Review period: February 24 – April 30, 2022
Note: About Russian military aggression in Ukraine, see the 50th publication which reviews the developments from February 21 to March 3, and the 51th publication which recounts Moldova’s response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Participation in the Military Operation
Since February 24, there have been several instances of the killing of Russian Army soldiers originating from Central Asian countries in Ukraine. The funerals of two Kyrgyz soldiers who died in Ukraine were held on March 25 and 27 in Kyrgyzstan. On March 22, the burial of two Tajiks’ took place in their native Tajikistan. At this stage, the burial of a total of four people from Tajikistan is reported. In addition, information was disseminated that Central Asian labor migrants to Russia are offered employment n various positions in the military operation in Ukraine, both as military and support personnel. However, there is a consideration that the number of those who participated in the war and those who died may be higher as some labor migrants agree to take part in the military operation in Ukraine in exchange for a salary and the promise of Russian citizenship.
On April 22, the fifth meeting of the Foreign Ministers in the Central Asia+Russia format was held online. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the meeting discussed the issues of ensuring peace and stability in the region. The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that the deployment of US and allied military infrastructure along the Afghan border for carrying out counter-terrorism operations is unacceptable. According to the official information, the meeting did not discuss the issue of Ukraine.
As the Kazakh Minister of Defense announced on April 27, member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will hold military exercises in Kazakhstan in October. Military exercises under the CSTO are also planned in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. CSTO member states are Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. At this stage, CSTO members have neither openly supported Russia’s military aggression at an organization level or individually, nor have they provided military assistance.
On February 28, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution at a special session on Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The resolution, entitled “Aggression against Ukraine,” was supported by 141 countries (including Georgia, Moldova and the Baltic states) and opposed by five (including Belarus and Russia). The Central Asian countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan did not take part in the voting. A similar result was observed at a session of the UN General Assembly on March 24, which adopted the second resolution on Ukraine. The resolution was supported by 140 countries (including Georgia, Moldova and the Baltic states), and five opposed (including Belarus and Russia). A total of 38 members did not attend the meeting. The Central Asian countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan still did not participate in the voting.
Supporters and Opponents of the Resolution. Source: un.org
Economic Impact and Labor Migrants
The massive outflow of foreign businesses from Russia leaves labor migrants from Central Asia either unemployed or looking for new opportunities. According to Russian government sources, there are up to eight million registered labor migrants from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan living in Russia. Remittances of migrant workers total 30% of Tajikistan's GDP, and 28% of Kyrgyzstan's GDP. Uzbekistan received up to USD 8 billion in remittances from labor migrants in the first ten months of last year. If the situation in Russia worsens, it is expected that migrants will return to their homeland which will be a new economic challenge for these countries.
Promotions and Humanitarian Aid
Despite its alliance with Russia, pro-Ukraine events of a relatively small scale were still held in the Central Asian countries. Humanitarian aid for Ukraine was collected in Kazakhstan, and rallies in support of Ukraine were held near the Russian embassies in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Flowers were left at the Ukrainian Embassy in Uzbekistan. On April 9, four opposition members protested a crime committed by the Russian army in Bucha near the Russian Consulate in Almaty. They were detained for several hours.
Kazakhstan is an ally of Russia and a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). In January 2022, the President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, appealed to the CSTO, where Russia plays a leading role, during the internal political crisis in Kazakhstan with a request for resolving the situation. Mr. Tokayev was able to overcome the crisis with the support of the CSTO and, especially, Russia. Nevertheless, Kazakhstan refuses to engage in Russia’s military operation and does not intend to recognize Ukraine's separatist regions. In general, some of the decisions made in Kazakhstan cause dissatisfaction in Russia.
In the first week of the war, it was clear from Kazakhstan's statements that the country neither intended to engage in the Russian military aggression nor to recognize Ukraine's separatist regions. The first such statement was made by the President on March 1. On March 3, the media released a statement which the Kazakh Deputy Defense Minister, Sultan Kamaletdinov, made at a plenary session of the Senate. The statement reads: “The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has nothing to do with Kazakhstan. We do not support any of the sides.” Mr. Kamaletdinov said that the Kazakh Armed Forces are ready to defend the country, in the case of danger.
Subsequent statements also make it clear that Kazakhstan does not share Russia's approach towards Ukraine.
