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To further isolate Moscow, the West must support Russia’s neighbors

Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP

Russia has had mixed success in convincing its remaining partner nations in the Caucasus and Central Asia to offer support for the invasion of Ukraine. 

Despite being economically and militarily dependent on Russia for support, governments in Central Asia and the Caucasus that have maintained friendly relations with Moscow appear to be hesitant to support Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, or even outright nervous. The United States and its Western partners should therefore endeavor to help these states balance their relationships with Russia to further isolate it, and to avoid punishing countries who, so far, have attempted to distance themselves from Moscow’s actions as best they can.   

{mosads}Eurasian countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia have so far been careful not to express support for or opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or the circumstances surrounding it. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan — all members of Russian multilateral organizations with significant political and economic ties to Moscow — abstained from a March 2 United Nations vote to condemn the invasion of Ukraine and demand an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops. Kazakhstan notably refused to consider joining Russia in recognizing the eastern Ukrainian LNR and DNR separatist statelets, which had been part of Russia’s choreographed casus belli against Ukraine.   

Other Eurasian countries such as Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan have attempted to walk a fine line between withholding support for Moscow’s war and maintaining a sustainable bilateral relationship with Russia. Despite signing an agreement that reinforced bilateral economic, political and military ties on the eve of Russia’s attack, Azerbaijan received a public declaration of gratitude from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for providing humanitarian support to the Ukrainian people. Kyrgyzstani President Sadyr Japarov felt impelled to clarify his country’s “neutrality” in Russia’s war on Ukraine after the director of the television channel NEXT was arrested over coverage suggesting that Bishkek would provide support to Russia’s war in Ukraine.  

Even post-Soviet states which have previously avoided forming defined partnerships with Russia in the past have tried to walk a similar tightrope. The Georgian government balked at joining Western countries in imposing sanctions on Russia out of fear of economic shocks, despite widespread sentiment sympathetic to Ukraine in the nation. In Uzbekistan, journalists have faced similar pressure to their counterparts in Kyrgyzstan to maintain a neutral tone in coverage on Russia’s invasion consistent with Tashkent’s officially neutral position.   


Except for Belarus, no country in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has offered overt military support for Russia’s attack on Ukraine. This is especially notable, as Russia’s successful marshaling of CSTO militaries to intervene in Kazakhstan’s January unrest involved the committed participation of CSTO member states. In one sign of the disinterest of CSTO member states, Armenian parliamentary leaders declared that they would not consider the question of CSTO involvement in Russia’s “special military operation.”  

An amendment to the CSTO’s charter to create peacekeeping forces for U.N. operations under the aegis of a “coordinating state,” which was agreed upon in the fall of 2021, could offer a clue of the role the Kremlin wants the CSTO to its Ukrainian war. Russia’s parliament has been the only government so far to even consider ratifying this protocol, which would have unknown but suspicious implications as Russia continues to prosecute its war against Ukraine.   

While there doesn’t seem to be much interest from Western capitals in sanctioning member states of the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union, the bloc’s member states will nonetheless experience significant economic shocks as Russia’s economy suffers the consequences of its invasion. Kazakhstan’s government has already announced its intention to begin routing some international trade through the so-called Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, which circumvents Russia. Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which are heavily dependent on the flow of remittances from Russia, have already begun to feel the effects of the inflation of the ruble and the shedding of guest workers as the Russian economy shrinks.   

{mossecondads}While future spillover promises to be heavily disruptive to the region, it can also represent an opportunity for U.S. and other Western policymakers to further isolate Russia. The reason Russia’s Eurasian neighbors avoid direct confrontation with them can be ascribed to the fact that they have close economic and political ties with the largest economic and military power in their immediate neighborhood. If the United States supports these countries in weathering the economic shocks emanating from Russia, efforts to politically isolate Moscow from the rest of the world could take on a new significance.   

This support should primarily take an economic form. For starters, the United States and other Western countries can and should support efforts by countries such as Kazakhstan to develop alternative trade routes to increasingly fraught routes through Russia. Energy sourced from countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia could help to blunt the effects of disruptions to European energy supplies stemming from a drawdown of reliance on Russian energy. American policymakers should work to facilitate the trade-related financial transactions of Caucasian and Central Asian states which may come under pressure because of Russia’s exclusion from world financial networks. The United States should also provide appropriate, limited counterterrorism support to the countries of Central Asia to provide Central Asian governments a reliable bulwark against their fears of terror threats emanating from a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.  

It will be a challenge for the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia to entirely avoid economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, that doesn’t mean the United States and other Western countries should stand idly by while an opportunity to further isolate Russia and prevent the wholesale collapse of economies unconnected with its invasion exists.  

Wesley Culp is a research fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress focused on Russia and Eurasia. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.

Tags Collective Security Treaty Organization Dissolution of the Soviet Union Kazakhstan Post-Soviet states Russia

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