Tag Archives: Belarus

Another suspected Russian soldier was caught with a truck full of ammunition in Ukraine

weapons ukraine russia
Weapons found inside a suspected Russian military truck crossing the Ukrainian border.

Ukrainian border guards detained a soldier suspected of being a Russian army officer who was picked up while riding in a military truck packed with ammunition at the Berezove checkpoint, about 28 miles southwest of the militant-held city of Donetsk.

Guards found nearly 200 cases containing grenades and ammunition, including rocket-propelled shells, inside the military truck.

“He (the Russian officer) had no documents. But he admitted that he was a chief of an RAO (rocket-artillery weapons unit). He is responsible for ammunition supply.

He said that while delivering the ammunition they had got lost,” Oleksandr Tomchyshyn, a border-guards spokesman said. Another man who was detained identified himself as a pro-Russian separatist fighter.

skitch berezove ukraine russia conflict map
National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine

If he is confirmed as a Russian soldier, Ukraine is likely to use the case to bolster its charges that Russia is continuing direct involvement in the 15-month-long conflict and failing to honor a peace agreement worked out in Minsk, Belarus, in February.

 Meanwhile, Ukraine and Western countries contend that Russia is providing troops and weaponry to pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Since April 2014, at least 6,400 people have been killed in the region while Russia continues to deny such allegations, the Associated Press reports.

A spokesman said the two men may have taken a wrong direction and driven toward Ukrainian forces manning a checkpoint southwest of the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk by mistake.

“We can assume that they took a wrong direction while driving, got lost, and came on our checkpoint,” military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanuk told a briefing.

more weapons ukraine russia
Screen grab/Ukraine TodayMore weapons found crossing into the Berezove checkpoint.

The two men wore military uniforms without insignia and carried no identity documents, he said.

In the face of what Kiev and Western governments say is undeniable proof, Moscow denies its regular forces are engaged actively in the conflict on behalf of the separatists.

Though a fragile ceasefire seems to be holding, thousands of people have been killed in the conflict in Ukraine’s industrialized Russian-speaking east.

Ukraine is still holding two Russian soldiers who were captured in May and have been charged with terrorism. Russia says the two men had quit their special-forces unit to go to Ukraine on their own.

Here is a video of the truck found at the Berezove checkpoint:

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World’s Top 10 Heaviest-Drinking Nations

Beer Europe

A World Health Organisation (WHO) report has been released which details the levels of alcohol consumption across the world, revealing an interesting order of countries in the top-ten heaviest drinkers.

All of the countries topping the list are in Europe, according to the “Global status report on alcohol and health 2014.”

Belarus, in eastern Europe,  proved to be the world’s biggest lovers of alcohol, downing 17.5 litres of beverages on average per year.

Surprisingly, the United Kingdom and Ireland do not make the top ten. The report revealed that Britons over 15 years old drink 11.6 litres on average every year, making it joint 17th with Slovenia.

Australia and Canada also failed to meet the top 10 but maintain high levels of drinking at 12.2 and 10.2 litres a year respectively.

The global average figure is 6.2 litres of pure alcohol per person every year, taking into account that the majority of the world’s population (61.7%) does not drink at all.

“More needs to be done to protect populations from the negative health consequences of alcohol consumption,” said Dr Oleg Chestnov, WHO assistant director-general for non-communicable diseases and mental health.

“The report clearly shows that there is no room for complacency when it comes to reducing the harmful use of alcohol.”

Dr Shekhar Saxena, director for mental health and substance abuse at WHO, said: “We found that worldwide about 16 per cent of drinkers engage in heavy episodic drinking – often referred to as ‘binge-drinking’ – which is the most harmful to health.

“Lower-income groups are more affected by the social and health consequences of alcohol. They often lack quality health care and are less protected by functional family or community networks.”

