Central Asia cautious about Russian war on Ukraine
The hardest on the Kremlin are the Kazakhs. Turkmenistan most aligned with Moscow's positions. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan the most guarded. All are on hold, not knowing whether to realign with the old masters, or join the new divisions.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - One year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a Currentime investigation has sought to shed light on the positions taken on the matter by the former Soviet countries of Central Asia.
None of them actually support Moscow's 'special operation', but neither have they condemned it, maintaining a deliberately emphasised neutrality. The war puts the Central Asian regimes in an awkward position, as they have always been very close to Russia, but they are terrified of being punished in turn by Western sanctions.
The first report after the start of hostilities came from Uzbek President Šavkat Mirziyoyev, who spoke to Putin on the phone on 25 February 2022. The press rooms of the two countries reported the conversation in different ways: according to the Kremlin, Uzbekistan had a 'sympathetic' attitude towards the motives of the Russians, while Tashkent emphasised its neutrality towards Russia and Ukraine.
One year later, the position of the Uzbeks officially did not change, with calls to lay down arms, and a refusal to recognise the republics annexed by Moscow in Ukraine.
The Russian press speculated variously on Kyrgyz reactions, when after a phone call from Sadyr Žaparov to Putin, the Ria Novosti agency reported that Biškek somehow supported the action in Ukraine. Žaparov's press secretary had to point out that the Kyrgyz were in favour of a peaceful solution to the conflict. In April, the Kyrgyz president then explicitly spoke of 'war', a term forbidden by the Kremlin.
Moreover, the authorities in Biškek have repeatedly prevented pacifist meetings at the Russian embassy, and have not protested against the forced conscription of many Kyrgyz living in Russia, especially those held in the various camps. Žaparov also indulged in a pro-Putin phrase, stating that 'perhaps it was the only way to defend the peaceful population on the territory of the Donbass'.
The most courageous position was that of Kazakhstan, where the echoes of Russian-Kazakh tensions over the status of the northern territories, which the Russians consider 'their own land' like the eastern regions of Ukraine, can be heard. A week after the invasion, President Kasym-Žomart Tokaev invited Russians and Ukrainians to sit down at the negotiating table.
The territorial integrity of Ukraine was repeatedly defended from Astana, always using the term 'war' and refusing to recognise even the annexation of Crimea, even in a direct confrontation between Tokaev and Putin in St. Petersburg. The latest bone of contention was the 'yurt of unshakeability' in Buča and Kiev, which infuriated the Russians.
From Tajikistan, the first statements, a week after the invasion, came from Foreign Minister Sirodžiddin Mukhriddin, wishing a rapid cessation of hostilities. Otherwise, only Dushanbe's opposition to the participation of Tajik citizens in the war, both those living in Russia and Ukraine, was expressed.
Turkmenistan hardly ever officially expresses itself on foreign policy issues, maintaining a line of absolute neutrality on everything, for decades now. However, the local press suggests that Ašgabat feels rather on Russia's side, as when Turkmen journalists from Radio Svoboda reported on meetings of government officials accusing the West of provoking the war in Ukraine.
During an OSCE meeting in December, Turkmen representative Khemr Amannazarov blatantly left the room at the beginning of Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba's speech, returning after his speech had ended.
Apart from the official positions on the war, what matters most will be the economic effects, from the mass arrival of fugitive Russians, to the sanctions circumvention corridors, and it is now difficult to assess the long-term consequences of these events. Everyone is on hold, not knowing whether to realign with the old masters, or join the new divisions.