The Caspian Region Countries React to Putin’s War in Ukraine
Nov 9, 2022
This series of eight articles explores the reactions of the Caspian Region states on the southern periphery of Russia to Vladimir Putin’s criminal war in Ukraine. Because international relations are fundamentally about person-to-person relationships, perhaps we can consider the current situation by asking this question: What would you do if a dangerously disruptive individual moved into your immediate neighborhood and started causing havoc? The first thing you’d likely do after recovering from the shock is to ensure the security of your own home, making sure your doors and windows are locked at all times. You’d likely confer with your neighbors to gauge their reactions. You might confer with your homeowner’s association to seek their advice on what can be done. But in the end, you’d come to realize that you’re living in a New Normal. I hasten to note that’s not a good situation: it’s simply reality.
In many ways, this is what the countries of the Caspian Region – Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in the South Caucasus and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in Central Asia – have done and are continuing to do, each in its own way. None has supported Russia at the several votes in the United Nations General Assembly. They all have quietly consulted with each other behind the scenes. Some, like most recently Kazakhstan, have taken steps to update and to ensure their own defense structures. And some even see a bit of bright light amidst the roiling dark clouds because international sanctions against Russia have opened up possibilities for the Middle Corridor through their region for international trade from China, across the Caspian Sea, and on to Europe. This is because transit through Russia that was widely used before the current war is now all but blocked by international sanctions.
There’s one very specific reason, other than the current war, for the independent and sovereign nations that were once Soviet Socialist Republics to be concerned: the so-called prolonged conflicts in the region: specifically South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova, Karabakh in Azerbaijan, and, of course, Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine, both of which Putin has said he has annexed into Russia, as well as the Crimean Peninsula that Moscow had annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Further, Russia has long threatened to annex the northern third of Kazakhstan.
The Kremlin’s war against the independent and sovereign nation of Ukraine and its people also raises questions about the future of regional organizations, especially Moscow’s Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union, as well as China’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Other international bodies active in the Caspian region, like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, are probably less threatened because of their broader membership and lighter footprint in the Caspian region.
Smaller and perhaps lesser-known organizations like the Kazakhstan-originated Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building in Asia might begin to play a bigger role as a forum for the countries of the region to consult and share new ideas for working together. Likewise, the newly invigorated Organization of Turkic States might consider what role it can play to keep the Caspian Region secure.
Furthermore, Putin’s expansionist ideology should reinvigorate the Central Asian nations’ consultations that have been ongoing since 2017 about the idea of forming some sort of formal association of the five that, in fact, should also include Azerbaijan. Such an organization would strengthen the region and allow it to speak, diplomatically, with one voice.
No one can foresee how Putin’s determination to subdue, if not totally annex, Ukraine will play out. The destruction continues, and Ukraine’s citizens are suffering greatly. What is certain, however, is that the Caspian Region nations are moving into a New Normal. It is incumbent on their leaders to find new ways to work together to ensure their independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.