Caspian Countries Support Ukraine Through Humanitarian Aid Relief
May 2, 2022
On April 8, Uzbekistan was added to the growing number of Caspian countries dispatching humanitarian aid to Ukraine amidst the ongoing unprovoked Russian invasion of the country. The shipment included 34 tons of medicines, first aid kits, and food, which arrived in Ukraine’s western Zakarpatska region. As the Caspian countries offer lackluster statements of support to Ukraine, they have been sending shipments of aid to the country. The unthreatening nature of humanitarian aid in diplomacy is a mechanism for Caspian countries to illustrate their support for Ukraine without alienating an important ally.
The Caspian countries have been wary to outwardly criticize the Russian invasion. Georgia was the only country in the region to vote alongside the majority in the March 3 United Nations vote to demand that Russia immediately end its invasion in Ukraine. Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan abstained from the vote while no vote was recorded for Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In addition, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan voted against the resolution to suspend Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan were absent from the voting, while Georgia voted with the majority in favor of expelling Russia.
Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are among the five countries comprising the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), a multilateral organization designed to bind the economies of Russia and its neighbors. Dissent within the organization could threaten Russia and, therefore, lead to domestic ramifications for the outspoken country. Furthermore, Russia receives large numbers of migrant workers from the Caspian region. In 2021, about 400,000 people from Caspian countries traveled to Russia in search of employment. In addition, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are some of the most remittance-dependent countries worldwide. In 2020, personal remittances accounted for 26.69 percent and 31.32 percent of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan’s GDP respectively. Moscow could have restricted work visas for migrants from the Caspian region as a retaliatory measure for their countries voicing opposition against Russia’s invasion.
Nevertheless, economic sanctions imposed on Russia are precipitating a cascading effect across the Caspian region. Sanctions have forced Western businesses to shutter their storefronts in Russia and prompted Russian businesses to downsize in anticipation of lower economic output. Millions of migrant workers from the Caspian region were the first to be burdened by the blow. Lower employment rates in Russia will expectedly result in fewer remittance payments to the Caspian.
Countries that rely on remittance payments will experience economic pain domestically and will be unable to support returning migrants from Russia in their own labor force. Aigul, a migrant worker from Kyrgyzstan, expressed concern about finding suitable employment to support her family back home, saying, “From morning to night we pray, we ask God for peace. We are afraid [the war] also hit us.” Similarly, an Azerbaijani restaurant administrator in Moscow described the situation as dire, explaining that he was unable to remit his income to his family back home in the South Caucasus. Although the South Caucasus and Central Asia have been spared from the direct violence caused by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the economic impacts have swept through the Caspian region. Frustrations with Moscow over the large-scale effects of the Ukrainian invasion could become a factor in the region’s waning support for Russia.
Humanitarian aid is a nonconfrontational form of support and could perhaps be the largest action that the Caspian countries can take without raising alarm in the Kremlin. In March, Kazakhstan sent humanitarian aid packages containing valuable medicines to Ukraine at the request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The $2.2 million humanitarian aid delivery was in alignment with Kazakhstan’s foreign policy to “support countries whose populations, due to various circumstances, find themselves in a difficult humanitarian situation,” according to the Kazakhstani government. Its statement skirted inflammatory remarks of the invasion and avoided placing blame. Azerbaijan quickly followed suit, dispatching $5.9 million worth of medical supplies and personal-care products to Ukraine. Baku ordered its state-owned oil company, SOCAR, to supply free fuel to ambulances and emergency vehicles in Ukraine. The Georgian government also commissioned its own shipment of humanitarian aid to the war-torn country.
The Caspian countries have affirmed their support for territorial integrity and called for a quick resolution to the invasion. However, their inextricable link with the Russian economy as well as their own fears of an impending Russian incursion within their borders have left many in the region careful not to rile the Kremlin. Still, the Caspian region has uncovered a method to support Ukraine without estranging Russia. Humanitarian aid is important for civilians living in the crossfire of the violence, but its political statement still does differ from the military aid seen from the United States and Europe.