Allies are important to a country’s security. Russia has tried in various ways to set up an alliance equivalent to NATO. At the end of the Soviet Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States was formed from twelve of the countries that became independent: all but the Baltic countries, who were eager to join Europe. Then there was the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Its current members are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. Afghanistan and Serbia are observers. Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan joined and later withdrew.
Russia is now looking to build up defense industries in the CSTO to supply equipment that it once imported from Ukraine. Another group, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, has recently been more active. Russian President Vladimir Putin would very much like for the Eurasian Economic Union to rival the European Union, although an EEU to the full extent he would like it would still represent less in population and much less economically than the EU.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine, however, have made those allies think twice about their relationship with their neighbor. The annexation of Crimea broke an understanding that much of the world believed was in place since World War II: that no country would annex a neighbor’s land.
Belarus and Kazakhstan have been particularly loyal to Russia, but their loyalty is fraying. At a recent press conference, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka said that Belarus has never been and will never be part of the “Russian world,” the phrase that Putin has been using to justify his aggressions. The Belarusian Parliament also passed a law defining the appearance of any military units, with or without identication, on Belarusian soil as aggression against the state. Russia has radar bases in Belarus and regards it as a buffer against Europe, so a complete break is unlikely. More likely, Lukashenka is trying to pre-empt the possibility of “little green men” appearing in Belarus as they did in Crimea.
However, Russian Institute for Strategic Research (RISI), a Moscow-based think tank, is now urging Putin to overthrow Lukashenka. RISI also pushed for the invasion of Ukraine. They seem to have the same blind spot that affected Mikhail Gorbachev’s government in 1991: they believe that great popular support exists for closer ties with Russia in neighboring countries. In Gorbachev’s case, it was the belief that the Soviet republics soundly supported the Union. That wishful thinking seems to have been operative in the recommendation on Ukraine, and now Belarus.
Russia’s military would be severely overstretched if its operations were extended to Belarus, as would be Russia’s economy.
Kazakhstan has made a number of statements about secure borders, and now plans a joint military exercise with the United States in April and June 2015, “Steppe Eagle.”
Meanwhile, the so-called People’s Republic of Donetsk has been reaching out for allies. They have invited Texas, among others, to a summit of “unrecognized states.” No word from Texas secessionists yet, but the Donetsk “foreign minister” says representatives from Texas will attend.
Estonia was more decisive. When the Donetsk separatists appealed to Donetsk’s sister city of Narva, the mayor of Narva said there was no mandate to open communications with the new powers there, but it would be a different matter if Narva can do something for the local people who suffer in Donetsk. In a separate action, the Estonian government decided to establish a memorial for the victims of Communism at Maarjamäe. Maarjamäe is a site east of Tallinn that was a cemetary for German military, and now has a monument to World War II Soviet dead.
Meanwhile, a flag for the “Latgale People’s Republic” appeared on the Facebook page of a Russian sympathizer, but was quickly taken down. Latgale is a district in eastern Latvia with many Russian-speakers. A website is also reported to have appeared, along with a similar one for a “Vilnius People’s Republic” in Lithuania. This may be in response to an announcement by the EU and Latvia to create a Russian-language tv channel to counteract Russian propaganda.
Russia hasn’t given up on subverting the Baltic States, but it appears they are no more fond of returning to Russian rule than Ukraine and Belarus are.
Even Serbia, whose claim to Kosovo Russia implicitly champions in its continuing complaints of illegal NATO action there, can’t be depended upon. The OSCE, whose current leadership is Serbian, clearly put the blame on the separatists for the failure of the latest attempt at peace talks in Minsk.
None of these reactions will stop Russia any time soon, but as allies become ever cooler, Russia’s options will narrow.
Update (February 7, 2015): More about the “People’s Republic of Latgale.” Latvian police say they know who is responsible for the Facebook posts.
Photo: Part of the Maarjamäe World War II monument.