March 22, 2014

The Revolution in Ukraine and the Position of the States of Central Asia

Coordinated and activated by Moscow activity of pro-Russian public and political parties and movements in Ukraine, movement of more Russian troops to the territory of the Crimea have significantly destabilized the socio-political life of the Russian-speaking population of Southern and Eastern regions of the Ukrainian state. Today, it stands for the empowerment of some regions and in some cases — for separation from the state of Ukraine. Not accidentally many of these events remind the situation in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Trans-Dniester and Nagornyi-Karabakh.

Against this background, has got more active political life in the former Soviet Central Asian republics, where since November last year, i.e., when in Ukraine began a political crisis, exacerbated internal contradictions, can be observed some ambiguity of actions, and hope for changes for better with simultaneous uncertainty in the upcoming future.

It is likely that the protests in Ukraine and the removal from power of Yanukovych and his team can pick up in some way a revolutionary wave in Central Asia against authoritarian regimes there. This — at one end. On the other, criticism of Ukrainian protest movement there will sweeten the ambitions of Russia, creating the illusion of support to its aggressiveness. At this, “illusion” is the key word here...

Events taking place in Ukraine are quite capable of giving impetus to the variety of processes related to sovereignty and national identity in Central Asian countries, as today the choice between “Euro-Maydan” and Russia they have already got, so to speak, the alternative — solidarity of the Turkic peoples with the Crimean Tatars.

And as the Ukrainian revolution is being supported by the international community, it is possible with a high degree of certainty that this community will support changes of the leadership in these countries.

But the first wave of such revolutions did not have continuation, as the credibility of the protests in Central Asian states has been seriously undermined by disastrous results of events in Kyrgyzstan. Therefore, for the countries of the region the prospect of revolutions may be not so daunting as, for example, the increasing threat of expansion of Russia's space on the cost of territories of Central Asian states.

This is well confirmed by the response of countries to the events in Ukraine in general and to the situation in the Crimea — in particular. The question arises not only of the territorial integrity of former Soviet republics, but also of the role of the Russian-speaking minority in Central Asia, including Kazakhstan.

Thus, in recent years, Russian radical nationalists have repeatedly questioned the boundaries of this country. They demand to tear from Kazakhstan its Northern regions, resorting to arguments already familiar to us: Russian population there is a majority. If Kazakhstan's territorial integrity suffers, the same threat will hang over other countries of the region. In question will be all borders that appeared after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and soon will break out anew the familiar conflicts. In other words, the entire region of Central Asia will explode.

By the way, due to the deterioration of relations between Russia and its Western partners supporting Kiev in its confrontation with Moscow, its reorientation towards Central Asia is very real.

Thus, despite the diversification of its economic and political ties, Central Asian states are wholly dependent on Russia. This primarily relates to the members of the Customs Union — Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. They will be significantly affected by Ukraine's leaving and worsening of relations between the EU and Russia. For example, another wake-up call for the governments of Central Asian states has become a recent proposal by Putin's party “United Russia” to give Russian passports to those citizens of the former USSR who speak Russian and know Russian culture.

And finally, with the rapid rise of Russia in recent years, in the Turkic- Muslim countries of the former Soviet Union has emerged and is getting stronger solidarity in their quest to defend their identity and to protect their sovereignty from the Russian infringement. Such sentiments provoked repressions against migrants from these countries, traveling for employment to Russia, as well as the groundless Russia's demonstration of superiority. Addressing the states of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkey on the 6th of March, the leader of the Crimean Tatars, tried to use this common point of view. But the leaders of Central Asian countries have not yet expressed their desire to spoil relations with Moscow, although they are concerned about the occupation of a part of the territory of Ukraine.

“Euro-Maydan”'s victory over Yanukovych's regime has caused a strong reaction of Russian politicians. The vast majority of them has publicly appealed to Putin to invade countries of the former Soviet Union and, in the first place — Ukraine for the annexation of its territory, as, for example, with a passion demanded in his speech at Moscow's Pushkin Square on February 23, 2014 Zhirinovsky. And while the leaders of neighboring states, as a rule, tend to ignore radical statements of this Russian so to speak, politician, this time his performance was taken very seriously. And after a week, Russian troops got into the Crimea, as the head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia demanded.

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan's reaction was immediate — to the Russian government was sent a diplomatic note demanding explanations on Zhyrinovskyi's speech and expressing concern about this kind of public statements.

