|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: September 1-30, 2022
In 2022, we should consider the developments in the post-Soviet countries in the light of the ongoing Russian military aggression in Ukraine. The decisions of these countries are also dictated by Russia’s military aggression. The 57th publication reviews important and/or interesting events in post-Soviet countries which are directly related to Russia’s war against Ukraine.
See also the 50th publication which reviews the developments from February 21 to March 3, the 51st publication which recounts Moldova’s response, the 52nd publication which covers the response of the Central Asian countries, the 53rd publication – about the response of Azerbaijan and Armenia to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the 54th publication about the key messages of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the Russian military aggression and the 55th publication about the response of Belarus to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
Russia Adopted a New Concept for a Humanitarian Policy
Main Event: On September 5, 2022, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, issued an order (N611) on the concept for a humanitarian policy of the Russian Federation abroad.
Event in Details: The concept consists of six chapters and 117 articles. According to the concept, the national interests of Russia in the humanitarian field abroad are: the protection of Russian traditional spiritual and moral values, informing the world community about the historical and cultural heritage of the multi-ethnic people of Russia and the development of international humanitarian cooperation on a fair, open and non-discriminatory basis.
The concept outlines the following tasks: to protect, preserve and promote the traditions and ideals characteristic of the Russian world and strengthen the role, importance and competitiveness of the Russian language in the modern world. The issue of the support and the expansion of the Russian language as a language of international communication has a special place in the concept. The concept allocates the issue of finding support for compatriots living abroad as a separate direction.
What Does the Document Say about Us?
Page 26 of the document also mentions the issue of deepening cooperation with the occupied regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. The priority task remains deepening of cooperation with Abkhazia, the Tskhinvali region, the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and CIS countries in the field of culture, education, science, sports, youth policy and tourism (Article 94). In addition, the document also refers to the importance and the need to protect the rights of the Russian-speaking population on the territory of the Baltic states, Moldova and Georgia (Article 95).
Why the Event is Important: With Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, Moscow’s international reputation has been further tarnished. The goal of the new concept is to use the existing tools of Russia’s “soft power” to improve Russia’s reputation and support the Russian-speaking population in neighboring states.
Armenia Appeals to the CSTO for Assistance. CSTO Sends Its Representative to Armenia
Main Event: On the initiative of Armenia, the issue of the renewed military confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan was discussed at an extraordinary meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on September 13, 2022.
Event in Details: Armenia appealed to Russia for help on September 13 due to renewed fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This decision was made after the session of the Security Council of Armenia. According to the Armenian side, Azerbaijan conducted a military attack on military and civilian infrastructure in the Jermuk, Vardenis, Sotk, Artanish, Ishkhanasar, Goris and Kapan settlements located on the territory of Armenia. The Armenian Foreign Minister, Ararat Mirzoyan, held a telephone conversation with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Karen Donfried.
In turn, the Azerbaijani side blamed Armenia for the incident. According to Baku, Armenia organized a “large-scale provocation,” while the Azerbaijani army was “neutralizing firing points.”
On the first day of the military confrontation, Russian mediation proved ineffective; however, tensions had eased significantly by September 15. More than 100 ethnic Armenians and over 70 Azerbaijanis died as a result of the conflict. Part of the Armenian population was forced to leave the villages bordering with Azerbaijan. At the same time, speeches against the Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, resumed in Yerevan.
Leaders of the CSTO member countries, including the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, participated in the online meeting. The Secretary of the Security Council, Alexander Volfovich, attended the meeting from the Belarusian side. The agenda of the meeting was: “Deterioration of the situation in some regions of the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan and finding support in regulating the situation.” As Mr. Pashinyan informed participants of the meeting, combat clashes took place on September 13 with the use of heavy weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles as a result of which several people died and others were wounded.
CSTO Extraordinary Meeting. Source: odkb-csto.org
Armenia’s allies expressed concern over the escalation of the situation in the region and called for its solution through only political-diplomatic means. The participants of the meeting supported Russia’s mediation mission. To study the situation on the spot and develop proposals for de-escalation, a decision was made to send the Secretary-General of the CSTO, Stanislav Zas, to Armenia.
