Russia’s wild reactions when it thinks it sees its interests hurt in some countries (in the Baltic, in Ukraine or in the West) contrast with the passivity or lukewarmness that it shows in other friendly or highly appreciated states, in which it abandons its fellow citizens to your destiny. The latest demonstration of this kind has been led by the leader of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, by arresting 33 Russian citizens for allegedly perpetrating “a terrorist act” on the eve of the August 9 presidential elections.
Faced with the convoluted narration with which Lukashenko justifies the humiliating imprisonment of the Russians, Moscow has limited itself to asking for a clarification of the facts and has claimed that its people (apparently members of a security company) were passing through Belarus.
Could you imagine such a response if the 33 Russian citizens had been detained in the United Kingdom or Ukraine and those countries had resorted to explanations such as those in Minsk? Would it be possible for Washington to react as Moscow does now if 33 Americans had been arrested in Mexico under such circumstances?
The weak Russian reaction may have various reasons, among them a secret endorsement of Lukashenko’s foul play to secure the most difficult elections of his career or the fear of promoting processes that deprive Moscow of its main ally in Europe. The Kremlin has already accommodated the imprisonment of banker Víctor Babariko, linked to Russian financial interests and Lukashenko’s main opponent. Another question in the medium term is the price that loyal Belarusians will charge Russia, fed up with Lukashenko.
Whatever their reasons, the Kremlin is insecure about how to act to solve a specific problem that affects its citizens when this problem occurs in an allied territory or linked by an advantageous relationship.
Two international examples are illuminating in this regard. The first is that of the population of Turkmenistan who had dual citizenship under a 1993 agreement and who, in 2003, in record time, was forced to choose between Turkmen and Russian citizenship, with the added aggravation that if they chose the Russian lost its properties in the interior of that Central Asian country. In 2003 Gazprom signed a contract for the purchase of almost all Turkmen gas for 25 years and, interested as it was in that fuel, Moscow ended up de facto accepting the conditions of dictator Saparmurat Niyazov. The contract with Gazprom was later revised, but to this day the situation of Russians in Turkmenistan is at the mercy of fluctuations in the gas market.
Vladimir Putin had signed the denunciation of the dual nationality agreement with his Turkmen colleague, but Russia did not denounce it in its parliament and continued to distribute passports after 2003. Since then, those who hold the Russian passport in Turkmenistan (both those who obtained it until 2003 like those who got it later) live subjected to all kinds of shocks and require a Turkmen passport to leave the country. The 40,000 people who obtained Russian citizenship until 2003 were later joined by another 15,000, a tenth of the potential applicants (including Armenians and Tatars), say Russian sources in Turkmenistan. According to these media, “the shameful” gas for people “exchange agreement of 2003 is entirely subordinate to the interests of Gazprom. It is a very illustrative and very cynical situation ”.
Another case demonstrating the Kremlin’s problems in asserting Russian interests in friendly settings occurred in Abkhazia, the former Georgian autonomy that Moscow recognized as a state in 2008. According to Russian diplomatic media, more than 40,000 Russian or Russian-speaking people lost their homes. in that territory, partly because of the fighting in the early 1990s and partly because later, over many years, their houses were occupied or stolen by other local inhabitants (mostly ethnic Abkhaz). A part of the Russian victims of the occupations in Abkhazia decided to defend their interests up to the Strasbourg human rights court and started the judicial route. The Abkhaz authorities agreed with them and recognized them as victims of illegal occupations, but did nothing to return their homes, even after repeated interventions by Moscow, on whose aid Abkhazia is dependent. In 2015, a small group of five families who had not thrown in the towel and continued to uselessly demand the return of their homes in Abkhazia ended up receiving housing, but it was Russia who gave it to them and on their territory, when not even the hardened Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was able to get the Abkhaz to twist his arm. “Vladimir Putin’s Administration gave us the houses that had been built for volunteers at the Sochi Winter Olympics (in 2014),” says one of the lucky ones with accommodation in Krasnaya Poliana.
The specific problems of the Russians in Turkmenistan and Abkhazia have been linked, respectively, to the gas business and the desire not to spoil relations with a key territory for the Russian presence in the Black Sea. “This occurs because the Russian authorities identify their own group interests with the interests of the State and defend them against the interests of citizens both within Russia and abroad,” says Svetlana Gánnushkina, leader of the NGO “Ayuda Civic ”, which helped the group of victims of the Abkhaz occupations defend their interests in Russia. It is the turn of Belarus.