Scroll below to see which countries made the top 10 heaviest-drinkers. Top 10:

10th: Portugal – 12.9 litres

Portugal Beer

Wine wood barrels are lined up to be transported at Palmela’s cellars on the outskirts of Lisbon.Reuters

Joint 9th: Czech Republic – 13 litres

Czech

A bartender serves alcohol at a bar in Prague

Joint 9th: Slovakia – 13 litres

Slovakia

Vladimir Banak of Slovakia presents his Sweet Road cocktail with which he won the final of the classic category in the 35th World Cocktail competition

8th: Hungary – 13.3 litres

Hungary

Antal Kosa, 67, drinks a can of beer during a May Day celebration at the city park in Budapest

7th: Andorra – 13.8 litres

7. Andorra -- 15.48 litres

This tiny landlocked mountain paradise between France and Spain has a huge problem with alcoholism. Andorra is closely associated with the spirit of absinthe.siakhenn.tripod.com

6th: Ukraine – 13.9 litres

Ukraine

A man holds a bottle of beer while smoking with air temperature around minus 15 degrees Celsius in Kiev

5th: Romania – 14.4 litres

Romania

People drink beer inside a frozen truck with a temperature of -8 degrees Celsius during an advertising campaign in Bucharest.

4th: Russia – 15.1 litres

Russia

A customer takes a bottle of vodka from a shelf at a Russian supermarket

3rd: Lithuania – 15.4 litres

Lithuania

Lithuanian FA President Liutauras Varanavicius (L) and former Heart of Midlothian football club owner Vladimir Romanov share a drink at a reception in Kaunas, Lithuania

2nd: Moldova – 16.8 litres

MoldovaBottles of vintage wine are seen in the world’s largest Cricova wine cellar, located outside Moldova’s capital Chisinau

1st: Belarus – 17.5 litres

Belarus

Belarussian hunters have vodka with fried wild boar liver after hunting in a forest near the village of Barovka, east of Minsk

Now Russia and Ukraine are at war over the ownership of St Vladimir the Great

A millennium ago, grand prince Vladimir of Kiev cast a civilisational fault line across Eastern Europe – one that divided the states of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine from the rest of the continent.

Vladimir’s decision to ditch a pantheon of bloodthirsty pagan gods for eastern Christian Orthodoxy was meant to unite the peoples of Kievan Rus, a territory along the waterways between the Baltic and Black seas.

But on the 1,000th anniversary of the death of Vladimir the Great – later to become Saint Vladimir – two of Kievan Rus’ successor nations, Russia and Ukraine, appear to be tussling over his legacy.

Announcing a national programme of festivities around the 15 July anniversary, Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian President, called Vladimir the founder of the “European state of Rus-Ukraine”.

Many in Russia, whose government is also celebrating the jubilee, were incredulous:

“It’s hard to call that an opinion. It’s easy to call it a fantasy,” said Andrei Nazarov, director of the state-backed Russian Military-Historical Society.

Mr Nazarov and many Russian politicians claim Vladimir as a symbol of Russia.

“Thanks to him, Russia became what she is – a mighty state with a strong, Orthodox Christian base,” Mr Nazarov said.

The tug-of-war over Vladimir mirrors a struggle between Moscow and Kiev that heightened last year with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent separatist war in eastern Ukraine.

The conflict highlighted Ukrainian efforts to carve out a historical identity separate from Russia’s, and Moscow’s efforts to stop it flying the Russian coop.

Historians and church figures have stressed that Vladimir is common property and defies nationalisation by any one country.

But according to some, the past is being weaponised:

“We are seeing that archives can also shoot,” said historian Oleg Ulyanov.

A planned 24m statue in Moscow of Vladimir bearing a sword and holding aloft a cross has become a symbol of Russia’s anniversary celebrations. Standing atop one of the city’s few hills, the monument would dominate Moscow’s skyline.

Not everyone thinks the statue is innocuous. Its purpose is to enthrone Moscow as “the mother of Russian cities,” author and poet Dmitry Bykov wrote in a blog post for radio station Ekho Moskvy.