On April 4, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev published a letter in the National Interest journal expressing his respect for the territorial integrity of Ukraine. He said that Kazakhstan has a long border with Russia and a long tradition of friendly relations with Ukraine.
On April 5, after a government meeting, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, Mukhtar Tuleberdi, said that Kazakhstan does not recognize the separatist republics in eastern Ukraine. Earlier, March 29, the First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, Timur Suleimenov, made a similar statement in an interview with EURACTIV during his visit to Brussels. He also said that Kazakhstan would not help Moscow bypass sanctions. Mr. Suleimenov said the sanctions imposed by the West are directed against Russia and Kazakhstan does not join them. “It is important for us not to allow these sanctions to have a negative impact on the development of our economy and not to use our territory to circumvent sanctions,” he stated further. Mr. Suleimanov also stated that Kazakhstan will continue economic relations with Russia within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union.
On April 7, the Chair of the Kazakh Senate, Maulen Ashimbayev, described the mass killings of civilians by Russian troops in Bucha as “a tragedy that needs an international investigation.” According to Mr. Ashimbayev, it should be determined with the participation of international organizations, the West and other countries as to how and why the tragedy in Bucha happened.
Dialogue with Russia
In the post-war period, several telephone conversations took place between Kazakhstan and senior Russian politicians. A telephone conversation on March 2 between the Kazakh President and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, was followed by another telephone conversation on April 2. According to the web-page of the President of Kazakhstan, the sides discussed the importance of Ukraine's status as a neutral, impartial and nuclear-free country. The last telephone conversation between the presidents took place on April 29. The issue of Ukraine was not mentioned either in the information disseminated by the Kazakh side or in the statement of the Kremlin.
Bilateral relations were also held at the level of ambassadors and ministers. On March 24, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrey Rudenko, met with the Kazakh Ambassador to Russia, Ermek Kosherbayev. In addition to discussing bilateral relations, the Russian side also made assessments regarding Ukraine. On April 22, the Kazakh Foreign Minister, Mukhtar Tleuberdi, met with Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. The issue of Ukraine was not mentioned in the information released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.
On April 29, Mr. Tleuberdi also had a telephone conversation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba against the background of relation with the Russian side. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, the conversation was initiated by the Ukrainian side. The conversation discussed the situation in Ukraine and the prospects of Kyiv-Moscow talks as well as the issue of bilateral relations.
Trade in Rubles and Grain Exports
Due to its close economic ties with Russia, Kazakhstan decided to use Russian rubles in bilateral trade. On March 18, the Prime Minister's Office announced that the move was forced due to blocking Russia from the international payment system, although trade with other members of the Eurasian Economic Union would continue to be carried out in US dollars.
Restrictions on grain exports by Russia also affected Kazakhstan. On March 14, Russia banned exports of wheat, meslin, rye, barley, and maize to the countries within the Eurasian Economic Union except for Belarus. The ban will remain in force until June 30. However, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were later allowed to import Russian grain with the permission of the Russian Ministry of Agriculture. Due to Russia's moves, Kazakhstan was also forced to impose temporary quotas on wheat and bread flour exports. The April 15 restriction will be in force until June 15. Kazakhstan is one of the largest exporters of grain. Such an action will seriously hurt Kazakhstan's neighbors in the region. In 2020, wheat accounted for more than a quarter of all Kazakh exports to Uzbekistan as compared with 33% to Tajikistan. In the same year, 96% of wheat imported to Tajikistan came from Kazakhstan. Kazakh wheat was also exported to Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan, which used to buy and cultivate relatively cheap Russian wheat, will also be affected.
On April 26, the Minister of Industry and Infrastructure of Kazakhstan, Kairbek Uskenbayev, announced that a Russian company producing the popular Ural motorcycles (Ural Motorcycles, located in Irbit, Sverdlovsk Oblast) will relocate its production to Petropavlovsk, in the North Kazakhstan region. The manufacturing will be based at the site of the Kaztekmash machine-building plant. According to the Minister, the leasing agreement has already been signed. He welcomes Russian manufacturers who, in his estimation, will be even more in number. According to the Minister, all companies which do not have international restrictions can do business in Kazakhstan. A company representative explained the transfer of the manufacturing was due to the sanctions imposed on parts necessary for the production. There are no sanctions imposed on the company itself but it is unable to import the necessary parts. While the Kazakh authorities have openly stated that the country will not become a favorable place to circumvent sanctions, the case raised suspicions that Russia could take advantage of existing legal loopholes and relocate some of its production to Kazakhstan, near the Russian border.
