To the surprise of many, each of the Central Asian Republics has maintained a neutral stance on Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. Ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has worked tirelessly to maintain political and economic influence over the five Republics of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan). Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, each of these republics was heavily reliant on Russia for land trade routes, migrant labour and security assurances. Now, with Western sanctions on Russia blocking the Central Asian Republics’ access to European markets, they find themselves increasingly unhappy with the growing consequences of Russia’s unprovoked war with Ukraine.
During the emergency UN General Assembly session on March 2 which condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, all five Central Asian Republics abstained or did not participate in the vote. Furthermore, several of the foreign ministries for these countries made public statements respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine as well as maintaining a “balanced, neutral position on the matter.” Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov spoke at the Uzbek Senate in which he stated that Uzbekistan recognised Luhansk and Donetsk as territorially part of Ukraine, but also that Tashkent values its deep economic and political ties with Moscow.
Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan each issued public statements to underscore their neutrality vis-à-vis the war in Ukraine in response to Russia’s press services misreporting on the nature of the three republics’ support for the war. Turkmenistan has continued its long trend of neutrality and avoided any public comment on the war, while Tajikistan has made no formal recognition or reference to the events in Ukraine. Kazakhstan’s response to Russia’s invasion is particularly noteworthy; after the Russian-led CSTO deployed peacekeepers for the first time in its history to quell anti-government riots throughout Kazakhstan, many thought President Tokayev would publicly support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In addition to this surprising lack of support, Tokayev has also reportedly denied a possible Russian request to deploy Kazakh troops to Ukraine as well.
The Central Asian Republics demonstrate that while support for Ukraine in its war effort is felt ubiquitously throughout the West, such support is not uniform across the former Soviet Republics, let alone the world. Whether they are driven by a fear of military retaliation from Russia or a genuine sense of neutrality remains unclear; what is certain is that Central Asia’s perception of Russia has fundamentally changed; once a paragon of opportunities and economic prosperity for Central Asia, Russia has now become a source of weakness for the regional stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity of its 76mn inhabitants.
This article originally appeared in FPRI's BMB Ukraine newsletter. Click here to learn more about BMB Ukraine and subscribe to the newsletter.