Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

Strategic Implications of the War in Ukraine for the Post-Soviet Space: A View from Central Asia

Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

Strategic Implications of the War in Ukraine for the Post-Soviet Space: A View from Central Asia

Article excerpt

Introduction

The ongoing war in Ukraine is shaking the foundation of the already fragile Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). After the separation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia and the splitting of Pridnestrovye from Moldova, Russia's annexation of Crimea and keeping Ukraine in a lasting crisis by tactics that "take on attrition," Russia not only has fallen under international economic sanctions but also aroused suspicions about its neo-imperial syndrome among post-Soviet friends on Russia's perimeter. Not only has the international community condemned Russia's actions in Ukraine, but the intra-Commonwealth community has also been painfully strained by these actions.

Paradoxically and ironically, such dramatic events are unfolding simultaneously with seemingly integrationist undertakings regarding the assemblage of the Euro-Asian Economic Union (EAEU). Both the war in Ukraine and creation of the EAEU have revealed the invalidity of the CIS and displayed the start of a new stage of restructuring and reformatting of what has been known as the post-Soviet space. How this space will be re-configured will have global geopolitical implications, as these processes are taking place on one sixth of the Earth - the vast geographical area that Tsarist Russia and the Soviets once proudly ascribed to themselves.

Actually, the crisis of the CIS began right after its inception in 1991 when, in parallel, the then newly independent five Central Asian states decided to establish their own Commonwealth - CAC. Since then, different smaller commonwealths have coexisted alongside the CIS in the post-Soviet space, steadily undermining the construction of the CIS itself. The longer the war in Ukraine protracts, the more will Russia alienate Ukrainians and the more any integration around and with Russia will replicate the feigned CIS. Lately, Central Asia has been taking an unclear lesson from this geopolitical situation and is making an ambiguous strategic choice.

This paper is devoted to the analysis of these aforementioned three focal points: the implications of the war in Ukraine for the CIS, Russia's fault and the Central Asian countries' reaction.

Crisis in Ukraine and Turbulence in the CIS

In analyzing the ongoing events in Ukraine, two significant facts must be recalled, namely: first, when war began in Ukraine in 2014, this state held the chairmanship of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS); second, moreover, Ukraine was a co* founder of the CIS in 1991 alongside the Russian Federation and Belarus. It must also be mentioned that the question of Ukraine was the main reason for the disruption of the new Union Treaty process, which lasted from September until December 1991 in NovoOgarevo, on the outskirts of Moscow. The fact is that Ukraine did not take part in the process and refrained from joining it. That is the reason Boris Yeltsin's statement that the new Union could not be built without Ukraine, which justified a decision on the dismantlement of the USSR, is telling in and of itself. Paradoxically, the state that did not join the would-be renewed Union suddenly became one of the three founders of the even more vague union - the CIS.

As long as Ukraine remained an indispensable part of the CIS, the issue of its territorial integrity was not challenged and the Russian population in the east of the country did not even think about Novorossia and secession. For almost a quarter of a century, Crimea was believed to be part of the Ukrainian territory. From this perspective, it can be assumed that Kiev's reinforced and explicit pro-European intention was the main geopolitical catalyst of the subsequent tragic course of events. However, Moscow's rhetoric on Ukraine and attempt at self-justification regarding its annexation of Crimea have experienced amazing metamorphoses: from the slogan "We never expose (or hand over) our people [Russians]" to the statement that gifting Crimea to Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954 was a mistake, and from reference to the referendum and will of the Crimean people "democratically" expressed in March 2014 on rejoining Russia to mentioning the threat from NATO of entering the Black Sea and targeting Sevastopol, and finally to Russia's historical sacralization of Crimea. …

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