That status has long belonged to Kiev. It was Kiev that Vladimir, then still a full-blooded pagan with a well-stocked harem, reconquered from his brother, Yaropolk, after fighting his way back from exile around 980, according to the histories.

Vladimir in Kiev drove his people into the Dnieper river for a mass baptism. A monument to the prince has overlooked the river since 1853.

Though Kievan Rus controlled the territory around Moscow during Vladimir’s reign, the city had not yet appeared on the historical record.

Vladimir’s association with Russia is doubly helpful for Vladimir Putin – the prince accepted Christianity in the Crimean city of Khersones, adding sheen to Mr Putin’s already popular seizure of the peninsula last year.

Yet ultimately Vladimir, and the common Christian cultural heritage to which he laid the foundation, is a uniting force for Russia and Ukraine that will outlast the current political crisis, says Andrei Zubov, a historian and philosophy professor at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations.

“We’re talking about two very close peoples that want to be culturally – not politically, but culturally – together,” he said.

But stressing unity may not be risk-free.

“The thesis that we are all one people and brother folk may sound peace-loving but it is one of the key reasons for the current war,” said Vladimir Vyatrovich, head of the Ukrainian National Memory Institute.

“The idea that we are one nation with the Russians provides a basis for lots of Russian politicians to sound off about Ukraine’s past and future. Relations between our countries will only normalise when we will respect one another’s desire to be independent and independently assess our own past and future.”

Ukraine crisis: Rebel ‘status’ row threatens truce deal

Rebel tanks in Luhansk, file pic

Ukraine’s MPs have approved changes to the “special status” law for parts of rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine.

The law will now come into force only after local elections monitored by international observers are held in the areas according to Ukrainian law.

The amendments also envisage the pullout of “all illegal armed groups” from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Pro-Russian rebels and Moscow accuse Ukraine of introducing new terms that threaten last month’s ceasefire deal.

Following the agreement in Minsk, Belarus, the ceasefire took effect on 15 February and has largely held despite sporadic shelling.

Both Ukraine and the rebels claim to have withdrawn heavy weapons from the line of contact.

‘Temporarily occupied territories’

The changes to the “special order of self-government” in parts of the two eastern regions were adopted after heated discussion in parliament in Kiev on Tuesday.

The law itself was approved last year.

Self-government for the pro-Russian rebel areas is a key part of the Minsk deal, and Mr Poroshenko’s new legislative proposals are aimed at furthering that agreement.

Map

But a Russian Foreign Ministry statement (in Russian) said the proposals put before Ukrainian MPs included “additional terms never previously discussed”.

The ministry said President Poroshenko had “totally ignored” Minsk provisionscalling for dialogue with the pro-Russian rebels on arrangements for local elections and the regions’ future status.

A statement from a Donetsk rebel leader, Denis Pushilin, also castigated Mr Poroshenko over the “non-agreed amendments”, which he said “breach the spirit and letter of the Minsk accords”.

Mr Pushilin said “the Minsk process is in fact interrupted” because Mr Poroshenko “does not respect the Donbas [Donetsk and Luhansk] people, he does not want peace”.

Mr Poroshenko’s bill says special status would have to follow local elections held in accordance with Ukrainian law and under international observation.

In addition, he says the elections would have to take place without any presence of “mercenaries” and with open access for Ukrainian media.

Separately, Ukrainian MPs adopted a resolution describing as “temporarily occupied territories” parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The Kiev government, Western leaders and Nato say there is clear evidence that Russia has helped the rebels with troops and heavy weapons. Russia denies that, insisting that any Russians on the rebel side are “volunteers”.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in clashes since the rebels seized large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions last April – a month after Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula.

The World’s Longest Railway Is Stalled In Madrid

China Russia Train Map

The world’s longest train route spans more than 8,000 miles, crosses through eight countries, and covers a greater distance than the diameter between the North and South pole.

The China-Europe Block Train begins in the east Chinese city of Yiwu and crosses through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, and France before reaching its destination 21-days later in the Spanish capital of Madrid.

