The voting table for the Ukraine resolution at the UN on March 27, tweeted by John W. Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda, president of the 68th Session of the General Assembly.
This week Russia told its former vassals in Central Asia to fall in line and support its position on Ukraine at the United Nations—or else. That’s the claim of a Reuters report looking at the behind-the-scenes maneuvers ahead of the March 27 UN General Assembly resolution declaring Crimea’s secession from Ukraine invalid.
Allegations that Moscow bullies its neighbors will be unsurprising in Central Asia, where Russia’s economic and military clout still reign supreme, and stories abound of Russian special services manipulating the levers of power, especially in poorer places like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
One hundred countries voted in favor of the resolution, 11 – mostly Russian allies – against. Fifty-eight abstained and 24 didn’t show up for the vote. None of the Central Asian countries voted for the resolution. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were among the no-shows.
Russia condemned the vote, and criticized the "deep interference of a number of Western countries in Ukraine's affairs."
For certain, major powers often use carrots and sticks to buy votes at the UN. But Russia, according to the Reuters report, resorted to “political blackmail and economic threats.”
According to interviews with U.N. diplomats, most of whom preferred to speak on condition of anonymity for fear of angering Moscow, the targets of Russian threats included Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well as a number of African countries.
A spokesman for Russia's Mission to the U.N. denied that Moscow threatened any country with retaliation if it supported the resolution, saying: "We never threaten anyone. We just explain the situation."
According to the diplomats, the Russian threats were not specific. But they said it was clear to the recipients of the warnings not to support the resolution that retaliatory measures could include steps such as expelling migrant workers from Russia, halting natural gas supplies or banning certain imports to Russia to cause economic harm.
Judging by the vague, at times contradictory, and mealy-mouthed official statements coming out of Central Asia, it’s been difficult for the region’s leaders to swallow Russia’s interference in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, allegedly to protect Russians in the region, defy the post-Soviet order and notions of sovereignty 22 years after independence.
All five Central Asian states have populations of ethnic Russians. In Kazakhstan, Russians make up 22 percent of the population. That number is much higher in the north, along the country’s poorly defended 7,000-kilometer border with Russia.
Central Asia is deeply dependent on Russia’s economy, largely for migrant remittances, but also energy supplies and trade. Russia also has a number of military bases sprinkled throughout Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and has made no secret of its wish to absorb those three into its Eurasian Economic Union, which will begin next January (Kazakhstan has already signed up).
Washington is sending a high-level delegation to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan this week that “will re-affirm the U.S. commitment to continued engagement and partnership with the countries of the region for stability and prosperity.” Expect public statements about the meetings to make little, or only awkward, reference to Ukraine.