What the Former Soviet States Are Thinking About Russia

In the west, all is not good in the neighborhood. In the east, it’s a different story.

National Journal
Marina Koren
See more stories about...
Marina Koren
April 4, 2014, 9:41 a.m.

With no evid­ence that Rus­sia has any plans to with­draw its troops from the bor­der of Ukraine, some former So­viet states are wor­ried about their own re­gion­al se­cur­ity. Farther east, oth­er coun­tries, closely aligned with Mo­scow rather than the West, say they are try­ing to ease ten­sions. And sev­er­al cent­ral Asi­an states have re­spon­ded by simply stay­ing si­lent.

The United States and NATO an­nounced this week that they are boost­ing mil­it­ary sup­port in the Balt­ic re­gion, which is on es­pe­cially high alert. Mo­scow has long com­plained about Rus­si­ans’ rights there, and its takeover of Crimea sug­gests it may be will­ing to do something about it. Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin has said he has no plans to go fur­ther than the re­cent an­nex­a­tion, but main­tains his right to de­fend eth­nic Rus­si­ans in for­eign coun­tries.

Here’s where the former So­viet re­pub­lics stand on the Ukraine crisis.

Ukraine

Well, you know.

“I want to be per­fectly clear. We will nev­er re­cog­nize the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea,” Ukrain­i­an Prime Min­is­ter Ar­seny Yat­seni­uk told Re­u­ters on Fri­day. “The time will come when Ukraine will take over con­trol of Crimea.” Rus­sia has hiked up the price of nat­ur­al gas for Ukraine by 80 per­cent, a move Yat­seni­uk called “totally un­ac­cept­able.”

Es­to­nia

Last month, Rus­sia “signaled con­cern” at Es­to­nia’s treat­ment of its large eth­nic Rus­si­an minor­ity. Rus­si­an of­fi­cials took aim at Es­to­nia’s na­tion­al lan­guage policy, which is sim­il­ar to that of Ukraine, where all chil­dren use Ukrain­i­an in school. A quarter of Es­to­nia’s 1.3 mil­lion people are Rus­si­an speak­ers.

Some fear this could give Putin all he needs to in­ter­vene in the coun­try, but Rus­si­ans there say they don’t need to be “res­cued.”

Still, the Es­to­ni­an gov­ern­ment is wary. “Rus­sia’s pos­ture has no place in the 21st cen­tury,” For­eign Min­is­ter Ur­mas Paet said last week. This week, Es­to­ni­an Prime Min­is­ter Taavi Roivas called for NATO to de­ploy “boots on the ground” to the Balt­ics. Es­to­nia re­gained its in­de­pend­ence when the So­viet Uni­on col­lapsed in 1991, after more than 50 years of Rus­si­an rule.

Latvia

“We are very much con­cerned about what is hap­pen­ing cur­rently in Ukraine, but we are not hys­ter­ic­al of course,” Latvi­an For­eign Min­is­ter Edgars Rinkevics said re­cently. If the situ­ation es­cal­ates, his gov­ern­ment would con­sider im­pos­ing sanc­tions against Rus­sia. Un­til then, a NATO pres­ence is cru­cial in all Balt­ic states, he said.

This week, Latvia banned a Rus­si­an-lan­guage TV chan­nel, cit­ing “war pro­pa­ganda.”

Latvia, like the oth­er Balt­ic states and much of West­ern Europe, de­pends heav­ily on Rus­si­an ex­ports of nat­ur­al gas and crude oil. Latvi­an Pres­id­ent An­dris Berz­ins has called for ac­cel­er­at­ing con­struc­tion on gas pipelines link­ing Po­land, Lithuania, and even­tu­ally Latvia. This week, Berz­ins asked the head of the Rus­si­an Or­tho­dox Church, Pat­ri­arch Kir­ill, who is con­sidered a Krem­lin ally, to post­pone his planned May vis­it to Latvia, cit­ing ten­sions between Rus­sia and Ukraine.

