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.
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- Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops to pull back from the Ukrainian border, at least ostensibly. The Kremlin’s chief figure is said to have instructed his defense minister to initiate withdrawals now that spring military exercises have been completed, but so far the withdrawal has not been verified by Ukrainian forces or by NATO.
- 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.
- China has levied the blame against “foreign militants” for a recent attack on a railway station in the country’s troubled province of Xinjiang. Officials in Beijing have responded to attacks by enacting increasingly restrictive regulations that some have labeled as a means to justify overly harsh measures taken against western China’s Muslim Uighur minority. In spite of the measures, violence in Xinjiang has continued, as have reports of police brutality. Chinese authorities recently shot down two Uighurs after accusing them of committing acts of terrorism. Reports surrounding the shooting indicate that at least one of the two dead was unarmed when Chinese police opened fire.