The post-Soviet states of Central Asia have been generally cautious in their response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, likely concerned that an aggressive Russia could have unpredictable designs on its “near abroad.” Just as we saw before Crimea held a vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia on March 16, statements from Central Asian governments continue to mix support for their powerful neighbor with wariness about developments.
After Bishkek blasted “all acts aimed at destabilization of the situation in Ukraine” on March 11, the Kyrgyz – who are dependent on Russian economic aid and migrant remittances – came around to see Moscow’s point of view. In a March 20 statement, Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry recognized Crimean secession as “the will of an absolute majority.”
Uzbekistan, which is a tad less dependent on Russia and generally takes as independent a point of view as it can muster, issued a statement March 25 respecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity, calling for negotiations and the respect for international law. This is Uzbekistan’s "firm and invariable" stance, the Foreign Ministry said, without mentioning Russian authorities.
Tajikistan – which would appear to have plenty in common with the corrupt dictatorship of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych – has been silent. So has gas-rich, totalitarian Turkmenistan.
Kazakhstan has been in perhaps the most awkward position of the Central Asian states in recent weeks. A founding member of the Russia-led Customs Union, which also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan is one of Russia’s closest economic partners. It also has the largest ethnic Russian minority in Central Asia, at about 22 percent.
Early on, apparently alarmed by Russia’s Crimea takeover, President Nursultan Nazarbayev told Barack Obama on March 10 that he supported Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. But in a telephone chat with Russian President Vladimir Putin later that day, Nazarbayev expressed "understanding" for "Russia’s position, protecting the rights of national minorities in Ukraine, and also the interests of its security."
Nazarbayev maintains contact with Western leaders, continuing his much trumpeted “multi-vector” foreign policy. On March 25, Nazarbayev met Obama in The Hague. A joint statement does not mention the Crimea crisis, but Nazarbayev, who takes pride in positioning himself and his country as a bridge between East and West, may be trying to play the role of messenger between the West and Moscow.
Should Putin have any doubts where Nazarbayev's loyalties lie, however, the Kazakh leader followed his Obama meeting with harsh words for the West, which has slapped sanctions on senior Russian officials. The two sides should "cool down and abandon the high rhetoric, accusations, threats, sanctions and so on," Kazakh media quoted Nazarbayev as saying.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.