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Russia's Actions In Crimea Stir Bad Memories In Former East Bloc

Kazakhs protest outside the Consulate-General of Russia in Almaty on March 3, supporting Ukraine "for your and our freedom."
Kazakhs protest outside the Consulate-General of Russia in Almaty on March 3, supporting Ukraine "for your and our freedom."
Russia's intervention in Crimea has brought back bad memories among its former satellites.

In much of the former Soviet Union, and among Moscow's former Warsaw Pact allies in Eastern Europe, there are renewed concerns about Russia flexing its military might on Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula.

Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia -- all former Soviet republics -- have been among the most vocal European Union and NATO member states criticizing Russia.

They, together with Poland, a former Warsaw Pact country, have invoked Article 4 of the NATO treaty -- which allows any member state to convene emergency consultations "whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of any of the parties is threatened."

Moreover, the prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary say their countries are "shocked" by Russia's actions in Ukraine.

They issued a joint statement March 4 saying Russia's military intervention resembles their "own experiences in 1956, 1968, and 1981," references to the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia and the imposition of martial law in communist Poland, respectively.

Czech Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky suggested this week that Moscow's military action in Crimea should exclude the Russian state-run company Atomstroieksport from participating in a $10 billion tender to expand the Temelin nuclear power plant. "Unfortunately, with this move Russia has quit the family of predictable and democratic countries," he said. "It implements its interests through means that can be considered inadmissible and unacceptable."

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, however, later walked back Stropnicky's comment.

Sovereign Concerns

Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca says Russia's intervention in Crimea reminds Moldovans of their 1992 separatist conflict, when the Kremlin backed the breakaway region of Transdniester.

Speaking at the Atlantic Council in Washington on March 3, Leanca portrayed Russia's military action in Crimea as a warning sign about Russian President Vladimir Putin. "If there is no strong response, probably [Putin] will understand that the fait accompli policy is the right policy to pursue and it might just expand further," he said.

In Central Asia, Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry has issued a statement saying Russia's deployments in Crimea "create real threats to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country" and "cannot but cause deep anxiety and concern in Uzbekistan."

But not all of the governments of former Soviet republics are complaining -- at least not out loud. Armenia, for example, has taken steps during the past week to speed its integration into a customs union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

In Moscow on March 5, further economic integration was also on the agenda of talks between Putin and the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan. But in Kazakhstan itself, there have been street demonstrations against draft legislation in the Russian parliament that would make it easier under Russian law for the regions in neighboring countries to join the Russian Federation.

In Kyrgyzstan on March 5, activists also held a protest in front of parliament against Russia's military intervention in Crimea. They demanded that the Kyrgyz authorities urge Russia to stop threatening Ukraine's sovereignty.

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