Russia's Cultural Influence in Former Soviet States

Mar 10, 2014 | 18:58 GMT

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Russia's Cultural Influence in Former Soviet States

Former Soviet states are carefully monitoring the events in Crimea, which will decide March 16 whether it will be annexed by Russia. Like most states in Russia's periphery, Crimea has a substantial ethnic Russian population that Moscow can use to improve its geopolitical position.

In 2010, Russia expanded its defense doctrine to include a policy that protects ethnic Russians and Russian citizens beyond its borders — a policy that was reinforced by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said his country's actions in Ukraine were meant to protect those citizens. Moscow has also made it easier for ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in other countries to gain Russian citizenship.

These moves have raised concerns in other former Soviet states. They are particularly worried that Russia could meddle in their affairs, as it did in Ukraine, under the guise of protecting ethnic Russians or Russian citizens. The Baltic states — especially Latvia and Estonia, which have large Russian populations but are traditionally anti-Russia — have been the most vocal about Russia's intentions to destabilize their countries. (In Latvia, the pro-Russia population has already organized into a formidable domestic political party.) But even countries that view Russia more favorably, such as Kazakhstan, are concerned about Russia's policies on ethnic Russians. Despite deeper political and economic integration between Russia and Kazakhstan over the past decade, Astana has implemented stringent laws on language and education to marginalize the Russian language and separate ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan from Russia.

Crimea has yet to decide its future. But the presence of Russian populations in former Soviet states will compel their respective governments to monitor the situation closely to make sure Moscow does not exploit their countries as it did Ukraine.