Euromaidan protests : How are Central Asia and the Caucasus reacting?

Protests rage in Kiev, photo courtesy of the BBC

Protests rage in Kiev, photo courtesy of the BBC

For those who only casually followed events in Ukraine, the trajectory of pro-European protests to full-scale revolution, to the ousting of the President, and now Russian incursions into Crimea are confusing, scary and giving people flashbacks  of a time not so long ago, as the US breaks military ties with Russia and contemplates sanctions. This post hopes to make a bit of sense of the timeline, and to discuss the Eurasian reaction to these events.

 First things first: What’s happening in Ukraine?

 From The Economist:

 The stage was set when, last November, Mr Yanukovych decided to abandon negotiations aimed at an association and free-trade agreement with the European Union (EU) in favour of easy money and political cover from Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Ukrainians—particularly young ones—saw a lifeline that might have winched them up to a civilised European world being cut, and the “EuroMaidan” protests began. (Maidan is a reference to the square, or Maidan, which was the main protest camp, and the Euro is in reference to the original cause of the protests).

 Here are some excellent guides to recent events. This CBBC (That’s Children’s BBC, but don’t knock their easy-to-understand explanations, they’re helpful in complex situations) looks at the total course of events from the pro-European protests in November 2013 to the recent Russian incursion into Crimea. CNN also provides a useful look at the Crimean incursion from the prospective of Russia, Ukraine and the US, a useful contrast article:

 Do Russian troops have a right to be in Crimea?

Russia’s take: Yes. A treaty between the neighboring nations allows Russia to have up to 25,000 troops in Crimea, Russia’s U.N. envoy said Monday, adding that Yanukovych requested that Russia send military forces.

Ukraine’s take: No. Russian troops amassing in Crimea and near the border with Ukraine are an “act of aggression.”

United States’ take: No, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing a dangerous game. The consequences of military action “could be devastating,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said Monday.

 

Finally, for a broader context, I recommend this “listicle” from a local Boston news portal.

 How are other Eurasian countries reacting to the protests in Kiev and Russia’s incursion into Crimea

Overall…not well or not at all (publically). Official state media in the Central Asian countries appears to be avoiding coverage, though independent and international media in a few countries have alerted the population to the turmoil. This RFE/RL video looks at the reactions on the streets to the Ukraine.

 There’s no real good reaction to these events, but Belarus is really taking the cake:

 February 24 – Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka is pushing through his rubber-stamp parliament a new law that would allow members of his force structures to shoot demonstrators without fear of criminal penalties, a measure observers say is his response to the Maidan revolution in Ukraine. According to the Belarusian opposition newspaper, “Salidarnasts’,” Moscow’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reports today, Lukashenka personally proposed this legislation. The Belarusian paper says it is especially concerned by the law’s lifting of any legal penalties for force structures using lethal force against protesters.

 The article goes on to a good discussion of the power structure in Belarus and its different political culture from the US. Worth a read.

 Tajikistan seems to be concerned with media coverage of the events, and suspended the Tajik-language RFE/RL site:

 Beg Zukhurov, the head of Tajikistan’s state Communications Service, confirmed the site had been blocked in an interview on November 30 with the news portal Asia-Plus. He said the authorities acted in response to complaints from a group of concerned citizens who expressed objections about “a series of information agencies that work against the interests of Tajikistan.”

 In terms of the actual occupation of Crimea, Eurasianet argues that the incursion into another state’s sovereign territory will erode trust in Russia in the region:

 When it comes to the Russian occupation of Crimea, none of Central Asia’s leaders have commented officially. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have released short statements, both without mentioning Russia. Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry said on March 4 that it is concerned about the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine. Like Crimea, which Russian forces occupied on March 1 under the pretext of “protecting” the region’s large Russian-speaking population, the five Central Asian states are home to sizable communities of ethnic Russians. In Turkmenistan, for example, Russians have faced widespread discrimination since independence in 1991. Thus, a pretext similar to that which Russia used for its Crimea gambit could be applied to the gas-rich Central Asian dictatorship at some point in the future. In Kazakhstan, there is a large Russian population in the north of the country.

 

In the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan and Armenia, both of which are likely to want to preserve ties with Russia and the US, are officially silent about the Crimean incursion. Georgia, which went through a war with Russia in 2008 over territorial integrity, is vocally critical about Russia’s actions, and states that the Georgian people are as united as ever to preserving their sovereignty against Russia.

 For the most part, it seems that many states are viewing this as specifically Ukrainian conflict, and any attempts to get involved could put them on the bad side of Russia, the US or both. For that reason, many states are loath to get involved. While the fear of protests may have loomed large in many of the governments in the Former Soviet Union, the recent actions of Russia are likely to overshadow the protests in the mind of the public as the world watches Ukraine struggle. 

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