Also called Yixinou, the route surpasses the world’s second and third longest routes, the Trans-Siberian railway (5,772 miles) and the Moscow-to-Beijing (4,340 miles) train.

Yixinou worlds longest train china spainSTR/AFP//GettyJournalists wait to take photos of the first cargo train ‘Yixinou’ from China’s Yiwu to Spanish capital Madrid on November 18, 2014.

In mid-November China launched the 82-railcar freight train from Yiwu, an important wholesale distributing hub near Shanghai, to Madrid.

The maiden convoy pulled approximately 1,400 tons and switched engines 16 times (about once every 500 miles) during the entirety of the journey, Spain’s El País reports.

And now it is sitting in Madrid, despite operators hoping the train would return to China in time for the country’s new year on February 19.

While the new train service is nearly 10 days faster than the traditional sea route, the cost is also 20-30% higher, El País reports. Another drawback of the marathon route stems from the variety of climates the cargo undergoes while in transit.

The harsh Russian winters of minus-22 degrees Fahrenheit cause serious problems for commodities like Spanish wine and jamón, increasingly popular products among China’s middle class, The Local Spain reports.

Consequently, the report adds, “thirty containers set to make the voyage to China remain empty in a Madrid warehouse.”

Yazhong Huang, the Director of Business at the Chinese Embassy in Madrid, told El País, that the European Union is currently China’s largest trading partner with Spain being China’s seventh largest partner within the EU.

 “The volume of bilateral trade in 2013 reached $24.9 billion,” Huang said.

The War In Ukraine Has Reached Another Critical Phase

An aerial footage shot by a drone shows a multi-storey control tower of the Sergey Prokofiev International Airport damaged by shelling during fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces, in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, seen in this still image taken from a January 15, 2015 handout video by Army. REUTERS/Army.SOS/Handout via Reuters
Still image taken from handout aerial footage shot by a drone shows a multistory control tower of the Sergey Prokofiev International Airport damaged by shelling during fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces, in Donetsk.

 

Ukrainian troops launched a “mass operation” overnight, retaking almost all the territory of Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine lost to separatists in recent weeks, even as thousands gathered in Kiev for a state-sponsored peace march on Sunday.

The army’s offensive at the airport brought the fighting close to the big industrial city of Donetsk itself, center of a pro-Russian separatist rebellion.

Residents reported intensified outgoing shelling including from residential areas in central parts of the separatist-held city.

With attempts to restart peace talks stalled, pro-Russian rebels have stepped up attacks in the past week and casualties have mounted, including the deaths of 13 civilians in an attack on a passenger bus, which Kiev has blamed on the separatists.

The separatists had gained control of new areas of the airport and retaking much of this territory was a symbolic victory for Kiev, whom rebels have accused of escalating the conflict.

“The decision was taken for a mass operation … We succeeded in almost completely cleaning the territory of the airport, which belongs to the territory of Ukrainian forces as marked by military separation lines,” military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in a televised briefing.

Lysenko said the operation had returned the battle lines near the airport to the previous status quo and that the Ukrainian army had thus not violated the Minsk 12-point peace plan agreed with Russia and separatist leaders last September.

President Petro Poroshenko underlined the need to fight for Ukraine‘s territorial integrity, as he addressed a crowd of several thousand gathered for a peace march in memory of those killed on the passenger bus.

“We will not give away one scrap of Ukrainian land. We will get back the Donbass … and show that a very important aspect of our victory is our unity,” he said.

Rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko accused Kiev of attempting to return to all-out war, blaming the shelling around Donetsk on Ukrainian army troops.

“We’re talking about Kiev trying to unleash war again,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

UkraineUkrainian government

SYMBOL OF VALOUR

In Kiev, the army defenders of the airport are known by the science-fiction nickname of “cyborgs” in tribute to what is perceived as their superhuman valour.

“Just this past night our ‘cyborgs’ at Donetsk airport demonstrated their courage, patriotism, heroism, as a model for how our country must be defended,” Poroshenko said.

