Since the outbreak of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many Central Asian countries have distanced themselves from Moscow. The refusal to align reveals the complex and ambiguous relations that these former Soviet republics maintain with their historical allies.
Do we see in this the beginning of the loss of Russian influence? Central Asia ? Since the explosion Invasion of Ukraine On February 24, the Kazakhstan And other countries in the region usually observe subtle distances from their powerful allies and neighbors.
The Kazakh Defense Ministry canceled a military parade on May 9 to mark Victory Day against Nazism. Memories of vital importance in the view of Vladimir Putin. In early March, pro-Ukrainian protests were recognized in this dictatorial country where public meetings are strictly controlled.
Also, TheUzbekistan And Kazakhstan sent several tens of tons of humanitarian aid to Kyiv, mostly medical equipment. More importantly, these two countries, which have good relations with Ukraine, do not recognize the independence of the two self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
“Kazakhstan has not yet recognized the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Since then, relations with Russia have continued to deteriorate,” recalled Michael Lewiston, a researcher at Ifri, a Central Asian expert. “Currently, Kazakhs are very worried about what is happening in Ukraine.”
On the wrong side of the “Iron Curtain”
Because of their strong security and economic ties with Moscow – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan rely on imports of refined goods from Russia – the Central Asian republics are careful not to go too far and maintain a strict neutral position within international organizations. . No one voted in favor of the UN General Assembly resolutions in March condemning the Russian invasion. Moreover, Kazakhstan has refused to support Moscow is excluded from the United Nations Human Rights Council.
“Of course, Russia wants to be on its side, but Kazakhstan respects the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” explained Timur Suleimanov, director of the presidential administration, at the end of March. In an interview with European news site EuractivHe assured that his country had no intention of being placed in the “same basket” as Russia and allowed Moscow to avoid Western sanctions.
Kazakhstan, an ally of Russia, “does not want to find itself behind a new ‘Iron Curtain’, and its Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vasilenko has assured the German press that Westerners are invited to invest in the country.
“For 30 years, Kazakhstan has structured its foreign policy without being locked into a separate alliance with the Russians or the Chinese. The war in Ukraine has confirmed this logic. Europe’s leading economic partner in the country is very unique in Central Asia,” said Michael Lewiston.
Fear of the “Ukrainian” scene
Among Vladimir Putin’s supporters, this sluggishness of independent Kazakhstan since 1991 has provoked anger and violent verbal attacks since the outbreak of war. “Brothers of the Kazakh, what is so ungrateful? Look at Ukraine carefully and think seriously,” said Dikran Kyosyan, especially a pro-Kremlin Russian presenter on his YouTube channel at the end of April.
“For many years in Russia, there was a discourse that the Kazakh government had never existed. Recently, the Duma’s deputy explained that it was necessary to destroy Kazakhstan,” explains Michael Lewiston. Like Ukraine, a large Russian-speaking minority lives in the Kazakh region.
Despite these tensions caused by the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow remains an essential partner for regional countries, especially in terms of security. In January, the President of Kazakhstan, Qasim-Jomart TokayevForced to call forces Joint Security Agreement (CSTO) To overcome Unprecedented domestic unrest Due to the sharp rise in LPG prices.
“Today, only Russia intervenes in the event of a crisis in Central Asia. In the short term, it is a major stabilizing force in the region,” said Michael Lewiston. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, in particular, which share Central Asia’s longest borders with Afghanistan, are “a major threat to the security of these two countries and to the region as a whole.”
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