About 35 per­cent of Latvia’s pop­u­la­tion of 2 mil­lion are Rus­si­an speak­ers. About 270,000 Latvi­ans, most of whom came to the coun­try for work dur­ing the So­viet era, do not have cit­izen­ship. They feel like they are “second-class cit­izens.” “This is Rus­sia’s land,” one res­id­ent re­cently told Re­u­ters. Latvia was also taken over by the So­viet Uni­on in 1940 and did not re­gain its in­de­pend­ence un­til 1991.

Lithuania

“The Rus­si­ans oc­cu­pied a part of Ukraine and they con­cen­trated their forces, and I think we should be ready to de­fend our states if this ag­gres­sion should con­tin­ue,” Jouzas Ole­kas, Lithuania’s de­fense min­is­ter, said this week. Reg­u­larly sched­uled Rus­si­an mil­it­ary activ­ity over the Balt­ic air­space has put Lithuani­an of­fi­cials on edge.

Last month, Lithuani­an Pres­id­ent Dalia Gry­bauskaite said Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea is a dir­ect threat to Lithuania’s re­gion­al se­cur­ity. “We wit­nessed the use of bru­tal force to re­draw the map of Europe and to un­der­mine the post­war polit­ic­al ar­chi­tec­ture es­tab­lished in Europe,” she said.

The So­viet Uni­on an­nexed Lithuania in 1940. Rus­si­ans make up 6 per­cent of Lithuania’s pop­u­la­tion.

Be­larus

Be­larus­i­an Pres­id­ent Al­ex­an­der Lukashen­ko, a close ally of Mo­scow, said last month that Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea sets a “bad pre­ced­ent.” Ukraine, he said, should re­main “a single, in­di­vis­ible, in­teg­ral, non­bloc state.”

Be­larus and Rus­sia, however, are still talk­ing. The two na­tions’ for­eign min­is­ters met on the side­lines of a Mo­scow meet­ing of the Com­mon­wealth of In­de­pend­ent States, an or­gan­iz­a­tion of former So­viet re­pub­lics, to dis­cuss work­ing to­geth­er to di­min­ish re­gion­al ten­sions. Be­larus also voted against a U.N. Gen­er­al As­sembly res­ol­u­tion last month de­clar­ing Crimea’s ref­er­en­dum in­val­id.

A Be­larus­i­an news agency on Thursday said Be­larus-Rus­sia co­oper­a­tion in the nuc­le­ar en­ergy sec­tor has “a bright fu­ture.”

Mol­dova

Mol­dovan Prime Min­is­ter Iurie Leanca has asked both West­ern lead­ers and Rus­sia “to pre­vent his coun­try from fall­ing apart.” But the coun­try has re­cently shown its West­ern lean­ings. On Thursday, Leanca praised a de­cision by the European Uni­on to lift visa re­stric­tions on Mol­dova, al­low­ing its cit­izens to travel through the Schen­gen area, a pass­port-free zone span­ning 26 European coun­tries. “I want to tell the skep­tics, who un­til re­cently have not be­lieved that we will travel freely to the European Uni­on, that the pro­spect of join­ing the European Uni­on will be re­cog­nized in the same way,” he said.

Ru­mors are swirl­ing that Rus­si­an spe­cial forces have already ar­rived in Trans­nis­tria, a small Rus­si­an-oc­cu­pied re­pub­lic that broke away from Mol­dova after a civil war in 1992. Trans­nis­tria, which no United Na­tions mem­bers leg­ally re­cog­nize, is well un­der Mo­scow’s in­flu­ence. Mol­dova’s closer ties to the E.U. have been met with threats from Mo­scow’s rep­res­ent­at­ive to Trans­nis­tria.

Ar­menia

Ar­menia, un­like just about every­one else, re­cog­nized the res­ults of Crimea’s March ref­er­en­dum to be­come a part of Rus­sia. Ar­meni­an Pres­id­ent Serzh Sargsy­an told Putin that the vote was “yet an­oth­er ex­ample of the real­iz­a­tion of peoples’ right to self-de­term­in­a­tion.”

Ar­menia re­cently an­nounced plans to boost its yearly im­ports of gas from neigh­bor­ing Ir­an by 75 per­cent, and in ex­change ex­port elec­tri­city to the Middle East­ern coun­try. The move has been met with re­l­at­ive si­lence from Rus­sia, which con­trols Ar­menia’s en­tire gas-pipeline sys­tem.

