Putin pledges to protect ethnic Russians, raising questions

As Russian forces on the border with Ukraine are ordered back, regional leaders have reflected on the implications for Russian intervention in their own countries. As reported earlier, Kazakhstan’s tepid support coupled with Kyrgzystan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan’s reticence on the issue have raised a real point of tension between Russia and the FSU republics. President Putin has stated just one week before the new presidential election in Ukraine that Russia will seek to defend ethnic Russians wherever they may be located, including throughout the former Soviet Union. The breakup of the Soviet Union was deemed a historical “tragedy,” according to numerous historical statements by Putin. The President and his cabinet have been busy in recent weeks enforcing this new doctrine, annexing Crimea, collecting separatist petitions in Moldova, and giving Russian passports to compatriots in the Baltic states like Estonia and Latvia. 

There are over 1 million in the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia alone. Although the area was formerly a part of the old Russian Empire, most Russians living there today were Soviet-era migrants. 24% of Estonia is Russian, in addition to 27% of Latvia, and 5% of Lithuania. But these numbers pale in comparison to the number of Russians that live in Central Asia today. There are 3.5 million Russians alone that live in Kazakhstan, a large percentage of the population. Significant percentages are also present in the other Central Asian republics – Kyrgyzstan boasts 12.5% minority, with Uzbekistan at 5%. The so-called “Putin Doctrine,” which declares all ethnic Russians as claimants to Russian protection, makes many countries with large populations nervous and thus hesitant to fall in line with Moscow’s calls for solidarity against the West on the situation in Ukraine, as the CTSO and recent informal meetings of the Customs Union demonstrate. Additionally, the doctrine makes NATO’s role in international politics predominant once again for the West. If a similar situation were to break out in one of the Baltic states or in Central Asia for instance, it is unclear what actions NATO would take to deter Russia from seeking to expand its borders to encapsulate its old territories again. NATO recently opened an office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan perhaps for this very purpose. Regardless of intent, the implications for the region mean that Russians living in foreign countries could be protected from these countries’ laws, a problem that has arisen regularly in Kazakhstan.

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News Briefs:
  • The governments of Tajikistan and Azerbaijan have agreed to renew direct flights between the two nations’ capitals of Dushanbe and Baku, respectively. Flights between the countries have come as part of agreements between the two countries that have been signed every six months for the last two years. Cooperation between the two countries has increased markedly over the last few years, and trade relations between the two countries currently amount to more than $44 million annually.
  • Russia and China have entered into the “final phase” of negotiations over the construction of a Russia-China pipeline that would see Russia begin to export gas into China. Russia has long sought to diversify its gas supply destinations, and the move to the second largest economy will fulfill President Vladimir Putin’s own mandate of expanding the Russian network of gas pipelines in order to reduce dependence on the European Union and help powerful neighbors such as China mollify discontented Chinese who experienced the country’s gravest gas shortage in the winter of 2013.
  • A new report on the effects of opium by the Turkish-run World Bulletin indicates that more than one million have died across Eurasia as a direct result of Afghanistan’s booming opium trade since 2001. The report shows that Russian citizens inhabiting Russia’s southern border have been most gravely affected, with over 500,000 perishing as a result of opium derivatives such as heroin. The report makes note of the near eradication of the opium trade during the reign of the Taliban, and indicates that in spite of international coalition efforts to curb the drug trade, Afghanistan has nonetheless continued to hemorrhage opium over the last 13 years, and officials have complained of a lack of resources, adequate time and insufficient incentives to stop cultivation of the lucrative crop.
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