Central Asia can’t stand up to Putin. Neither can the West - Exclusive

Central Asia can’t stand up to Putin. Neither can the West

Central Asian leaders’ open flattery towards Putin during their meeting in Kazan on Wednesday, just days after Navalny’s death, was an unsavoury thing to hear and watch.  

Navalny’s physical elimination, the meeting with the Belarusian and Central Asian leaders in Kazan as well as the recent interview with US journalist Tucker Carlson all look like part of Putin’s ‘election campaign’. 

The visiting leaders were made to sit down with Putin and say on camera something to the effect that they see nobody else but him as Russia’s leader after the 17 March vote. 

President Tokayev said that “of course, there are no doubts whatsoever about the outcome, because under your authoritative leadership Russia has been achieving impressive successes”. 

Tokayev added that Putin’s statements “shape the global agenda”, and Russia’s economy, “despite difficult conditions has achieved great successes.” 

Uzbek president Mirziyoyev said that “in Uzbekistan, we are very confident of your absolute victory”.  

He added that “as agreed, one of your first [foreign] visits [after re-election] will be to Uzbekistan”. 

It can be assumed that Putin needed at least some kind of pre-election ‘endorsement’ from outside Russia. Even if it can be ‘sold’ only to brainwashed Russian voters.  

The Central Asian leaders, admittedly far from being ‘squeaky clean’ themselves in terms allowing fair elections, but also for a number of other reasons, have no choice but to play along.   

The same day the Central Asian leaders were having their audiences with Putin, Belarusian (Buro Media) and Russian (Verstka) journalists and the OCCRP published a new investigation showing how Kazakhstan is helping, or being used by Putin’s regime to circumvent Western economic sanctions.  

It exposed a “false transit” scheme that allowed continued exports of high-tech foreign goods into Russia: a Kazakh company would order these goods from Europe and have them delivered for temporary storage to Belarus; then the company would ask the Belarusian storage company to ship the goods to Russia. 

Citing Russian customs data, it said the scheme had been used to supply nearly 5.9m dollars’ worth of goods to Russian companies “with extensive military contracts”.  

The report cited Erlend Björtvedt, CEO of Corisk, a Norwegian risk advisory firm, as saying that while Belarus acts as the main “gateway” to Russia for sanctioned “war-relevant” goods, with Turkey being another “key pathway”, Central Asian companies “act as middlemen in the trade but the sanctioned goods are not actually routed physically via those countries.” 

He said “the Belarus loophole” can only be closed through imposing similar sanctions against it as against Russia. 

Bjortvedt’s remarks suggest that Central Asia is clearly not Russia’s main ‘helper’ in evading sanctions. It is a far bigger issue, including the West’s failure to sanction Russia’s main ally, Belarus. 

But not only that. Often, the sellers of banned goods to Russia are Western companies, and Western governments do not seem to have the will to stop them. 

According to an investigation published by Britain’s Sky News on Wednesday, UK companies are continuing to sell drone equipment and heavy machinery to Russia. 

It said that although UK exports to Russia have fallen sharply, exports of the said goods to Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Georgia and Uzbekistan have risen at “an unprecedented” rate since 2022, by more than 500 percent (and by over 1,100 percent to Kyrgyzstan). 

The report quoted Robin Brooks, former chief economist of financial body the IIF, as saying the same «has been going on for some time, with other European countries, notably Germany and Poland». 

«It is at this point widely known in Brussels, and I think there is a key question as to why nothing is being done at a central EU level to stop this,» Brooks said. 

Unlike the Central Asian leaders, Western leaders can afford to be staunchly critical of Putin verbally, and stop meeting and shaking hands with him.  

Apart from that, they too do not seem to be able to really stand up to him. 

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  1. […] В отличие от центрально-азиатских лидеров, западные лидеры могут позволить себе жестко критиковать Путина на словах и перестать встречаться и пожимать ему руки. Но в реальности, они тоже, похоже, не в состоянии ему противостоять.English version: Central Asia can’t stand up to Putin. Neither can the West […]