The non-re­ac­tion, Mari­anna Grigory­an ex­plains at Euras­i­anet.org, could be at­trib­uted to Putin’s de­sire to bring Ar­menia in­to a Euras­i­an Eco­nom­ic Com­munity uni­on it cre­ated with Be­larus and Kaza­kh­stan in 2010. Mem­bers hope to ex­pand the or­gan­iz­a­tion this year to oth­er former So­viet states, and fur­nish it as a coun­ter­weight to the E.U. An E.U. com­mis­sion­er said Fri­day that the uni­on “un­der­mines the sov­er­eignty of in­di­vidu­al coun­tries.”

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan, on the oth­er hand, con­demned the Crimea ref­er­en­dum, and a state­ment from its em­bassy in Kiev said it “con­demns ex­trem­ism, rad­ic­al­ism and sep­ar­at­ism in its every mani­fest­a­tion and once again con­firms its ad­her­ence to the prin­ciples of sov­er­eignty, in­de­pend­ence and sup­port of the ter­rit­ori­al in­teg­rity of Ukraine.”

But Azerbaijan has to tread care­fully. Rus­sia, along with the U.S. and France, has played the role of me­di­at­or in Azerbaijan’s on­go­ing battle with Ar­menia for Nagorno-Kara­bakh, a land­locked re­gion in the South Cau­cas­us.

Geor­gia

Geor­gia broke dip­lo­mat­ic re­la­tions with Rus­sia six years ago, fol­low­ing the South Os­se­tia war, a brief armed con­flict between the two na­tions. Rus­sia still oc­cu­pies two break­away provinces in­side Geor­gia, South Os­se­tia and Ab­khazia, which Rus­sia helped sup­port in their fight against Geor­gia in 2008.

NATO mem­ber­ship for Geor­gia is far off, but the al­li­ance’s for­eign min­is­ters met this week with their Geor­gi­an coun­ter­part in Brus­sels to talk about its pos­sible even­tu­al ac­ces­sion. In Feb­ru­ary, Geor­gi­an Prime Min­is­ter Irakli Gari­bashivili ad­voc­ated for a full seat at the table. “This de­sire is sup­por­ted by the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the Geor­gi­an pop­u­la­tion, as well as Geor­gia’s ma­jor polit­ic­al parties,” he said. “The Geor­gi­an gov­ern­ment will un­der­take every ef­fort to con­tin­ue the path of re­forms that will bring us closer to NATO.”

Kaza­kh­stan

Kaza­kh­stan, which bor­ders Rus­sia in the south, has the largest pop­u­la­tion of eth­nic Rus­si­ans out of the former So­viet re­pub­lics in cent­ral Asia, at 22 per­cent of its pop­u­la­tion. Last month, its pres­id­ent, Nur­sultan Naz­ar­bayev, told Putin that he un­der­stood Mo­scow’s stance on Crimea. But he said that Kaza­kh­stan’s co­oper­a­tion with Rus­sia on the re­cently formed uni­on doesn’t mean Mo­scow would ex­ert more in­flu­ence in the coun­try.

“As far as our polit­ic­al in­de­pend­ence is con­cerned, this is sac­rosanct, and Kaza­kh­stan will not cede its sov­er­eignty to any­one,” Naz­ar­bayev said.

Kyrgyz­stan

Kyrgyz­stan’s for­eign min­istry bashed ous­ted Ukrain­i­an Pres­id­ent Vikt­or Ya­nukovych in a state­ment last month, which hin­ted at the coun­try’s past failed at­tempts at par­lia­ment­ary demo­cracy.

“The only source of power in any coun­try is its people, and a pres­id­ent who lost his people’s trust, who de facto lost his pres­id­en­tial au­thor­ity and, moreover, who fled the coun­try, can­not be le­git­im­ate,” the state­ment said. However, Kyrgyz­stan, faced with threats of re­tali­ation from Mo­scow, ab­stained from vot­ing last month on a U.N. res­ol­u­tion that de­clared Crimea’s ref­er­en­dum il­leg­al.

