Russia Near Abroad, Part 5: Armenia and Kazakhstan

Ongoing series on Russia; this talks about Armenia and Kazakhstan

Ongoing series on Russia; this talks about Armenia and Kazakhstan
Ongoing series on Russia; this talks about Armenia and Kazakhstan

Part 1 of this series was about Crimea, Part 2, about Latvia, Part 3 was about Lithuania and Part 4 was about Moldova.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]A[/dropcap]rmenia is such a poor country that it cannot forge an independent foreign policy.  Its threat to annex Nagorno-Karabakh does not carry any weight.  Russia controls Armenia through financial aid, weapons and an air base on Armenian soil.  Russia is also encouraging Armenians who have been successful in Russia to help build Armenia. Samvel Karapetian, worth $4.8 billion and current President of Union of Armenians in Russia Ara Abrahamian have responded to this call favourably.33

Russia has been able to block, for the time being, projects that would hurt the country economically.  Iran wants to send oil and gas to Batumi and Poti, two Black Sea ports, but Russia objected since it would lose transit fees.  Russia also opposed the building of a $3.7b railway linking Armenia and Iran.

But Armenia would like to tilt to the West for several reasons.  The Russian ruble has been devalued by 30% with the result that Armenians find it difficult to find jobs in Russia and remittances to Armenia have been reduced by 56% to $38.7m a year.34

It is difficult to see why countries close to Russia cannot have a neutral commercial policy that is neither anti-Russia nor anti-West.  Meanwhile, the politics of the Caucasus is so fluid that should Russia favour Azerbaijan, it is likely to be isolated in the Near Abroad.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]P[/dropcap]oland is not part of Russia’s Near Abroad but its politicians regard Russia as its existential threat.  Its pessimists recall that from 1795 to 1918, Poland did not exist on the map, meaning that the country was subjugated by four occupying powers.  Most recently, during World War II, it was occupied by Germany and Russia.  Poland sees its past experiences projected into its future.  Hence its call for NATO to be stationed permanently and visibly on its soil.35    Russia’s acquisition of “frozen states” is a worrying sign for Poland.  The threat from the Islamic state is not an issue for it at the moment.  The view that “Europe should not sacrifice its future to Poland’s past” is not a convincing one.  From East Europe’s view, Poland is a staging ground for the protection of Baltic States.  Poland’s history was tied to the Near Abroad: the Polish-Lithuania Commonwealth (1569-1648) was an example of an early elective monarchy.  Poland is still tied by trade to the Baltic States.

Kazakhstan should be, if it is not already, a model for Asiatic countries in Russia’s Near Abroad.  It is conscious that it resembles Ukraine in some ways but is not unusually worried.  Russians make up 20% of the population and they are mainly in the northern tier of Kazakhstan; in Ukraine, Russians dominated the Eastern provinces.  Kazakhstan recognises that the Russians are needed skilled workers whose population has been reduced by half, from 40% in 2007.  On the other hand, a million Kazakhs left Russia for their homeland.  Kazakhstan tried to benefit from sanctions imposed on Russia by re-exporting highly valuable goods, but that was stopped by external pressure.36

Kazakhstan has numerous contracts with Russia and understands why Russia is paying less for them.  Russia is reducing the size of some test sites, closing down others and seeking new contractual terms: Catherine Putz37 notes that Russia pays $24m per year for its four test sites, Kapustin test firing range, Sary-Shagan missile test site, and 920th State Test Flight Center.  The Emba site was closed down.  Russia’s large oil and gas companies operate in Kazakhstan: Lukoil, Gazprom and Rosneft.  The 76 contracts with Russian companies is worth $1 billion.  While Russia is an old and necessary partner, China is a new one, which is four times larger in investments.

To balance Russian power, Kazakhstan signed a defense pact, the Shanghai Five Pact in 1996, which was a turning point.  The five countries that signed were China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.  This pact was superfluous when the larger Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was signed in 2001.  SCO later combined the functions of China-led Silk-Road Belt and Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union.38

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]K[/dropcap]azakhstan saw no contradiction by joining NATO as a way of balancing the Moscow-Beijing axis.  In 2010 Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev visited NATO headquarters.  Three years later he sent his Minister for Foreign Affairs Erlan Idrissov.  In 1997, Kazakhstan joined the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) which had a membership of 50 countries, dealing with security, crisis management, peace support operations, arms control, non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, international terrorism, border security and a host of other problems.  In November 2002, the Individual Partnership Action Plan was launched and joined by Georgia in 2004, Azerbaijan in May 2005 and Armenia in December 2005, and others.39

With these hook-ups, and under western leadership, Central Asian countries were able to help develop their neighbours.  Kazakhstan finances Afghanistan’s schools, agriculture, hospitals and scholarships.  Tajikistan freed border controls across the River Panj, helped Afghanistan build bridges, and financed the Aga Khan Foundation.  Turkmenistan subsidized energy for its neighbours, cooperated in the building the TAPI pipeline and helped build a railway linking Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.  Specialist in Uzbekistan helped with infrastructure projects, re-building 10 bridges connecting the capital, and the first railroad from Hairaton to Mazar-i-Sharif.  Uzbekistan is also fixing the electricity grid for Kabul.40

From these immense networks, Nazarbayev developed a vision, “Twenty-first century: A world without wars,” which the world would do well to develop seriously.  A bare list of his ideas does not portray the depth of his vision.  But his list includes large political blocs, uniting religions, eliminating nuclear weapons, demilitarization, and the realization that we don’t have another chance.41


  1. Stefan Kirchner, “Crimea’s declaration of independence and the subsequent annexation by Russia under international law,” Journal of International Law, January 9, 2015.

