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Moscow’s political strategy is changing as its military efforts falter.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hits the three-month mark, an important shift in Moscow’s strategy may be emerging. This shift isn’t a military one: Russia remains focused on expanding control over eastern Ukraine. But Russia’s political strategy regarding so-called breakaway territories, not only in Ukraine but throughout the former Soviet space, may be changing.

From Russian-occupied territories in eastern Ukraine to the region of South Ossetia in Georgia, there is growing speculation that such Moscow-aligned breakaway territories may soon formally become annexed by Russia. Reports by Ukrainian officials suggest that Mariupol, Kherson, and other cities in Ukraine that have been occupied by Russian forces could hold a referendum to be annexed by Russia in September, while U.S. officials have suggested it could happen even sooner than that. In the meantime, South Ossetian President Anatoly Bibilov signed a decree on May 13 for a referendum to be held on July 17 for the breakaway territory to join Russia.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, some of the newly independent states chose to remain aligned with Moscow in their foreign-policy orientation, including Belarus, Armenia, and many of the Central Asian countries. Others chose a different path, with such states as Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova seeking greater autonomy from Russia and eventually turning in a more Western direction.

Read the rest in Foreign Policy.