy-ukraine-putin-kadyrov/

Kyiv Post (2023, May 9). Transnistria asks Russia to increase number of ‘peacekeepers’. Kyiv Post. https://www.kyivpost.com/post/16805

Leenders, R. & Giustozzi, A. (2020). Foreign sponsorship of pro-government militias fighting Syria’s insurgency: whither proxy wars? Mediterranean Politics, 27(5). 614-643. https://doi.org/10.1080/13629395.2020.1839235

Lieven, A. (2023, March 16). A looming crisis in Moldova’s breakaway state.  Responsible Statecraft. https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2023/03/07/a-looming-crisis-in-moldovas-breakaway-state/

Lewis, D. (2022). Contesting liberal peace: Russia’s emerging model of conflict management. International Affairs. 98(2). 653–673. https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiab221

Loshkarev, I. (2019, October 28). Экспорт безопасности: как России вернуться в Африку и не сделать ошибок [Security expert: how could Russia return to Africa and avoid mistakes]. RBK. https://www.rbc.ru/opinions/politics/28/10/2019/5db2af989a79479e5bc37eeb

Mills, R. (2022, July 21). Remarks at a UNI General Assembly meeting following Russia’s veto of a UN Security Council resolution on the Syria cross-border humanitarian mechanism. U.S Embassy in Syria. https://sy.usembassy.gov/remarks-at-a-un-general-assembly-meeting-following-russias-veto-of-a-un-security-council-resolution-on-the-syria-cross-border-humanitarian-mechanism/

Norris, R.S. & Kristensen H.M. (2010). Global nuclear weapons inventories, 1945–2010. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 66(4). 77-83. https://doi.org/10.2968/066004008

Novaya Gazeta. (2000, January 14). "Блока ОВР вообще могло и не быть" [“The bloc FAR (Fatherland – All Russia) could have not existed”] [Interview] Новая Газета. https://www.ng.ru/politics/2000-01-14/1_ovr.html

OSCE. (1999). Istanbul Document 1999. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. https://www.osce.org/mc/39569

OSCE. (2006). Report of the Chairman-in-Office. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/0/3/24710.pdf

OSCE Mission to Moldova. (1993, November 1). First proposal on a special status for Transdniestria, considered a basis for the negotiating process (Report No. 13). Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. https://www.osce.org/moldova/42307

Pelton, R.Y. (2012, March 3). Kill the messenger. Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/03/03/kill-the-messenger/

Picheta, R. (2023, May 25). Wagner chief warns Russians could revolt if invasion continuesto struggle. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/05/24/europe/wagner-prigozhin-russia-manpower-ukraine-intl/index.html;

Plokhy, S. (2021). The gates of Europe: The history of Ukraine (Rev. ed.). Basic Books.

Putin, V. (2012, June 1). Working visit to Germany [Excerpts from the news conference following Russian-German talks]. Kremlin. http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/15523

Rizzotti, M. A. (2020, September). Russian mercenaries, state responsibility, and conflict in Syria: Examining the Wagner Group under international law. Wisconsin International Law Journal, 37(3). 569-614.

Reuters (2011, November 29). Factbox: Sanctions imposed on Syria. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-arabs-sanctions-idUSTRE7AR1A020111128

Savranskaya, S. & Evangelista, M. (Editors). (2020, April 15). Chechnya, Yeltsin, and Clinton: The massacre at Samashki in April 1995 and the US response to Russia’s war in Chechnya. Briefing book #702. National Security Archive. https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/russia-programs/2020-04-15/massacre-at-samashki-and-us-response-to-russias-war-in-chechnya

Smith, M. (2004, January). Russian perspectives on terrorism. Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/96223/04_Jan.pdf

Snyder, T. (2019). The road to unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. Vintage Books.

Socher, J. (2021). Russia and the right to self-determination in the post-Soviet space. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780192897176.003

Souleimanov, E. & Ditrych, O. (2008). The internationalisation of the Russian–Chechen conflict: Myths and reality. Europe–Asia Studies, 60(7). 1199–1222 https://doi.org/10.1080/09668130802230739.

TASS (2022, April 22). В Минобороны назвали задачи второго этапа спецоперации на Украине. [The goals of the second phase of the Special Operation in the Ukraine named by the Ministry of Defence]. Tass Russian News Agency. https://tass.ru/armiya-i-opk/14446141

The Parliament of Ukraine. (2022, October 18). Bill About the recognition of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria as a temporary-occupied by the russian federation and for condemnation of the conducted genocide of the Chechen people [Проект Постанови про Заяву Верховної Ради України про визнання Чеченської Республіки Ічкерія тимчасово окупованою російською федерацією і засудження вчинення геноциду чеченського народу]. #8132. http://w1.c1.rada.gov.ua/pls/zweb2/webproc4_1?pf3511=75069

Trenins, D. (2012, February). Why Russia supports Assad. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/opinion/why-russia-supports-assad.html

United Nations. (1996, August 31). Khasavyourt joint declaration and principles for mutual relations. https://peacemaker.un.org/russia-khasavyourtdeclaration96

United Nations. (2012, February 4). Security Council fails to adopt draft resolution on Syria as Russian Federation, China veto text supporting Arab League’s proposed peace plan [Press Release]. https://press.un.org/en/2012/sc10536.doc.htm

United Nations General Assembly. (2018, June 22). Complete and unconditional withdrawal of foreign military forces from the territory of the Republic of Moldova: resolution / adopted by the General Assembly (A/RES/72/282). https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/1632767

 United Nations Security Council (1992, August 6). Agreement on principles of a peace settlement of the armed conflict in the Transnistrian tegion of the Republic of Moldova. In S/24369: Note verbale dates 31 July 1992 from the permanent mission of Moldova to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General. https://peacemaker.un.org/moldova-peacefullsettlementdniestr92

Urbla, P. (Producer). (1995). Interview with President Dudayev. [Documentary]. Exitfilm. https://www.efis.ee/en/film-categotries/movies/id/12290  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5O7ZX092Lms

Vzgliad. (1995). Interview with President Dudayev. [Documentary TV programme]. Взгляд [Glance]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MpknqyB9g0


This product has been added to your cart