Ukraine crisis: The neighbors of Russia are nervous

Kazakhstan is deeply concerned with the current developments in Ukraine. Also Belarus somehow balanced. So it seems even countries close to Putin’s Russia are somehow worried. Why is that so, do they have reasons to be worried, maybe even afraid, and why? Read few comments.

Heidi Maurer, Assistant Professor, Maastricht University, Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation Fellow at Center for Transatlantic Relations (SAIS), John Hopkins University

Situations might be differ slightly in the countries concerned, but overall there is of course a stability argument to make: if there is a region of destabilisation in your neighbourhood it will always have negative consequences for you. In the end that was also the main objective of the European Neighbourhood Policy: make sure you have stable neighbours. And you see this clearly in the Belarusian statement saying “we are interested in Ukraine as a stable partner of ours”. It clearly indicates their concern with their neighbour disintegrating. This creates chaos and uncertainty, and no one wants that. For the Belarusian authorities there is also of course the challenge of finding the balance between showing that they disapprove of questioning the ones in power while at the same time making sure to have contacts with the “new forces” in Ukraine.

The Kazakh reaction is quite “traditional” and blends in well with the overall assessment by many governments. It is indeed surprising that they do not side more with the Russian perspective, but at the same time there is of course the fear that one might be next. There are rumours that getting rid of Yanukovych was Putin´s plan and the whole process was just fabricated by Moscow. Russian neighbours and countries under Russian influence would clearly distance themselves from this kind of engineering, as there is always the possibility that this could happen to them next.

Another explanation of the rather worried and fearful reaction of those countries is of course also the unpredictability of Russian decisions as it is portrayed in the Western media. Putin is presented as not reacting rational, accepting high international costs for little regional wins. Russia is portrayed as dangerous because it is weak – a combination, which in history never led to rational and informed foreign policy decisions. Not sure to what extent those governments relate to Western media, but the inability of being able to rationally explain Putin´s decision clearly adds a level of unpredictability that neighbours do never like.

Sebastian Schäffer, SSC Europe

To my understanding there are mainly two reasons why Belarus and Kazakhstan are to a certain extent worried about the recent developments between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. First economically. Both countries are partners of Moscow within the Eurasian Union. A potential armed conflict on Crimea will most certainly lead to sanctions against Russia – something that has already been discussed by several Western countries in the last couple of days – and any economical implications will directly affect Minsk and Astana. The second reason is related to the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The Kremlin has shown before that they are willing to use force under false pretenses to protect ethnic Russians – for instance in the case of Georgia 2008. While I do not want to debate the question of guilt here, it is evident that the reaction from Moscow was disproportionate. Both Belarus and Kazakhstan have a comparatively large ethnic Russian minority and are – as I already mentioned – closely tied to Russia within the Eurasian Union. Any development concerning the Eurasian Union that could endanger this important project of president Putin could potentially lead to a use of disproportionate reactions under those false pretenses. As Ukraine hasn’t been too keen to join the Eurasian Union under Yanukovych, it is even more unlikely under the current administration. In my opinion this also one of the reasons for Moscow why troops have been sent to Crimea.

Erik Sportel, Programme Manager, Centre for European Security Studies

It remains somewhat speculating, but I can imagine these two countries being concerned for economic reasons. If Russia will be hit with economic sanctions, the two other members of the Eurasian Union will most likely suffer economically as well. Furthermore, a further escalation of the situation would bring a possible joining of Ukraine to the Eurasian Union (if even on the table still) further away than ever before. In the case of Belarus, it is also clear that you do not want to have a violent conflict at your borders for obvious reasons.

Florent Parmentier, Programme Director chez Sciences Po

The reason why they are worried is easy to understand: they like Russia when it prones non-intervention in domestic affairs of sovereign States. I help them to defend their regime against destabilisation, linking domestic popular anger and abroad intervention helping to shape a window of opportunity. When Russia intervenes within the post-Soviet area, they think they might be the next target, implying that nobody will save them. As such, they cannot condemn it officially, but make it clear that they do not endorse this policy. For support, Russia should seek in Latin America and Pacific islands.

Katri Pynnöniemi, Senior Research Fellow, Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Indeed, Nazarbajev has voiced his concern and asked for immediate negotiations with the Kremlin (due 10.-11.3.) Kazakh Mid has also made to my taste balanced statement saying that “resolution of the crisis should be based on respect to the fundamental principles of international law”. This is in line with statements from EU countries, and sends a message to Moscow (rather than to Kiev). Interesting detail from Tuesday is the fact that US banned Russia’s participating at the expert meeting to discuss Kazakhstan’s WTO accession. This might make Russia nervous, on the other hand, troubles at Russian markets can spillover to Kazakhstan.

Leaders are supposed to meet today in Moscow , certainly it will be important for Russia to emphasize that preparations for Eurasian Economic Union are in full speed despite everything.

But perhaps most importantly, the use of para-military (or soldiers without insignia) forces on the ground, without recognizing it as a fact (as we just witnessed at the press conference) is an issue that must make leaders of post-soviet countries to think.

Dorina BaltagPostgraduate Researcher, Centre for the Study of International Governance, Loughborough University

The neighbours of both Ukraine and Russia in the post-Soviet space are generally concerned and is strongly linked with the general security in the region. Moscow’s flagrant violation of the borders it pledged to respect following the Cold War raises especially pressing concerns for Moldova and Georgia, countries that used to be Soviet republics, which lost parts of its territory to separatist regimes backed by Russian troops. In the case of Moldova, that already hosts a frozen conflict, a post-Soviet Union legacy (Transnistria), separatism is a direct threat and becomes very contagious; hence an armed conflict in Crimea is worrisome. The people of Moldova still remember and fear an armed conflict as was the one from 1992, which was a big tragedy. Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca stated for Radio Free Europe that tensions between pro-Russian Crimeans and pro-European Ukrainians are reminiscent to Moldovans of their own separatist conflict involving Transnistria. As result Moldovan political elite relies heavily on its diplomatic machinery, hence the meeting with Barack Obama yesterday and with the Atlantic Council. While Moldova preserves its status of neutrality and does not seek NATO membership, it definitely needs a clearer European perspective: “If we had this perspective, maybe we would not have these problems.” Declared PM Leanca for Washington Post.

The situation in Ukraine should be a clear message to the EU and its member-states that they should reconsider the Eastern Partnership in such a way that it offers European perspective – a mechanism that encourages transformation of these countries but also assures their stability. And, most importantly, embrace a common position on Russia.

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