Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst
In December 2017, the Kremlin made important appointments, which will affect the processes unfolding in the occupied regions of Georgia as well. More specifically, an experienced diplomat was appointed on the position of the Head of the Federal Agency for of CIS Countries, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Affairs. As for the Ministry of North Caucasus Issues, a new position of Deputy Minister for Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions has been created.
An Experienced Diplomat Heading Россотрудничества
On 19 December 2017, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin appointed Eleonora Mitrofanova as the Head of the Federal Agency for CIS Countries, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Affairs [Россотрудничества]. She replaced Liubov Glebova, who headed the Agency from 23 March 2015 to 14 September 2017. In September Glebova became a member of the Council of the Russian Federation from the Udmurt Republic.
The position of the Head of the Agency remained vacant for several months, which can be explained, among other things, with the confrontation between various groups inside the Kremlin. According to the prevailing version, Mitrofanova’s appointment was being hindered by the powerful Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, Sergei Kirienko, who is considered to be a backer of Glebova. In addition, Mitrofanova’s brother was also considered to be a hindrance, as he is wanted by the Russian law enforcement structures. Aleksei Mitrofanov is a famous Russian politician, who is a former member of the LDPR and Fair Russia political parties. In 2014, he was stripped off his MP immunity, with criminal proceedings commenced against him and a search for him announced.
Mitrofanova has a rich experience of working on the issues of her compatriots in the CIS countries and on the international arena. In 2001-2003 she served as the Deputy Secretary General of UNESCO in Administrative and Governance Issues whilst in 2003-2004 she occupied the position of the First Deputy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. She was the first woman in the history of Russia who held the position of First Deputy Secretary. Mitrofanova was in charge of protecting the rights of her compatriots living abroad and also developing international cultural connections. Her priorities included protecting the interests of compatriots and strengthening the positions of the Russian language in CIS countries as well as supporting war veterans and Russian speaking pensioners. In 2004-2009 she headed the Russian Center for International Scientific and Cultural Cooperation (Росзарубежцентр) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, which is considered to be a legal predecessor of the Federal Agency for CIS Countries, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Affairs. In 2009-2016, Mitrofanova represented Russia in UNESCO.
After her appointment as the Head of the Agency, among her priorities Mitrofanova named developing Russia’s cultural cooperation with the CIS countries, expanding the teaching of the Russian language in CIS countries and training the teachers. In addition, according to her statement, it is necessary to create a proper condition for dialogue in the countries with which Russia has certain difficulties.
Due to the status of relations between Russia and Georgia, the activities of the Agency in Georgia are constricted; however, it does have representations in Sokhumi (since 2009) and Tskhinvali (2010). At this stage, the Department of CIS Affairs in the Agency is headed by Sergei Malenko, who has occupied this position since November 2015. Elena Volgina is the Head of the Department for Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Her predecessor was Anastasia Miklina, who now works in the Department of Central Asia.
New Curator for Occupied Regions at the Ministry of North Caucasus Issues (Минкавказ России)
On 21 December 2017, Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev appointed Igor Koshin on the position of a Deputy Minister of North Caucasus Issues. According to the decision of Minister Lev Kuznetsov, apart from international cooperation, Koshin will also oversee the relations between Russia and the occupied regions of Georgia. Before his appointment, from February 2014 to September 2017, Koshin was the governor of Nenets Autonomous Oblast. He resigned before the expiry of his tenure. Koshin had one of the lowest ratings among governors. He was being accused of the financial problems of the region, which was also caused by the reduction of oil prices. According to the assessment of the Russian experts, Koshin’s positions in the region started to weaken after state-owned oil giant Rosneft became more active, as Koshin was considered to be lobbying the interests of Lukoil.
In the second half of 2017, the Ministry of North Caucasus Issues, which was created on 12 May 2014, was especially active with regard to the Georgian occupied territories. The appointment of Koshin as a curator of the occupied Georgian regions indicates that the role of the Ministry in the processes unfolding in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region will become more and more profound. Apart from coordinating the implementation of social-economic state programs in the North Caucasus Federal Oblast, the competences of the Ministry also include monitoring the implementation of the investment projects funded by Russia and aimed at social-economic development of the occupied regions. For this purposes, namely for the monitoring of the investment projects aimed at facilitating social-economic development from 2015 to 2017, Minister Kuznetsov visited the occupied regions multiple times in the second half of 2017.
For example, in July 2017 Kuznetsov visited Abkhazia and inspected the rehabilitation works of social objects in Sukhumi. In the same month, he also visited Tskhinvali where he criticized the pace of the construction of the objects, threatening the contractor company with fines. In November 2017, Kuznetsov visited Abkhazia once again and inspected the constructions of No. 2 public school in Gagra, a small electro-station and a hotel. Together with de-facto Prime Minister, Beslan Batsits, he also personally checked the condition of the new elevators installed in block buildings, paid for by Russia. He visited the completed construction work of Abkhazia State University and harshly criticized the builders – he expressed his discontent with the quality of asphalt in the yard of the University as well as the ceilings of the Rector and Pro-Rector cabinets. “Accepting such a result and putting your signature on it is inadmissible, this is really shameful”, – stated the Minister.
In September 2017, Kuznetsov visited Tskhinvali and took a look at medical-social center under construction, surgery center, children’s hospital and university complex. On 8 December 2017, Kuznetsov went to Sokhumi once again where he participated in the session of the Government Commission on Social-Economic Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the de-facto republic. From the Russian side the Commission was led by Vice Prime Minister, Aleksandr Khloponin. During the meeting, they discussed the results of the implementation of investment program for the development of Abkhazia and discussed further plans for 2018-2019. During the meeting, the Abkhazian side especially stressed the effective cooperation with the Ministry of North Caucasus Issues. According to the statement of the de-facto Prime Minister, Beslan Bartsits, the Ministry is one of the most important partners, which is actively involved in the social-economic development process of Abkhazia.
- The appointment of an experienced diplomat as the Head of the Federal Agency for CIS Countries, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Affairs [Россотрудничества] will encourage the activation of the work of the Agency in the Post-Soviet space, as well as in the occupied regions of Georgia. Eleonora Mitrofanova, who, compared to her predecessor, knows the Post-Soviet states better, believes the popularization of the Russian language in the CIS countries to be an important component of the Kremlin’s soft power. In the nearest future, we must expect the increased activities of the agency in this regard, including in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region.
- The frequent visits of the Minister of North Caucasus Issues to the occupied regions of Georgia in 2017 and the introduction of the position of Deputy Minister overseeing the occupied regions indicates that the role of the Ministry in monitoring the social-economic projects conducted in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region through Russian funding, will increase.
The growth of the role of the Ministry of North Caucasus Issues may weaken the influence of the Division for Social-Economic Cooperation with CIS Countries, Abkhazia and South Ossetia at the Presidential Administration in the field of the implementation of social-economic projects. The Division has been led by the Assistant of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladislav Surkov, since 2013. Until now, Surkov and the structures subordinate to him have been controlling the operation of social-economic projects in the occupied regions and the spending of money allocated by Russia. In this regard, the events of the second half of 2017 cause us to think that Surkov may have some competition in this field from the Ministry of North Caucasus Issues, which will intensify the battle for the control of high-budget projects in the occupied regions among various groups in the Kremlin.