  2. “Russian Defense Minister names Russia’s main task,”, April 24, 2016.

  3. “Concept of foreign policy has changed for Estonia,”, 27.7.2016.

  4. Mikhail Kulkushin, “Estonia wants more NATO troops – but only if they aren’t black,”, 22.2.2016.

  5. “Russia and Estonia exchange spies after Kohver row,”, September 26, 2016.

  6. Bartoz Bieliszczuk, “David and Goliath? Estonia-Russia relations,”, 10.1.2015.

  7. “Panic in Estonia: Russia kills its economy at one fell swoop,”, 15.4.2016.

  8. Mathew Luzmovre, “Latvia struggles with restive Russian minority amid regional tensions,”, June 13, 2015.

  9. “Latvia-Russia relations in deepest crisis in 20 years,”, 12.9.2015.

  10. Carl J. Williams, “Latvia, with a large minority of Russians worries about Putin’s goals,”, April 13, 2016.

  11. Lydia Tomkiw, “Russia-NATO relations, 2016: Armed aggression, Latvia calls for more military troops,”, 24.2.2016.

  12. Embassy of Latvia, “Relations between Latvia and Russia,”, 29.9.2015.

  13. “Latvia wants Putin to apologize for Soviet occupation,”, 22.2.2013.

  14. Jeremy Shapiro, “The Russian threat to Lithuania: An interview with Foreign Minister Linas Linkervicius,”

  15. “Lithuania-Russia relations,”, no date.

  16. Adanas Abromaitis, “Nuclear weapons in Lithuania; defense against Russia or target for terrorists,”, April 16, 2016. Also see Ingvar Henry Lotts, “Russia invasion: two train stations in Lithuania have been cordoned off…”, March 19, 2015.

  17. “Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine to launch Joint Brigade in 2017,”, January 25, 2016.

  18. CIA Factbook – Belarus

  19. Siarhei Bohdan & Ryhor Astapenia, “Why Belarus KGB detained the country’ former top businessman,”, March 18, 2016.

  20. Siarhei Bohdan, “How Belarus disappointed Russia in Ukraine and Syria,”, December 18, 2015.

  21. “Belarus eager to bolster trade, economic cooperation with foreign partners,”, April 15, 2016.

  22. cit. Bohdan.

  23. Chris Biggers, “Russian airbase in Belarus remains in limbo,”, December 27, 2015.

  24. Mikalai Anischacka, “Is Belarus and Russia’s ‘brotherly love’ coming to an end?”, May 29, 2015.

  25. Jens Malling, “The Value of a Frozen Conflict,”, March 2015.

  26. Luke Harding, “Russia ready to annex Moldova region, NATO commander claims,”, March 23, 2014.

  27. org.

  28. “Activists in Moldova say NATO has no place in their country,”, February 24, 2016.

  29. “Plahotniuc,”, no date; also see, “Berlusconi of Moldova – Plahotniuc – a Berlusconi of Moldova?”, December 15, 2015.

  30. “Inside the uprising against Moldova’s Donald Trump?”, no date.

  31. “European integration and lost billion: Does Europe seek ‘suicide’ of Moldovan elite?”, August 20, 2015.

  32. “Russia tightens its hold on Armenia,”, November 2, 2015.

  33. Marianna Grigoryan, “Armenia faces cash crunch as Russian remittances slump,”, April 9, 2015.

  34. “Poland could soon be home to ‘more NATO than ever’ Stoltenberg says,”, 18.1.2016.

  35. Bruce Pannier, “A new wave of ethnic Russians leaving Kazakhstan,”, February 9, 2016.

  36. Catherine Putz, “Russia paying less to lease Kazakh missile testing sites,”, March 8, 2016.

  37. Samuel Ramani, “The Emerging China-Kazakhstan Defense Relationship,”, December 23, 2015.

  38. “Relations with Kazakhstan,”, April 7, 2016.

  39. Ibid.

  40. “Kazakhstan unveils plan to end all wars; details to come,”, April 19, 2016.

Henry D'Souza is a prolific author who has written over 60 papers and 4 books, of which 2 books, 1 booklet and 28 papers were published. He is a distinguished sportsman, having represented Kenya in Field Hockey and also played tennis for the country.

Henry currently resides in Canada.


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