|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: February 21 – March 3, 2022
Note: The 50th publication reviews the positions of post-Soviet countries (excluding the Baltic states and Georgia) on the Russian military aggression in Ukraine. Links to some of the Russian sources provided in the review may not be available due to cyber-attacks on Russian government web-pages.
Chronology of Key Events (February 21-25):
Statements and Actions
Currently, Belarus is the only post-Soviet country which in fact is a participant in the Russian-Ukrainian war. Although Aleksander Lukashenko, the leader of Belarus, ruled out an attack from Belarus on Ukrainian territory during the pre-war period, a Russian military attack on Ukraine was also carried out from the territory of Belarus on February 24. In the past, Lukashenko always avoided taking part in Russian military operations (whether in Chechnya or outside of Russia). This time Lukashenko’s decision was influenced by his international isolation and the growing Russian influence over the Belarusian leader after the political crisis following the 2020 presidential elections.
Belarus was also involved in the preparation of the Russian military aggression. On February 18, Vladimir Putin hosted his Belarusian counterpart at the Kremlin. This was their first meeting in 2022. The parties also discussed the Ukrainian crisis and possible Western sanctions against them which they said were inevitable.
On February 19, from Moscow, the Presidents of Russia and Belarus monitored exercises of the Strategic Detention Forces which were held on the territory of Belarus. Ballistic and cruise missiles were launched as part of the exercises. The event involved forces and equipment of the Air Force, the Russian Southern Military District, the Strategic Missile and the Northern and the Black Sea Fleets. The active phase of the Allied Resolve – 2022 joint exercises ended on February 20. According to the Presidents, the training was defensive in nature and was not directed against anyone.
On February 24, after the start of the Russian aggression, Mr. Lukashenko said at a meeting of the Security Council that the issue of recognizing the separatist regions of Ukraine is on the agenda and Minsk will soon act as “necessary for us and Russia.” At the same time, he voiced an initiative to hold talks between the Russian and the Ukrainian sides in Minsk. The Belarusian President said that although there were no Belarusian soldiers in Donbass, Minsk would send troops there if necessary. According to him, “Belarus and Russia were not preparing for a war against Ukraine. Kyiv’s actions forced Moscow to launch a special operation.” He said that the purpose of the operation was clear – stop the genocide of the population of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Despite the involvement of Belarus in the conflict, the first and second rounds of talks between the Russian and Ukrainian sides were planned on Belarusian territory. The parties first met on February 28 in the Gomel region which borders Ukraine. The second meeting was held on March 3 in Belovezh.
Meeting in Belovezh. Source: BBC
On March 1, the Ukrainian side also announced the entry of Belarusian military forces on the territory of Ukraine, although the information is not confirmed at this stage. Belarus is the only post-Soviet country to have been sanctioned by the European Union and the United States for facilitating the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
The Russian military aggression in Ukraine affected Moldova on the very first day. On February 24, the Moldovan parliament declared a 60-day state of emergency. During this period, demonstrations were banned and the government was given the right to expel “undesirable persons” from the country. In addition, the government is asking communication service providers to block online sources which are disseminating false information.
Moldova has become one of the safest places and a major transit route to other European countries for refugees from Ukraine. On February 25, the pro-Western President, Maia Sandu, also spoke with the Romanian President, Klaus Iohannis, to coordinate joint action to help Ukrainian refugees. On March 1, a Joint Crisis Management Center was launched in the country which coordinates the activities of the government, international organizations, individuals and volunteers. Representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees will also be involved in the management of the Center. Romania also assists Moldova in the management of refugee flows.
Prime Minister of Moldova Visits Ukrainian Refugees. Source: gov.md
In the first days of the war (February 24-28), a total of 71,359 Ukrainian citizens entered Moldova of which 33,173 left the country.
Russia deployed its military unit under the guise of “peacekeepers” in Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria which borders Ukraine. In the event of Russia’s military incursion into southwestern Ukraine, there is a high probability that security risks will increase for Moldova as well.
On February 22, the second day after Russia’s recognition of Ukraine’s separatist regions, the Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev, visited Russia. Vladimir Putin hosted his Azerbaijani counterpart. The parties signed a declaration of alliance and cooperation. According to Mr. Putin, the signing of the declaration brings the relations between the two countries to a qualitatively new level. “This strategic document became a central element and a key outcome of the ongoing negotiations,” Mr. Putin said. The declaration envisages the possibility of the provision military assistance between the parties which also agree on cooperation in the military-technical field. They also refrain from economic activities which directly or indirectly harm the interests of the other party.
At the signing ceremony, Vladimir Putin also spoke with Ilham Aliyev about the recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk. He tried to convince the Azerbaijani President that the speculation that Russia was going to restore the empire within its imperial borders was untrue. Interestingly, Ilham Aliyev was the only of the leaders of the post-Soviet countries who visited Kyiv on January 14 during the crisis and declared his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
On February 26, the Presidents of Russia and Azerbaijani discussed the developments in Ukraine during a telephone conversation. The same day, Ilham Aliyev wrote on his official Twitter page that Volodymyr Zelensky thanked him for humanitarian and medical assistance. Mr. Zelensky wrote on his Twitter page that the Azerbaijani energy company SOCAR will provide fuel for ambulances and fire-rescue vehicles in Ukraine for free.