Russian President Rides a Ural Motorcycle. Source: kremlin.ru
It is interesting that Kairbek Uskenbayev was in Tbilisi on April 28. He met with the Vice Prime Minister of Georgia, and the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, Levan Davitashvili. One of the topics of discussion was the use of Georgia's transit potential which is becoming more relevant for Kazakhstan amid the sanctions imposed on Russia.
Russians in Kazakhstan
The number of Russian citizens wishing to obtain a permanent residence permit in Kazakhstan has increased since the start of the war. In the first quarter of 2022, the number of such applications totaled 1,055, which is three times higher than usual. At the same time, up to tens of thousands of Russian citizens applied for Kazakh personal identification numbers which will allow them to open bank accounts in Kazakhstan.
There are no reports about Kazakh volunteers fighting in Russia; however, a noteworthy fact occurred on April 26 when an Almaty court sentenced an Almaty resident, Igor Duzhov, to life imprisonment for killing five people in September. In addition to the murder, he was accused of illegal participation in a military conflict abroad and assaulting law enforcement officials. According to Mr. Duzhov, he fought for “peace” on the Russian side in the separatist Donbass in 2014-2015.
May 9 without a Parade
On April 13, the Kazakh Ministry of Defense issued a statement announcing the cancellation of a military parade on May 9, Victory Day over Fascism. A lack of funding was later cited as the reason for the cancellation. According to the Minister of Defense, such a parade will cost USD 9 million. He named military exercises as a priority over the parade. For the past two years, no parade has been held due to the pandemic. This year, the situation in the light of the pandemic dramatically improved. Russia suspects that the move could be an expression of Kazakhstan's sympathy for Ukraine. Because of this, Kazakhstan was criticized by Tigran Keosayan, the Russian propagandist Margarita Simonyan’s husband, whose insulting comments provoked a strong reaction in Kazakhstan.
Kyrgyzstan is one of the most pro-Russian countries in Central Asia and an ally of Russia. It is also a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The country's security and economic stability are largely determined by its relations with Russia.
Dialogue with Russia
In the early stages of the war, it seemed that the Kyrgyz President, Sadir Japarov, openly supported Russia's decision. As the Kremlin reported, Mr. Japarov blamed Kyiv for violating the Minsk agreements and supported Russia's decisive action for protecting the people of Donbass during his telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin on February 26. Mr. Putin even thanked his Kyrgyz counterpart for his “principled solidarity.” For its part, the Kyrgyz president's web-page published neutral information about the conversation with the Russian president which only mentioned that the sides also discussed the situation in Ukraine.
On March 5, Sergey Lavrov hosted the Kyrgyz Foreign Minister, Ruslan Kazakbayev, in Moscow. The purpose of the meeting was to exchange views on the war in Ukraine. Mr. Kazakbayev supported the start of the negotiation process between the Russian and Ukrainian sides and expressed interest in the rapid achievement of mutually acceptable decisions between the parties. The 2022-2024 cooperation plan was also signed between the Ministries.
On the same day, Ruslan Kazakbayev met with Dmitry Kozak, the Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration. Mr. Kozak oversees the post-Soviet countries, including the occupied regions of Georgia and the breakaway regions of Ukraine. (Reportedly, Donbass was no longer under Dmitry Kozak's supervision in April, and he was replaced by Sergey Kiriyenko). The meeting discussed the issue of Ukraine. It is noteworthy that on April 22, Mr. Kazakbayev was dismissed from the post of minister. On April 29, he was replaced by Jeenbek Kulubaev. No specific reason for the resignation has yet been named.
On March 16, Kazakbayev hosted the Ukrainian Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Valery Zhovtenko. A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reads that the meeting was held at the request of the Ambassador. It also says that Kyrgyzstan supports a political-diplomatic solution to the conflict.