A ceasefire agreed at the talks in Minsk, capital of Belarus, in early September has been regularly violated from the start by both sides, and hopes of de-escalation have diminished in recent days as violence flared after plans for peace talks last week were abandoned.

In Donetsk, residents reported a sharp intensification of fighting.

“It was impossible to sleep — explosions, the walls were shaking. It seemed like they were firing from near the building … The DNR (rebel) army were firing from our district,” 53-year-old advertising executive Alla said by telephone.

Forty-year-old plumber Andrey Tkachenko, who lives in southern district of Donetsk, said the shelling had become noticeably worse in the past 24 hours.

“By now we are able to tell from the sound what’s flying. We’re used to the GRAD missiles, but now something stronger is firing all night and all day,” he said.

The World Health Organisation says more than 4,800 people have been killed in the conflict pitting Kiev’s forces against separatists whom the West say are supported and armed by Russia.

Despite what Kiev and the West says is incontrovertible proof, Russia denies its troops are involved or that it is funneling military equipment to the separatists.

With its runways pitted and cratered, the airport itself, with a multi-storey control tower and extensive outbuildings, has long since ceased to function.

But its hulk, battered by shelling and gunfire, has taken on symbolic value for both sides with government soldiers and separatists hunting each other often at close range in a deadly cat-and-mouse game among the ruins.

Putin’s Eurasian Dream Is Over Before It Began

Putin’s Eurasian Dream Is Over Before It Began

The Eurasian Union that came into effect on Jan. 1 isn’t a sign of Moscow’s growing regional influence. It’s a sign of its decline.

 

 

The Eurasian Union that came into effect on Jan. 1 isn’t a sign of Moscow’s growing regional influence. It’s a sign of its decline.

The Eurasian Economic Union — a post-Soviet economic bloc of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia — was designed to allow the Kremlin to reassert influence in its backyard and counterbalance the Brussels-based, 28-member-state European Union, which has inched towards Russia’s borders over the past decade.

Instead, the Kremlin’s prestige project, announced in 2011, but floated as an idea since 1994, limped out of the start gate in 2015.

Lángoló gázvezeték Ukrajnában - AFP PHOTO / URKAINIAN EMERGENCY PRESS

Since taking power in 2000, Putin moved to rewrite the history of Russia’s tumultuous 1990s, a decade marred by war in Chechnya, an economic crisis in 1998, and a rudderless foreign policy in its former backyard.

Putin not only made Russia’s military relevant once again by modernizing it and setting up military bases in neighboring countries, but also wielded influence with former Soviet countries by controlling economically vital oil and gas pipelines.

The Eurasian Union was meant to be the next step to secure Moscow’s standing as the economic champion of the post-Soviet space.

The Eurasian Customs Union, the Eurasian Union’s precursor, formed in 2010 and designed to remove trade barriers and harmonize tariffs between prospective members, has already faced its share of problems.

 

Originally comprised of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, the integration project expanded to include Armenia and Kyrgyzstan in 2014, but has not delivered the economic boom that its members were promised.

Both Kazakhstan and Belarus have seen their exports become more expensive in the crucial Russian market due to the ruble’s exchange rate troubles, while cheaper Russian goods have made it hard for domestic producers to compete.

As the ruble’s value tumbled some 20 percent in mid-December, consumers from Belarus and Kazakhstan crossed the border into Russia to snatch up deals on anything from cars to fruit as they found their buying power suddenly increased.

But the ruble’s fall will continue to create economic strain for the Eurasian Union’s four non-Russian members and 180-million-person market. In the medium and long term, the economic bloc will likely fail to deliver on its promises of breathing new life into its members’ industries and stimulating much-needed economic growth.