Undoubtedly, the success in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020 was also a result of the policy to which Ilham Aliyev has been adhering in recent years. It provided for the development of relations with Russia. Although, Azerbaijan is not a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, unlike Armenia, the quality of cooperation between the country and Russia is still quite high. The Azerbaijani President manages to maintain relations with Moscow and receive gratitude from the leaders of Ukraine at this critical moment. Baku was also considered as one of the venues for talks between Kyiv and Moscow while Baku neither joined the anti-Russian sanctions nor overtly condemned Moscow’s actions.
Armenia is a strategic partner of Russia in the South Caucasus as well as a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. It should be noted that the Armenian authorities did not make any open statements regarding the Russian aggression in Ukraine. During the crisis, a telephone conversation took place between Vladimir Putin and the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, on February 21 which also touched upon the current developments in Ukraine.
On February 25, the Russian Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, hosted his Armenian counterpart, Suren Papikyan. The topic of discussion was the prospects of bilateral cooperation in the military field. Another telephone conversation between the Russian President and the Armenian Prime Minister took place on February 26. A statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister of Armenia did not mention the issue of Ukraine. The Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released informative statements for its citizens wishing to return to Armenia due to “ongoing events/military operations in Ukraine” only on February 26 and March 1.
Although it is not on the agenda yet, Russia may request military assistance from Armenia, a member of the CSTO, to support its military aggression on the territory of Ukraine. This will be a severe blow to the country which was defeated in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war and faces daily security challenges.
Uzbekistan is not a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. However, under the presidency of Shavkat Mirziyoyev (from 2016), relations with Russia are much better than during the previous president, Islam Karimov.
On February 25, a telephone conversation took place between the Presidents of Russia and Uzbekistan. According to the Kremlin, the sides discussed “the issues related to the development of a special military operation for protecting the civilian population of Donbass as well as demilitarizing and denationalizing Ukraine.” According to Kremlin reports, Mr. Mirziyoyev understood Russia’s stance and supported its military actions. It should be noted that there is no confirmation of the abovementioned information from the Uzbek side. Tashkent views such talks with the Russian side as an exchange of views on current events in Ukraine.
The Presidential Administration of Uzbekistan issued an additional statement regarding the conversation between Vladimir Putin and Shavkat Mirziyoyev: “The leaders of the two countries, in addition to topical issues of bilateral relations, exchanged views on the situation in Ukraine. The President of Russia informed the leader of our country about the reasons and circumstances of the decision to launch a special operation. For his part, the Uzbek leader expressed hope that the parties would quickly find mutually acceptable ways to resolve the situation and prevent its further escalation. I would like to point out that Uzbekistan is taking a balanced, neutral position over this issue. Our country has traditionally had close, friendly relations with both Russia and Ukraine. We are interested in ensuring peace, stability and sustainable development in our wide region. All disputes and disagreements should be resolved only on the basis of international norms.”
Most of the statements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan after the start of the war are related to the issue of the safe evacuation of Uzbek citizens from Ukraine (February 24, February 24, February 25, February 26, February 26, February 26, February 27, February 27, February 28, March 1, March 1, March 1, March 2).
Kyrgyzstan is one of the most pro-Russian countries in Central Asia and an ally of Russia. It is also a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Kyrgyzstan’s relations with Russia largely determine the security and economic stability of the country.
On February 26, a telephone conversation was held between Vladimir Putin and the Kyrgyz President, Sadir Japarov. According to the Kremlin, Mr. Japarov voiced the responsibility of Kyiv for the violation of the Minsk agreements during the conversation and supported the decisive actions of the Russian side to protect the population of Donbass. Mr. Putin thanked his Kyrgyz counterpart for his “principled solidarity.” For his part, the web-page of the Kyrgyz President published neutral information about the conversation with Vladimir Putin, mentioning that the sides also discussed the situation in Ukraine.
Since the start of the war, the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry has mainly issued statements about the safe evacuation of Kyrgyz citizens from Ukraine (February 24, February 25, February 25, February 25, February 26, February 27, February 28, March 2, March 3). On February 25, the Ministry released a statement of neutral content on the developments in Ukraine. The statement expressed hope that peace between the parties will soon be achieved due to the historically friendly relations between Russia and Ukraine. The Ministry published another call for peace on its web-page on March 3.
Apparently, Mr. Japarov’s statements were considered unfriendly in Ukraine in the first days of the war. Due to Kyrgyzstan’s justification of the Russian aggression, the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a televised speech on March 1 that he would withdraw Ukraine’s ambassador from Kyrgyzstan for consultations. Mr. Zelensky also withdraw the ambassador from Georgia due to the position of the Georgian government – “obstructing volunteers and an immoral position on sanctions.”