The change of power in Ukraine, undoubtedly, made ​Central Asian authoritarian regimes nervous. But even more they were alarmed by the Russian military intervention in the Crimea. When the four-month standoff between participants of anti-government meetings and the government ended in victory of the people, and President Viktor Yanukovych and his entourage fled the country, the initial reaction of leaders of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan was a discreet silence. Quite possibly, they were drawing parallels between themselves and Yanukovych, and in no way wanted to offend Moscow. But at the same time it was not profitable not to establish relations with the new Ukrainian leaders, with whom they will do business.

While the governments of Central Asian countries are still formulating a diplomatic response to the developing crisis, the population of these countries is also closely watching developments in Ukraine. Attitude to the crisis in Ukraine depended on the political preferences of the people and to some extent of ethnicity. Those with more nationalist sentiments or pro-Western views, supported Ukrainians, while the Russian-speaking or those who had succumbed to the influence of the Russian propaganda machine, think differently. One of the factors strongly influencing public opinion in the countries of Central Asia is the source of information. Many in the region get their information from Moscow TV and are alarmed by talks about Banderivtsy–fascists that have flooded Ukraine.

The only one, who responded quickly to the events in Ukraine, was Kyrgyzstan — a country in Central Asia, which has twice experienced the change of the leader due to civil unrest in 2005 and 2010.

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev

President Atambayev expressed deep condolences to the families of the killed in Kiev, saying that he understands the problems which the Ukrainian people will have to settle “on the road to real democracy and the rule of the people”. Thus, the analyst Pavel Dyatlenko from Kyrgyzstan said that the ruling elite is concerned with Moscow's actions in the Crimea. Not so much because of fear of a similar military intervention, but because of a general concern with Russia's desire to intimidate neighbors from the former Soviet Union. “This is a concern of a small country in relation to the big confrontation on the former Soviet space. Kyrgyzstan has learned from its two revolutions — says Dyatlenko — in particular, presidents should not allow their children to participate in politics or shady dealings”.

Opposition politician Omurbek Abdrakhmanov agrees that the Ukrainian coup is a “positive process”, as people made ​​their choice between the “democratic West and authoritarian East”.

“Ar-Namys” Party, in coalition with Social-Democrats, traditionally took the pro-Moscow position. One of the leading politicians of the Party Tursunbai Bakir Uulu condemned the events in Ukraine, according to him, funded by Western governments. “Events in Ukraine, he said, confirmed his view that such “uncontrolled” actions must be stopped”.

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry issued a similar warning against the use of force and called on all parties “to refrain from actions that could provoke a further aggravation of the Ukrainian crisis”.

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev: “Our way is our strength”
Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev: “Our way is our strength”

Kazakhstan, despite the massive emigration since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, is still home to many Russians. The risk that Russia will undertake planned actions to protect its citizens in Central Asia, is unlikely. But Crimean events, quite possibly, have made some regional leaders for the first time in many years after the collapse of the USSR, to pay attention to this problem, Sergei Rasov, journalist of Internet portal “Republic”, reports that in Kazakhstan, people do not draw parallels between Ukraine and their own country. They see this as a confrontation between Russia and the West, and not as a struggle of the Ukrainian people against “King Yanukovich.”

According to S.Rasov, compassion of the numerous Russian minority in Kazakhstan is obvious. “These are Russian-speaking citizens of Kazakhstan, who, despite the fact that they live in another state, feel mentally Russians and worry about Russia, the Crimea, the Black Sea Fleet,” — he says.

Unrest in Ukraine has encouraged those against government’s plans to make Kazakhstan a member of the future Eurasian Union. This scheduled for 2015 union will expand the current Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and will turn the trade and economic regulation into the likeness of a political union.

March 4, campaigners at an organized press-conference stated that they are against the union, which certainly will be dominated by Moscow.

In Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, political debates are not held as public discussion is not encouraged by the authorities.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov
Uzbek President Islam Karimov

In his carefully worded statement, the Uzbek government avoids direct references to Russia, but expresses some concern with events that may lead to further escalation of tensions and to a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

It is pointed out that people express on the Internet their opinion on Ukraine the way they discussed, for example, the “Arab Spring of 2011”. Exchange of views has increased after a small demonstration held in support of the protesters in Kiev near the Ukrainian Embassy in Tashkent.

In Turkmenistan, the most isolated of the five Central Asian states, according to a local journalist, against the background of a very limited access to the Internet, the main source of news remains Moscow television stations available to the few who have satellite dishes.

President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow
President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow

So, the leaders of Central Asian states are very careful and balanced in perceiving events in Ukraine. They really fear that “Russian Spring”, sweeping away everything in its path, may come to their territories. But it is possible that it may drown in its flood, having met the dam of the Turkic-Muslim unity and cohesion.