When it comes to sanctions, Russia’s neighbours must show their true economic colours

The situation in Ukraine is a stain on humanity. Russia – which so brazenly celebrated the victory over Nazi Germany with moral high ground and ceremonious virtue – will eventually have to come to terms with the crimes it has committed on its sister nation’s soil, against its own brothers and sisters. It may not do so for a generation.

The West, in turn, will have to reconcile with the fact that it has not done enough to stand up in the face of tyranny. The people know it. Civilians across the West have volunteered to fight, donated, and taken in refugees. But the leaders of most countries have been caught in the headlights. They have applied sanctions. They have voted at the UN. Some have offered indirect or even surreptitious assistance. But far from the brave stand of the Allies 80 years ago.

There is of course another party to this terrible reality - The former Soviet Union states. While no longer directly under Russia’s leadership and governance, their economies and cultures – quite understandably – are intrinsically linked to Russia. Following the OECD data, Central Asian countries are likely to suffer the most. Russia is a critical export destination for goods from all the Central Asian countries. Remittances that go from Russia account for close to 30 % of GDP in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Third of Kazakhstan’s land-locked economy, including natural hydrocarbon resources and transit channels, are tied with Russia.

Yet, unlike Belarus, some Central Asian countries exhibited great nuance in their reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While Minsk has put its hand in entirely with Moscow, a Russian roulette that has seen Belarus sanctioned alongside Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have not. No – they did not vote against Russia in the UN. No – they have not condemned openly the invasion. Yet, they have provided humanitarian support to victims in Ukraine and constantly called for a diplomatic end to the conflict.

What more can Post-Soviet-Union neutral or at least balanced Countries - like Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Uzbekistan - can do nowadays? Very simply, these former Russian satellite countries need to put their money where their mouths are. They need to ensure their trading floors and markets are not used by Russia to circumvent the sanctions. Of course, the sanctions are crippling them too, some more than others, but these nations – crucially Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, as members of the soon to be convened Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), must make clear they will not be used as Russia’s straw company.

Commentators have suggested that some leaders in the region will either willingly or reluctantly yield to Russia’s pressure – a force that will certainly be exposed when Vladimir Putin convenes the EAEU nations at the end of this month in Bishkek. However, there is a glimmer of hope for the West. As the Western world wakes up the day after this terrible episode, history will judge those that did all they could to prevent the horrors we are once again seeing committed on Europe’s soil. Russia will not be the only one judged.

This is an Op Ed submission which reflects the views of the writer.


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