“The fear of Russia increased with the war. It turned out that Russian policy is much more unrestrained than what we were used to, and that the principle of border recognition has been violated,” said Kazakh political scientist Nargis Kassenova of Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. “On the one hand, you can try to accommodate them out of fear. On the other hand, because of fear, you want to rely on someone else, find another protector,” she added.
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The WSJ recalls the September trip of the leaders of the five Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan to New York, where they participated in the first ever joint summit with US President Joe Biden. By doing so, according to the newspaper, they expressed a desire for warmer relations with the US.
In May, five Central Asian presidents went to China to meet President Xi Jinping. They traveled there nine days after attending World War II victory celebrations in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a number of post-Soviet countries, according to the WSJ, Russian influence has declined significantly, as Russia’s economy and military reputation have been damaged by the failure of the military campaign in Ukraine. The shift away from Russia is most pronounced in Moldova, which has freed itself from dependence on Russian energy resources, and in Armenia, disillusioned by Russia’s unwillingness or inability to protect ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, according to the WSJ.
Zooming out only to a certain extent
In Central Asia, the shift away from Moscow is more subtle, in part because states there, especially weaker ones like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, fear Russia may continue to cause problems, the WSJ writes.
Oil-rich Kazakhstan is the largest and most economically important member of the two Moscow-led blocs, the Collective Security Treaty Organization military alliance and the Eurasian Economic Union. According to an April poll by the Gallup agency, disapproval among Kazakhs of the Russian leadership jumped from 20 to 50 percent during the year. Among other things, Kazakhstan banned the display of “Z” symbols expressing support for the invasion of Ukraine.
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Like other Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan can distance itself from Russia only to a certain extent, the WSJ points out. Kazakhstan’s main source of income is oil exports via a pipeline to the Russian port of Novorossiysk, and Moscow showed its displeasure last year when it temporarily halted use of the Novorossiysk terminal.
Belarus as a vassal
According to the WSJ, the issue of violating sanctions is particularly sensitive. “The leaders of Central Asia are trying to do everything to make themselves appear as loyal allies in the eyes of Russia. At the same time, however, they understand that global pressure on Russia is so strong and resistance to Russian aggression so widespread that it would be very dangerous for them to be associated with the Putin regime,” said Uzbek political scientist Temur Umarov from the Carnegie Center for the Eurasian Region and Russia.
The WSJ points out that the dynamics are different in other post-Soviet countries. Belarus, whose territory Moscow used to invade the north of Ukraine, has practically turned into a Russian vassal state under the leadership of the authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko, the newspaper writes. The current government of Georgia, a country that went to war with Russia in 2008, remains friendly to Moscow and has refused to join Western sanctions, even though its people are more sympathetic to Ukraine.
However, none of the former Soviet states officially recognized last year’s Russian attempt to annex four Ukrainian regions. With the exception of Belarus, the countries abstained from the UN vote on Ukraine, WSJ points out. Georgia and Moldova joined most UN members in voting to condemn Russia.
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