Most of the statements made by the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry after the start of the war are related to the safe evacuation of Kyrgyz citizens from Ukraine. Similar statements significantly reduced in the second half of March and April (February 24, February 25, February 25, February 25, February 26, February 27, February 28, March 2, March 3, March 8, March 11). On February 25, the Ministry issued a statement of neutral content on the current developments in Ukraine. Another call for peace was published on the ministry's web-page on March 3.
It seems that in the first days of the war, Sadir Japarov’s statements were considered unfriendly in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a televised speech on March 1 that he would withdraw an ambassador from Kyrgyzstan for consultations because Kyrgyzstan had justified the Russian aggression. It should be noted that Mr. Japarov's subsequent statements have a more neutral tone.
On March 25, in an interview with the state news agency KABAR, Sadir Japarov also spoke about Ukraine. “We are a small state and have no influence. Would either side have won quickly if we had supported one of them?” he responded to a journalist when he was asked about his stance towards the Ukrainian issue. “As a small country, we should have relations with all the countries based on mutual respect. Why do we need to integrate into big world politics? It's ridiculous when people who can't feed their families discuss world politics and teach others,” he added.
Small groups of activists are taking part in anti-war rallies in Kyrgyzstan, against which the state is taking various punitive measures.
On March 3, the Kyrgyz State National Security Committee launched an investigation into the private media channel Next TV for inciting ethnic strife. On March 4, the director of Next TV was arrested. Earlier, TV social media published information in which the former head of Kazakhstan's Security Committee states that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan decided to provide military assistance to Russia in the ongoing war in Ukraine. On March 29, the court assessed the disseminated information as “extremist.”
On March 22, two activists were fined for protesting the Russian aggression in front of the Russian Embassy in Bishkek. On April 2, police detained 20 activists during a rally against the Russian President over the war in Ukraine.
Activists in Bishkek. Source: straitstimes.com
Kyrgyz Military Servicemen in the War?
The issue of the military conscription of Kyrgyz citizens on Russian territory appeared as a particularly sensitive topic in Kyrgyzstan. This was reported in the media and in social networks in the first days of the war. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs even issued a statement saying that the conscription of Kyrgyz citizens into military service is carried out only on the territory of Kyrgyzstan.
May 9 without the “Z” Symbol
On April 21, the State Committee for National Security issued a statement saying that the use of the “Z” symbol would be considered as an act of “inciting ethnic strife.” Russia is actively using this symbol in its military aggression against Ukraine. The use of the symbol was banned in the Baltic states and Moldova as well, although a similar move by Russia's ally Kyrgyzstan indicates otherwise. No military parade is planned in Kyrgyzstan either.
Uzbekistan is not a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. However, under the presidency of Shavkat Mirziyoyev (from 2016), relations with Russia are much better than during the previous president, Islam Karimov. In the context of the prolongation of the war, the position of the Uzbek authorities is restrained and no open support for Russia's position is felt.
Dialogue with Russia
The first conversation between the country's leaders, Vladimir Putin and Shavkat Mirziyoyev, since the start of the war, took place on February 25. According to Kremlin reports, Mr. Mirziyoyev understood Russia’s stance and supported its military actions. It should be noted that there is no confirmation of the abovementioned information from the Uzbek side. Tashkent views such talks with the Russian side as an exchange of views on current events in Ukraine. The Presidential Administration of Uzbekistan issued an additional statement regarding the conversation between the presidents where it is unclear whether or not Uzbekistan supports Russia's actions.
Another telephone conversation between the presidents took place on March 21. According to the Kremlin, the President of Uzbekistan expressed his views on the position and the activities of the Russian side in Ukraine. On the same day, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrey Rudenko, hosted the Uzbek Ambassador to Russia, Botirzhon Asadov. According to the Russian side, Mr. Rudenko informed the Ambassador about the “special military operation.”
On April 25, Shavkat Mirziyoyev hosted the Minister of Industry and Trade of Russia, Denis Manturov, who participated in the international exhibition - INNOPROM. Central Asia together with a Russian delegation. On the same day, Mr. Mirziyoyev received the Prime Minister of Belarus, Roman Golovchenko, who also participated in the exhibition. The Russian side was also one of the organizers of the exhibition.