Kazakhstan is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization and an ally of Russia. In January 2022, during the internal political crisis in Kazakhstan, the President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, appealed to the CSTO to resolve the situation. Russia plays a leading role in the organization. With the support of the CSTO and, especially, of Russia, Mr. Tokayev was able to overcome the crisis. Nevertheless, Kazakhstan refuses to engage in Russia’s military operation and does not intend to recognize Ukraine’s separatist regions.
On February 22, Vladimir Putin explained Russia’s position on the situation in Ukraine to his Kazakh counterpart during a telephone conversation,. On the same day, Mr. Tokayev convened a meeting of the Security Council to discuss further socio-economic development of Kazakhstan in connection with the situation in Ukraine. A meeting of the Security Council on a similar issue was held on 26 February.
On February 25, the Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, met with Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Mr. Mishustin was attending a meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council in Nur Sultan. The meeting focused on the implementation of joint preventive measures against the reduction of trade in the face of the escalation of the situation in Ukraine and international sanctions against Russia.
On March 1, at a congress of the Nur Otan ruling party, the Kazakh President said that the non-implementation of the Minsk agreements contributed to the start of hostilities in Ukraine, the Minsk agreements remained on paper and the geopolitical situation worsened. “There is no other way. Bad peace is better than good war. There can be no development without peace,” Mr. Tokayev said.
On March 2, the President of Kazakhstan held telephone conversations with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts. During the conversation with Vladimir Putin, Mr. Tokayev stressed the special importance of reaching a compromise agreement during the talks. According to the Kazakh side, Volodymyr Zelensky initiated the conversation which touched upon the situation around Ukraine. During the talks with the Ukrainian President, Mr. Tokayev also noted the importance of reaching a ceasefire agreement. The parties also agreed to cooperate in the humanitarian field.
On March 3, a statement of the Kazakh Deputy Defense Minister, Sultan Kamaletdinov, made during a plenary session of the Senate, was spread in the media. He said that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has nothing to do with Kazakhstan. “We do not support either side. In the case of danger, the Kazakh Armed Forces are ready to defend the country,” Mr. Kamaletdinov said.
Tajikistan is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The Russian armed forces ensure Tajikistan’s security and the country’s economy is largely dependent on relations with Moscow. It is noteworthy that Tajikistan has not yet made an overt statement in support of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.
On February 25, the Spokeswoman of the Council of the Russian Federation, Valentina Matviyenko, was on a working visit in Tajikistan. One of the purposes of the visit was to discuss the situation in Ukraine. Ms. Matviyenko delivered a speech at the Russia-Tajikistan: Potential for Interregional Cooperation interparliamentary forum in Dushanbe. She said that Russia announced a special military operation aimed at forcing peace, halting militarization in Ukraine. “We were left with no choice. It was not an easy decision, but it was the only way to stop the fratricidal war, to keep the peace and the lives of the people,” Ms. Matviyenko said. Valentina Matviyenko also met with the Tajik President, Emomali Rahmon, although information released by the Tajik side did not mention the issue of Ukraine. There is only a hint about the ongoing hostilities in Ukraine: “During the meeting, the parties exchanged views on the rapidly changing political situation in the world, as well as the escalation of conflict in some regions.”
Turkmenistan’s position on the ongoing processes in Ukraine is unknown. On February 22, Sergey Lavrov hosted Rashid Meredov, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan. However, according to official data, issues related to Ukraine were not discussed at the meeting.
On March 2, the President, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, convened a meeting of the Security Council to discuss the results of the work of military and law enforcement agencies in January-February 2022, as well as issues related to country’s security. The issue of Ukraine is not mentioned among the topics discussed during the Council meeting. Mr. Berdimuhamedow has repeatedly stressed Turkmenistan’s neutral status.
Ukraine’s Issue in International and Regional Forums
Meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union
A meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council was held in Nur Sultan on 25 February. The meeting was attended by delegations from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia at the level of Prime Ministers. At the meeting, the President of Kazakhstan noted that sanctions will have a negative impact on the economy and finances of their countries which is why Kazakhstan is taking anti-crisis measures.
Meeting between Member States of the Eurasian Economic Union. Source: akorda.kz
On February 28, within the C5+1 Multilateral Forum, the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, met online with Central Asian Foreign Ministers. Mr. Blinken reiterated Washington’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and condemned Russia’s premeditated, unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine. The meeting was attended by the Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The web-pages of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan posted general statements about the meeting without mentioning the issue of Ukraine. According to the web-page of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, the participants of the meeting discussed topical issues of international and regional importance, including the situation in Ukraine and its impact on Central Asia. The discussion of the situation around Ukraine during the forum was addressed more or less extensively by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan which in its statement did not mention the guilt of any of the parties.
The C5+1 Multilateral Forum was launched in November 2015 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan with the participation of the Foreign Ministers of the five Central Asian states and the US Secretary of State. The purpose of the forum is to address common security and environmental challenges and develop internal regional cooperation and relations in various fields between the region and the United States.
On February 28, at an emergency special session, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The resolution, entitled Aggression against Ukraine, was supported by 141 (including Georgia, Moldova and the Baltic states) and opposed by five countries (including Belarus and Russia). Central Asian countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan did not take part in the voting. The resolution condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and “demands that Russian Federation immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”