After offering a coldly efficient example in Ukraine of the use of hard power, Russia’s paramount leader Vladimir Putin is turning his attention to shoring up Moscow’s soft power capabilities, namely keeping his vision for Eurasian unification on track. There are signs, however, that his Eurasian aspirations will be more difficult to fulfill than his Crimean land-grab.
Kremlin kingpin Vladimir Putin’s pet project to drive former Soviet states back into Moscow’s embrace – via the Customs Union -- is gathering momentum. But the possibility of expansion doesn’t thrill all the union’s current members.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that dissidents in much of the former Soviet Union were a bunch of foul-mouthed junkie pornographers.
In March, police in Azerbaijan arrested Mahammad Azizov on drugs charges. A few weeks later, they picked up Dashgin Malikov. Days later, Taleh Bagirov was nabbed. On May 9, it was Rashad Ramazonov's turn.
Uzbekistan on June 28 announced that it has suspended its membership of the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), saying the organization ignores Uzbekistan and does not consider its views. The CSTO is largely billed as an antiterrorism organization and it includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.
A customs union is still several months away from taking effect, but Russia already seems to be exerting influence over Kazakhstan’s trade. Concerned that its own market will become flooded with smuggled Chinese goods, Moscow is pressuring Astana to tighten controls at the Kazakhstani-Chinese border before July 1, when Russia is due to remove its checkpoints along its frontier with Kazakhstan.
Azerbaijan is grappling to come to terms with a fresh Internet news scandal. This one doesn’t concern pesky domestic bloggers who tweak government sensitivities. And it is not about media rights. Rather, it covers a topic generally given a wide berth in Baku, even by Azerbaijan’s political opposition -- First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva.