After Ukraine, Moscow’s Closest Allies Refuse to Follow Kremlin Line

July 31, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R), Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (C) and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev walk before a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Council in Minsk, Belarus, April 29, 2014. Presidential Press Service

Staunton, July 19 – The two countries Moscow views as its closest partners, Belarus and Kazakhstan, have refused to join its sanctions campaign against Moldova, another indication, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta say today, that as a result of its recent actions, “Moscow is losing its allies.”

That, in turn, suggests two things, the editors say. On the one hand, it calls into question Moscow’s brave talk about the real existence of a customs union among the three. On the other, it means that Moscow needs to review and revise its policies toward neighboring countries lest it continue to drive them away.

Chisinau officials say that they are very pleased by the decisions of Minsk and Astana not to join the sanctions against Moldova that Moscow has announced, the paper says. They note that when Moscow imposed a wine embargo against Moldova in 2006, Belarus ignored it and purchased Moldovan wine on a bilateral basis.

But now, Nezavisimaya Gazeta [Independent Newspaper – The Interpreter] points out, “the situation is different.” Supposedly, since 2010, there is a Customs Union, of which Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are members, and its decisions are supposedly taken by consensus. But on Moldova, there is no consensus; and that casts doubt on claims that the Customs Union “exists.”

The present case, the paper continues, “is not unique.” In April, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko proposed delaying the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union for ten years because the potential members were not “ready.” Astana has been concerned that the absence of Ukraine and Moldova in such an organization reduces its value to Kazakhstan.

With Ukraine and Moldova now oriented toward Europe, the editors say, “the integration unions on the post-Soviet space in which Russia is participating either have already collapsed or are at the edge of that.” The CIS is in particular trouble. Georgia has left. Now Ukraine is doing so. Moldova has declared its intention to head to the exits.

But now, as the positions of Belarus and Kazakhstan show, the Customs Union is in trouble as well. The paper notes that “not one of them supported Moscow when the European Union and the United States introduced sanctions against the Russian Federation.” As a result, Moscow’s plans for a Eurasian Economic Union are unlikely to go forward.

This represents a major defeat for Putin. As Nezavisimaya gazeta notes, “in nine of the ten” messages of the Kremlin leader to the Federal Assembly, he has declared that increasing cooperation among and integration with the post-Soviet states is “a priority of the foreign policy of the country.”

Despite these repeated declarations, the CIS is “gradually falling apart,” and any “illusions” about that have been finally dispelled after what has been happening in Ukraine. Given that, Moscow needs to review its policies toward the region if it is to have any chance of reversing this decline.

“Without that,” the paper concludes, “Russia risks remaining a pariah on the territory which it has traditionally considered a zone of its influence.”