Katonák Moszkvában, a Vörös téren -  Vladimir Astapkovich/RIA Novosti

 

“As Russia’s economy grows weaker, the Eurasian Union becomes increasingly irrelevant and unappealing for its other members,” says Luca Anceschi, a Central Asia expert at the University of Glasgow. “Eurasian integration was supposed to be about economic development, but it’s coming with a much larger price tag than its members expected,” adds Anceschi.

With Belarus and Kazakhstan slowly realizing the economic costs of allying with Russia, cracks in the Eurasian Union are already beginning to show even before the foundations are set.

Since Western countries imposed the first round of sanctions on Russia in March, trade spats between Belarus and Russia have become the norm.

Zavargások AFP PHOTO

 

Despite the political alliance between Minsk and Moscow, Russia banned meat imports from its neighbor in November, saying that Belarus had become a smuggling route for foods banned under the Kremlin’s counter-sanctions against the West. Belarus’s autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko calledthe restrictions “indecent.”

This was followed by another incident, on Dec. 18, when Lukashenko tried to head off devaluing the Belarussian ruble byordering the government to denominate trade with Russia in U.S. dollars or euros.

About 40 percent of Belarus’s exports go to Russia, according to Belarus’s Foreign Ministry, and much of the rest goes to other former Soviet countries closely linked to the Russian economy. The Belarussian ruble lost 13 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar in 2014 and Minsk is clearly worried about the spread of economic contagion from Russia and is looking for added protection.

Káposztaföld Oroszországban - Konstantin Chalabov/RIA Novosti

The Eurasian Union will only yoke the isolated Belarus even tighter to a very unhelpful partner.

The Eurasian Union will only yoke the isolated Belarus even tighter to a very unhelpful partner.

In Kazakhstan, a key country for Moscow’s plans for Eurasian integration, relations with Russia have been strained by mounting economic and political pressures over the past year. Like Russia, Kazakhstan relies heavily on oil to finance its budget and has been hard hit by the price slump for crude.

In February, Kazakhstan’s government devalued its currency, the tenge, by nearly 20 percent in one day due to falling oil prices. Sanctions on Russia have also taken an inadvertent toll on Kazakhstan, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasting that growth in Kazakhstan will slip from 6 percent of GDP to 4.6 percent in 2014 as a result of falling oil prices and the importance of trade with the Russian market.

Orosz katonák a Krím-félszigeten - AFP PHOTO/ VIKTOR DRACHEV

To keep itself afloat and back its way out of Moscow’s economic shadow, Kazakhstan is trying to show the world that it’s still a good place to do business. In November, Kazakhstan’s president of 25 years, Nursultan Nazarbayev, announced a $9 billion stimulus from the country’s national oil fund to boost infrastructure development and attract foreign investment.

This summer, the government unveiled new exemptions that allow foreign investors to avoid paying taxes for 10 years. The government in Astana has also announced that it is prepared to offer 30 percent reimbursement of capital costs to investors once a foreign facility is up and running in the country.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan is also actively strengthening ties with Western Europe. The European Union is already Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner, a relationship that will grow further after Brussels and Astana signed anenhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in October — a deal similar to the one Ukraine signed in September.

 

“The government is taking a gutsy approach to attracting foreign investment and it could actually work,” says Janet Heckman, the head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

A szláv lakosság részaránya a teljes lakossághoz képest Kazahsztánban - Wikipédia
Slavic population in Russia

 

“Our foreign policy has always been about the national interests of Kazakhstan first and foremost,” Erlan Idrissov, Kazakhstan’s foreign minister, told Foreign Policy in a recent interview. In addition to looking West, Kazakhstan has also been deepening ties with neighboring China.

In 2013, China signed $30 billion worth of gas and oil deals and became the top investor in Kazakhstan’s Kashagan oil field — the largest in the world outside the Middle East.

The trend continued on Dec. 14 as China and Kazakhstaninked $14 billion worth of infrastructure and energy deals — an important move for Kazakh economic independence, given that 80 percent of its oil exports are currently dependent on Russia-controlled pipelines and railways.

