Looking East From Ukraine

The despots of Central Asia have two reasons to be nervous:

On the one hand, the success of the Euromaidan protests in driving Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych from power obviously raises concerns amongst central Asia’s ruling elite regarding the sustainability of their hold on power.  When they first saw a popular protest movement lead to the removal of Eduard Shevardnadze in 2004’s Georgian Rose Revolution, popular protest movements quickly spread across Eurasia and fueled similar regime changes in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps fearing a similar “viral” effect of Yanukovych’s ouster regionally, the regimes have sought to control information on the situation. …

On the other hand, central Asian leaders also must be watching recent events in Crimea with an eye toward the potential actions of Russia in its “near abroad.”

Although none of the central Asian states could be characterized as solidly anti-Russian, they all have reasons to exert their independence from Russia.  In this context, one must assume that recent events have transformed the “Ukrainian question” into the “Crimean question” for the central Asian leaders.

Meanwhile, Dan Twining considers the lessons for leaders in the Far East:

First, economic interdependence is no safeguard against military conflict. Europe is Russia’s largest trading partner and the primary market for Russia’s energy exports, which provide 50 percent of government revenue. Moscow craves a trade and investment agreement with the United States. These facts have not deterred Russia from invading Crimea — just as Japan-China interdependence has not moderated Chinese revisionism in the Senkaku Islands.

Second, autocracies overestimate their power and leverage, while democracies underestimate theirs. Russia is a declining power with horrific social indicators kept afloat by oil and gas revenue. Its “allies” — Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia — do not form the coalition of the future. China has much more going for it. But the hype around its rise has inflated Beijing’s sense of itself, while diminishing Western and Japanese confidence. Yet the big democracies have far more internal political resilience than China’s regime, whose greatest fear is of its own people.