Most of the statements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan after the start of the war were related to the issue of the safe evacuation of Uzbek citizens from Ukraine which stopped in April (February 24, February 24, February 25, February 26, February 26, February 26, February 27, February 27, February 28, March 1, March 1, March 1, March 2, March 4, March 5, March 6, March 7, March 8, March 9, March 10, March 11, March 12, March 14, March 15, March 24). On March 24, the Ministry issued a noteworthy statement regarding the forced use of drivers with Uzbek citizenship. According to the Ministry, they are being evacuated from the combat zone and returned to their homeland.
Uzbekistan voiced a significant stance on March 17 when the Uzbek Foreign Minister, Abdulaziz Kamilov, announced at a parliament session that Uzbekistan does not recognize Ukraine's breakaway regions and called on the parties to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. According to him, Uzbekistan has historical ties with both Ukraine and Russia. On March 29, following this announcement, the Ministry reported that the Minister has been treated at a clinic abroad due to a chronic illness. On April 27, the Press Secretary of the President of Uzbekistan, Sherzod Asadov, announced Abdulaziz Kamilov’s resignation.
Abdulaziz Kamilov, the Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan. Source: isrs.uz
On April 28, Sergey Lavrov spoke with the Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan and the Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade, Sardor Umurzakov. The statement from Lavrov's office did not mention Ukraine.
The Uzbek media has been extremely cautious while covering the war in Ukraine, describing the conflict as a “military operation,” the term adopted in Russia, rather than as an “aggression” or an “invasion.” The Special Services also warned nongovernmental media outlets and bloggers in various ways to maintain “neutrality” while writing about the war, which means they should refrain from criticizing Russia's actions.
Credit Cards “Tourism”
One month after the start of the war, a “tourism” credit card was developed in Uzbekistan, with Russian citizens flocking to Tashkent in order to obtain Mastercard and VISA cards in Uzbek banks due to the sanctions imposed on Russia. The use of such cards issued in Russia has been banned since March 6. From March 23, Russian travel agencies have offered a special package to customers, which includes arriving and receiving cards in Uzbekistan. The “tourism” card only allows a person to come to the bank and get a card at a pre-booked time. Similar services are available in other post-Soviet countries, but Uzbekistan has the least bureaucracy and the most affordable prices.
Tajikistan is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The Russian armed forces ensure Tajikistan's security and the country’s economy is largely dependent on relations with Moscow. It is noteworthy that Tajikistan has not yet made an overt statement in support of Russia's military aggression against Ukraine.
On February 25, the Spokeswoman of the Council of the Russian Federation, Valentina Matviyenko, was on a working visit in Tajikistan. Ms. Matviyenko also met with the Tajik President, Emomali Rahmon, although information released by the Tajik side did not mention the issue of Ukraine. There is only a hint about the ongoing hostilities in Ukraine: “During the meeting, the parties exchanged views on the rapidly changing political situation in the world, as well as the escalation of conflict in some regions.”
On April 8, the President of Tajikistan held a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart. A Kremlin report said that Ukraine was not among the topics discussed. The web-page of the President also did not mention Ukraine in its report about the talks.
The issue of Ukraine does not appear on the agenda of Turkmenistan's policy. Statements by government officials focus on Turkmenistan's neutral status. At a Security Council meeting on March 2, the President, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, repeatedly highlighted Turkmenistan's neutral status without mentioning Ukraine.
On March 12, shortly after the start of the war in Ukraine, early presidential elections were held in Turkmenistan, as a result of which Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow handed over the presidency through the “elections” to his eldest son, Serdar Berdimuhamedow.
The new president held his first telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin on March 15. On the same day, Mr. Putin also spoke to the senior Berdimuhamedow. The newly elected president’s first conversation with the Russian president was limited to congratulations. The Turkish president held the next telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart on April 8. The Kremlin’s report about the conversation did not mention Ukraine and said that the talks focused on the development of bilateral relations. A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan said that the talks were only on bilateral relations.
On April 8-9 in Ashgabat, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrey Rudenko, who oversees the post-Soviet countries, and the Turkmen Deputy Foreign Minister, Vepa Khajiev, discussed bilateral issues. They are also co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation.
The first open statement on Ukraine was made on April 26, when the Turkmen Foreign Ministry released a brief statement on its web-page: “Based on the traditions of humanism of the Turkmen people, Turkmenistan will send humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian people in April this year. The humanitarian cargo includes medicines and other products of the medical industry of Turkmenistan, as well as textiles.”