“We are not pro-Russian, pro-Chinese, pro-European, or pro-American in our foreign policy. We are pro-Kazakh,” Idrissov said. “If Russia can help us, we will turn to Moscow, but if Russia can’t offer us what we need to pursue our interests, we will turn elsewhere.

It’s simply pragmatic.” In Oct. 2013, Nazarbayev accused Moscow of erecting unfair barriers to trade, describing the Customs Union’s Russian-dominated regulatory body as politicized and complaining that foreign trade distortions were causing major difficulties for his country’s market.

Kazakhstan hoped that joining the union would help it develop a strong market for its local exports beyond hydrocarbons, but since accession to the Customs Union in 2010 the country has been flooded with Russian imports.

Kazakhstan hoped that joining the union would help it develop a strong market for its local exports beyond hydrocarbons, but since accession to the Customs Union in 2010 the country has been flooded with Russian imports.

All of this has raised fears in Astana, as well as Minsk, that the Eurasian Union they just entered will, as per Russian design, lock the post-Soviet states into Russia’s political orbit. Fears over sovereignty were increased following the annexation of Crimea in March.

“In the eyes of Kazakhstan, Crimea’s annexation was an announcement that Russia does not respect the sovereignty of post-Soviet states,” says Nargis Kassenova of Kazakhstan’s KIMEP University’s Central Asian Studies Center.

Crimea has left both Kazakhstan and Belarus walking a diplomatic tightrope, unable to fully split with Russia, but weary of its new face. Lukashenko, despite advocating support for Putin, called the annexation of Crimea a “bad precedent” for the region in March.

Speaking on Dec. 15, on the eve of two-day official independence anniversary celebrations, Nazarbayev said that Kazakhstan will celebrate the 550th anniversary of the Kazakh Khanate in 2015 and urged his citizens to defend the country’s independence.

The speech appeared to be a direct answer to a statement by Putin in August, who publicly said that Kazakhs had never had statehood before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

And while Kazakhstan and Belarus are diversifying their economic and political options, the Eurasian Union’s smaller members seem resigned to accept their fates as Russian satellites. Armenia’s National Assembly voted 103-7 on Dec. 4 to join the Eurasian Union along with Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia on Jan. 1.

But even lawmakers who voted “yes” were less than enthused about linking their future to Russia. “We cannot survive without the Russian people,” said Mher Sadrakyan, a member of parliament from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, echoing the view that an alliance with Russia is a necessary evil.

Without Russia, Armenia would be left without support in its conflict with Azerbaijan over the predominantly ethnic-Armenian territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The conflict there has been in limbo since a Russia-brokered cease-fire in 1994. Russia has a military base in Armenia and is the main supplier of arms to the Armenian military. “Without them [the Russians], they will devour us,” Sadrakyan said, referring to Azerbaijan.

Kyrgyzstan will also become a member of the nascent union — but with caveats. Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev signed on the dotted line on Dec. 23, while noting that his country’s economy would not be ready for accession until May 2015. Major doubts persist in Kyrgyzstan about how joining the Eurasian Union will benefit the country’s economy, which relies heavily on the lucrative re-export trade of Chinese goods to other former Soviet countries.

Eurasian Union membership will place new tariffs on Chinese goods, which will effectively strangle the re-export trade and could close major markets in the country — a development that the Kyrgyz Ministry of Labor, Migration, and Youth warned could double unemployment. Still, Moscow is Kyrgyzstan’s main benefactor, providing billions of dollars’ worthof aid to prop up its struggling economy. The country’s leadership is not prepared to put that vital lifeline in jeopardy.

The Eurasian Union looks like a major dud. With Armenia and Kyrgyzstan reluctant members at best, and Belarus and Kazakhstan looking for alternatives to closer ties with Moscow, it’s becoming clear that the Eurasian Union won’t be the geopolitical game-changer Putin hoped for. Eurasian integration was meant to be the final step in Russia’s return to dignity and leadership, but instead the union is evidence of the Kremlin’s decaying foreign-policy aspirations.

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