Moscow reconsiders 'friends' from post-Soviet world
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Changes generated by the war on Ukraine. Kiev remains enemy number one, Belarus the country with the best relations. Kazakhstan fluctuates, increasingly viewed with suspicion by the Kremlin. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are stable. The understanding with Georgia improves.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - After one year of war in Ukraine, Russia is taking care to redefine the ranking of 'friendly' and 'hostile' countries. For example, Kazakhstan is defined as "floating", in the middle of the two sides of the board.

A study centre very close to the Kremlin, the National Institute for Communication Development Research (Niirk), has been commissioned to rank these positions, publishing data on the 14 former Soviet countries bordering Russia.

In this area, the level of 'friendship' (družestvennost) of those who were once considered Moscow's 'allies' or 'brothers' is tested, assessing the consequences of the bloody invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent reactions of these countries. At the top of the list is, of course, the very loyal Belarus, and at the tail end is, as a matter of course, the 'nazified' Ukraine.

The other positions on the list are less obvious; it is surprising that Georgia, with which Russia fought in 2008-2011, is now described as 'relatively friendly' from Moscow's point of view. Kazakhstan, which at the beginning of last year was considered the friendliest country, is now in the middle of the list.

The Niirk defines as its mission 'the development of a multipolar dialogue between peoples, cultures, religions, states and scientific and academic civil society organisations, for the strengthening of peace and concord'.

The institute explains that the research considers 10 different patterns of communication between Russia and its neighbours, with 60 reference data ranging from 'foreign policy communication' to 'media communication' and the academic and educational spheres, with a focus on 'neighbouring countries' policies towards Russian-speaking minorities'.

This year's studies show a 'polarisation between the friendly and unfriendly communication of the various regimes'. If in Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania 'the conditions for communicative development have worsened a lot, even to the point of a ban on communication', in other traditionally friendly areas, such as in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which 'used to be rather reticent', conditions have now improved a lot, Niirk assures.

The collapse of Estonia's friendship with Russia went from -10.7 in 2021 to -51.8 in the following year, when Prime Minister Kaja Kallas became one of the most critical personalities of the Russian invasion of Europe, going so far as to mutually expel ambassadors.

Ukraine was already at -43.8 before the invasion, when it was more 'friendly' than Latvia anyway, now it is at -83.6. Kazakhstan refused to follow the example of Belarus by supporting Moscow's military operations, and now finds itself in the most undefined position.

Last month's initiative by Kazakh entrepreneurs, who erected a 'yurt' tent in Buča as humanitarian aid, has soured diplomatic relations between Moscow and Astana. The Russian Foreign Ministry demanded a distance from the Kazakh government, 'so as not to damage the strategic partnership and cooperation between our countries'.

Russia's 'censorship' agency Roskomnadzor continuously attacks the media of neighbouring countries, demanding the removal of material that talks about the war and criticising Moscow. The Kazakh website was even sued by the court in Vladimir.

According to Niirk, Kazakhstan remains a friendly country, but one can no longer rely on the 'inertia of positive feelings' in Astana's relations with Moscow. The group recommends 'making efforts and imagining special projects and communication development programmes' between the two countries, in order not to lose the historical fellowship.

The 'special projects' actually allude to greater control over the media: in the less free countries in this field, such as Turkmenistan (+47.1), Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, there is much more friendship with Russia.