How The Rest Of The Former Soviet Union Reacted To Russia Invading Ukraine

The Soviet Union broke up into Russia, Ukraine, and 13 other countries. After Russia’s de facto takeover of Crimea, some are having invasion flashbacks. Others haven’t commented at all.

1. Georgia

David Mdzinarishvili / Reuters

Official language: Georgian
Ethnic Russian population: 2%

The Georgian government is none too pleased about what’s happening in Ukraine, considering that it waged a five-day war with Russia over Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia in 2008. Russia is one of the few countries to have recognized South Ossetia, as well the separatist region of Abkhazia, as independent. It has also issued passports to people living there and argues that it has the right to use military force to protect Russian citizens abroad. Sound familiar?

Official language: Estonian
Ethnic Russian population: 25%

As events in Crimea kicked off, around 200 Estonians showed up to protest in the capital of Tallinn. A few scuffles broke out between anti-war demonstrators and supporters of Russia.

The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — part of the European Union since 2004 — officially consider the Soviet era an illegal occupation. Russia loudly disagrees.

3. Latvia

Ints Kalnins / Reuters

Official language: Latvian
Ethnic Russian population: 27%

Latvians also turned out to protest after Russia authorized the use of military force in Ukaine. The Latvian government called out Russia for pretending that the well-equipped soldiers in unmarked uniforms patrolling Crimea weren’t its troops. Pretty much what you’d expect from a country with an entire museum dedicated to chronicling Soviet oppression.

Official language: Lithuanian
Ethnic Russian population: 6%

Lithuanians protested outside the Russian Embassy with signs reading “Kill Your Inner Putin” and “Hands Off Ukraine.” Lithuania was the first country to break off from the Soviet Union. Moscow sent in tanks to crush their independence movement, so you can see why Lithuanians feel for Ukraine right now.

5. Kazakhstan

Shamil Zhumatov / Reuters

State language: Kazakh
Official language: Russian
Ethnic Russian population: 24%

Kazakhstan isn’t a great place to speak up, especially if you’re a worker on strike, a journalist, or an opposition political activist. But a small protest took place in Almaty. The sign above shows Ukraine and Kazakhstan shaking hands and reads “For your and our freedom.”

Kazakhstan and Belarus are members of the Russian-backed Customs Union, a zone of influence Putin has used to channel the old Soviet empire and flip the EU the bird. But many ethnic Russians live in Kazakhstan and the government can’t be thrilled about the idea of Putin intervening to “protect” them at some point.

6. Belarus

Ria Novosti / Reuters

Official languages: Belarusian, Russian
Ethnic Russian population: 8%

Alexander Lukashenko rules the country by channeling Joseph Stalin, and he’s actually said it’s better to be a dictator than to be gay. In February he declared, “There will be no Maidan in Belarus,” referring to the square occupied by the Ukrainian protest movement. After Russian troops occupied Crimea, police broke up an anti-war protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Minsk, arresting 21 people.

Like ethnic Ukrainians, Belarusians have close linguistic and cultural ties to Russia.

7. Moldova

Gleb Garanich / Reuters

Official language: Romanian
Ethnic Russian population: 6%

Ukraine’s next-door neighbor Moldova really wants to be part of the EU. It’s gone so far as to name its foreign ministry the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration. But like Georgia, Moldova has a pesky breakaway region recognized and propped up by Russia. It’s called Transnistria. Russia has issued passports to residents and stationed troops there. You know the drill.

So Moldova’s government isn’t thrilled with what’s happening in Crimea right now.

8. Uzbekistan

Ria Novosti / Reuters

Official language: Uzbek
Ethnic Russian population: 6%

Accused of boiling his opponents alive, Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov isn’t exactly top of the list when it comes to human rights. His totalitarian government has ordered lethal crackdowns on protesters and blocked websites like The New York Times. Its censors don’t seem to mind local platforms like Bamboo, an apparently state-sanctioned (and presumably monitored) version of Twitter.

Eight people in Uzbekistan were detained in January after demonstrating in support of the Ukrainian protest movement. But while Karimov is surely no fan of Ukraine’s new government, Uzbekistan released a brief statement expressing hope for “maximum restraint and wisdom” around the situation in Crimea. It doesn’t mention Russia.

9. Kyrgyzstan

Ria Novosti / Reuters

Official languages: Kyrgyz, Russian
Ethnic Russian population: 13%

Kyrgyzstan’s no stranger to revolution – it’s had two in the last decade, in 2005 and 2010. But the country is firmly in Moscow’s camp. About one in five Kyrgyz are working abroad, mostly in Russia, so President Almazbek Atambayev probably doesn’t want to cross Putin. In 2012, Kyrgyzstan extended Russia’s lease on an air base in exchange for a debt write-off. It didn’t renew the U.S. lease on the Manas Transit Center and may hand ownership of the facility to Russia.

Kyrgyzstan hasn’t commented on the situation in Crimea. It plans to join Moscow’s Customs Union.

10. Tajikistan

Ria Novosti / Reuters

Official language: Tajik
Ethnic Russian population: 1%

Tajikistan has the tallest flagpole in the world. It’s also the poorest country in the former Soviet Union, ruled by authoritarian President Emomali Rakhmon. By one estimate, as many as half of Tajikistan’s working-age men are migrant laborers in Russia and other countries. Moscow has used this as a lever to pressure Rakhmon, like the time Tajikistan jailed a Russian pilot and Russia responded by rounding up Tajik guest workers.

Tajikistan hasn’t made a statement about Russia’s military movements in Ukraine.

11. Turkmenistan

Stringer / Reuters

Official language: Turkmen
Ethnic Russian population: 4%

Human rights organizations slammed J.Lo for performing for Turkmenistan’s dictator last summer. The resource-rich country sells a lot of gas to Russia but has started to look beyond the Russian market. Most of its people are still impoverished.

That’s President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov waving from a sign in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. His government hasn’t commented.

12. Azerbaijan

David Mdzinarishvili / Reuters

Official language: Azeri
Ethnic Russian population: 1%

Territorial integrity is a touchy subject for oil-rich Azerbaijan and its neighbor Armenia. The disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies within Azerbaijan’s borders and is populated mostly by ethnic Armenians, declared itself independent after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a war over Nagorno-Karabakh, leaving an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people dead before a 1994 ceasefire. Armenia won control of the enclave. Azerbaijan wants it back.

Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to Ukraine stood up for the inviolability of Ukraine’s borders, but a Foreign Ministry official told the country doesn’t want to ruffle feathers with Russia or the West by making a statement.

Official language: Armenian
Ethnic Russian population: 0.5%

Armenia has flirted with Europe, but at the end of the night it’s going home with Russia. Last fall, the country agreed to join the Customs Union led by Putin, ruling out signing an Association Agreement with the European Union. But it’s still trying to stay on good terms with the West.

After Russia intervened in Crimea, a small anti-war protest took place outside the Russian Embassy in Yerevan, the country’s capital. The police detained four people. Armenian activists released a statement condemning Russia’s “imperial ambitions.”

Armenia’s government hasn’t made a statement on Crimea.

Correction: This story originally mistakenly identified Bamboo as state-sponsored. It also mistakenly identified Moldovan as the official language of Moldova. It is Romanian.

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