Kyrgyz­stan main­tains strong ties to Rus­sia, which provides gen­er­ous aid pack­ages to the cash-strapped na­tion, as well as arms and fuel, and it hopes to join the Euras­i­an Eco­nom­ic Com­munity. In oth­er oth­er words, Kyrgyz­stan is firmly in Rus­sia’s grasp.

Tajikistan

Tajikistan also de­pends heav­ily on Rus­si­an aid. Like Kyrgyz­stan, Tajikistan did not vote in the U.N. res­ol­u­tion con­demning Crimea’s vote to join Rus­sia. Rus­si­an and Tajik rep­res­ent­at­ives con­tin­ue to co­oper­ate on eco­nom­ic and trade is­sues, and have largely steered clear of dis­cuss­ing the Ukraine crisis.

Uzbek­istan

Uzbek­istan broke its si­lence on es­cal­at­ing ten­sions in Ukraine in early March but did not men­tion Rus­sia. The events “pose a real threat to the coun­try’s sov­er­eignty and ter­rit­ori­al in­teg­rity,” a state­ment from its for­eign af­fairs min­istry said, and ” eli­cit deep con­cern in Uzbek­istan.”

Uzbek­istan’s lead­ers have co­oper­ated with NATO on se­cur­ity is­sues in the past, but the coun­try leans heav­ily to­ward Rus­sia, thanks to strong eco­nom­ic ties. On Thursday, Mo­scow wel­comed Uzbek­istan in­to the free-trade zone of the Com­mon­wealth of In­de­pend­ent States, an ar­range­ment that will boost trade between Uzbek­istan and its fel­low former So­viet re­pub­lics. Uzbek­istan has also asked Rus­si­an en­ergy firms to help tap its vast hy­dro­car­bon de­pos­its.

Turk­menistan

Turk­menistan, ruled by a So­viet-era hol­d­over with zero tol­er­ance for dis­sent, de­pends on a Rus­si­an pipeline for ex­ports, but it has re­cently turned to Beijing for more busi­ness. The com­pet­i­tion may spell fu­ture trouble for Rus­sia, but Turk­menistan has no plans to sever ties with Mo­scow, let alone make com­ments about its in­volve­ment in Ukraine.

What We're Following See More »
SUFFOLK POLL
New Survey Shows Clinton Up 9 in Pennsylvania
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

If a new poll is to be believed, Hillary Clinton has a big lead in the all-important swing state of Pennsylvania. A new Suffolk University survey shows her ahead of Donald Trump, 50%-41%. In a four-way race, she maintains her nine-point lead, 46%-37%. "Pennsylvania has voted Democratic in the past six presidential elections, going back to Bill Clinton’s first win in 1992. Yet it is a rust belt state that could be in play, as indicated by recent general-election polling showing a close race."

Source:
$500 MILLION PROJECT
Obama Library Heading to Jackson Park in Chicago
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"President Barack Obama has chosen Jackson Park, a lakefront park that once hosted the world’s fair on the city’s South Side, for his $500 million presidential library, according to a person familiar with the matter."

Source:
THREE NIGHTS RUNNING
Democrats Beat Republicans in Convention Ratings So Far
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Wednesday was the third night in a row that the Democratic convention enjoyed a ratings win over the Republican convention last week. Which might have prompted a fundraising email from Donald Trump exhorting supporters not to watch. "Unless you want to be lied to, belittled, and attacked for your beliefs, don't watch Hillary's DNC speech tonight," the email read. "Instead, help Donald Trump hold her accountable, call out her lies and fight back against her nasty attacks."

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Many VIPs Were the Secret Service Protecting in Philly Last Night?
6 hours ago
THE ANSWER

Seven, according to an official Secret Service tweet.

Source:
‘MOGUL,’ ‘DAREDEVIL’
Candidates’ Code Names Revealed
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Clintons will retain their Secret Service "code names from the last time they lived in the White House. Hillary Clinton is EVERGREEN and Bill ClintonEAGLE. Donald Trump is MOGUL, according to reports, and Melania Trump MUSE. The vice presidents get code names, too: Mike Pence is HOOSIER—a little on the nose—and his wife HUMMINGBIRD. Tim Kaine is DAREDEVIL, somewhat ambitiously. His wife's? To be determined."

Source:
×