Interactive map: Where could Putin try to invade next?
The Kremlin used the pretext of defending ethnic Russians to attack Ukraine and threaten other former Soviet states. He recently threatened Moldova, with a Russian commander saying in April that taking control of southern Ukraine would help Russia tie itself to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin press secretary, claimed in June that Moldova associated its pursuit of EU candidate status, which it was granted on June 23, with opposition to Russia. “The more they become anti-Russian, it seems to them that the more Europeans should like them. We really wouldn’t want that to happen,” he said.
Ukraine and Moldova are far from the only countries with a large population of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. Belarus and Kazakhstan have high proportions of Russian speakers. Latvia and Estonia, which are members of the EU and NATO, have more than 30%.
The new statesman mapped the areas of these countries where ethnic Russians and Russian speakers live. Where might Putin be tempted to “protect” next?
Igor Krasnov, Russia’s chief prosecutor, recently claimed that Ukrainian activists in Kazakhstan were helping to fuel anti-Russian sentiment in the country. The The telegraph of the day reported in June that Kazakh government officials privately feared that Putin was turning his attention to them after Ukraine.
Ethnic Russians are particularly concentrated in the northern and eastern provinces of Kazakhstan. Altay district in the east is 77% ethnically Russian, while Magzhan Zhumabaev in northern Kazakhstan is 58% Russian, according to the latest Kazakh government figures.
The areas with large Russian populations all lie along the countries’ 4,750-mile land border, the longest continuous international border in the world, which would surely be at the center of any potential military action.
Recent veiled threats against Moldova have mainly focused on the autonomous region of Transnistria, which is under Russian-backed separatist control. There is no census data for this region, but Russian is the main official language. Transnistria borders Ukraine, so if Russia were able to link its occupied Ukrainian territory with the breakaway region, it could threaten Moldova.
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The second autonomous region of Moldova is Găgăuzia, where the native language is Găgăuz, a Turkish language, but most people speak Russian.
Bălți is the second largest city in Moldova and the country’s Russian-speaking capital. The country’s capital, Chișinău, also has a large Russian minority.
About 9% of Kyrgyzstan speak Russian. However, 23% of the capital Bishkek and 21% of those in the surrounding Chuy region speak Russian. Kyrgyzstan has no border with Russia. Its neighbors are Kazakhstan to the north and Uzbekistan to the west.
Estonia shares its eastern border with Russia, and like Kazakhstan, its border municipalities are more likely to contain Russian speakers. In particular, the border town of Narva in the northeast is 96% Russian-speaking, making it the most Russian city in the European Union.
The city has a bridge crossing Ivangorod from the Russian side, and before the invasion of Ukraine, the inhabitants mixed freely with their Russian neighbors. However, the war led to an increase in the number of people acquiring Estonian citizenship in the city, and visas became more difficult to obtain.
Neither Estonia nor Russia have yet ratified their 2014 border agreement. Estonia is a member of NATO, which makes Russian invasion much less likely due to the pact which means the alliance deals with a invasion of one of its members as an invasion of all, including the United States.
Latvia is also a member of NATO which has a border with Russia. About 34% of the country speaks Russian, mainly in the east, along its border with Russia, and in the south, along its border with Belarus. The parish of Pededze in the northeast is 70% ethnically Russian, the parish of Goliševas in the east is 71% and the parish of Lauderu is 74%.
Language and ethnicity are of course not the only excuses Russia has used to invade other nations.
Chechnya was independent after the fall of the Soviet Union, but was later reconquered by Russia, when Russians made up only 2% of the population. Some regions, such as Ingushetia, neighboring Chechnya, have less than 1% ethnic Russians. South Ossetia, the center of Georgia’s 2008 invasion, had just over 1% Russians in the 2015 census.
Other non-ethnic Russian countries that share borders with Russia are also worried about actions Putin’s government might take. These include Finland, which has relatively few Russian speakers (Imatra, a city to the east, has the highest proportion at just 5 percent), and which, along with Sweden, is joining NATO.
[See also: How big is occupied Ukraine? Use our interactive map to find out]