The CSTO is a military alliance which unites Russia’s allies in the post-Soviet space – Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Meeting Between the Leaders
On September 7, 2022, Nikol Pashinyan met with Vladimir Putin a few days before the resumption of the military confrontation. Mr. Pashinyan’s working visit to Russia took place on September 6-9. The meeting between the leaders of Armenia and Russia was held within the framework of the Eastern Economic Forum – On the Path to a Multipolar World which was held in Vladivostok. Along with the current issues of bilateral relations, the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh was also discussed at the meeting. The Russian President also spoke about ensuring security and stability within the CSTO.
Why the Event is Important: Yerevan has reason to suspect that the CSTO members do not support Armenia and are more sympathetic to Azerbaijan. No member of the CSTO expressed support for Armenia during the second Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020 and no anti-Azerbaijani statements are heard even now. CSTO members do not plan to fulfill their military aid obligations under the organization’s charter and limit themselves to making neutral statements. Such a case is another item of proof for Armenia that Russia and the CSTO cannot really ensure Armenia’s security and being a member of the alliance and having good relations with Russia can no longer prevent Azerbaijan’s military actions against Armenia.
Latvia Plans to Sever Ties with the Russian Church
Main Event: On September 5, 2022, the President of Latvia, Egils Levits, addressed the Saeima (Latvian Parliament) with an initiative to introduce amendments to the law on the Latvian Orthodox Church which will terminate Latvia’s ties with the Russian Orthodox Church if it is adopted.
Event in Details: According to the President, the Latvian state will recognize the independence of the Latvian Orthodox Church if the draft law passes, thereby ending the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church over the Latvian Church. According to the President, breaking ties with the Moscow Patriarchate is critically important for the Orthodox people living in the country, for the entire Latvian society and for national security. The President calls on the Saeima to immediately review the issue and adopt the draft law as soon as possible. The President’s initiative has already received the support of the main parliamentary factions. The local Orthodox Church has also been informed about the legislative changes.
The Latvian Orthodox Church is autonomous, although formally subordinate to the Russian Patriarch Kirill who is known for his close ties to the Russian President and his support for the Russian military aggression in Ukraine. Approximately 350,000 Orthodox people, mostly Russian-speaking, live in Latvia. The Head of the Church is Metropolitan Alexander of Riga and All Latvia who has held this position since 1990.
Statements in Russia
According to a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Gennady Askaldovich, the efforts of the Latvian authorities to isolate the Latvian Orthodox Church from the Russian Orthodox Church will have consequences. He believes that not all state officials of Latvia are familiar with the country’s Constitution, according to which the Church is separate from the state. According to Mr. Askaldovich, the draft law is another populist move ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for October and some politicians are using Russophobia to ensure more seats in parliament.
Why the Event is Important for Latvia: The Russian Orthodox Church is seen as an instrument of the Kremlin’s foreign policy and its activities in Russia’s neighboring countries are not viewed in religious terms. Despite the fact that obtaining autocephaly is a difficult and prolonged process in the Orthodox world, the initiative of the Latvian President is aimed at reducing the influence of the Russian Church as well as Russia’s political influence.
The Initiative’s Possible Influence: Latvia’s initiative may give impetus to similar processes in other post-Soviet, Central and Eastern European countries where a small number of Orthodox parishes are subordinated to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Entry of Russian Citizens to the Baltic States Will Be Restricted
Main Event: On September 7, 2022, the Latvian Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkevičs, announced that all three Baltic countries – Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia – would restrict the land border entry for Russian citizens from Russia and the territory of Belarus into their countries.
Event in Details: The restriction applies to Russian citizens with valid Schengen visas. An exception will be made for truck drivers, diplomats and those entering for family and humanitarian reasons.
As reported on August 31, the European Union will suspend the 2007 agreement with Russia on the simplified issuance of visas. There is still no agreement on a complete ban on issuing visas; however, the visa fee has become more expensive and the procedure for obtaining a visa – more bureaucratic and lengthy for Russian citizens since September 12.
Why the Event is Important: In the context of the protracted Russian military aggression in Ukraine, Western countries consider it important to put pressure on the Kremlin so that Russian citizens feel the consequences of sanctions more acutely.
Russian Special Services Arrested a Russian Citizen on Charges of Spying for Ukraine
Main Event: On September 9, 2022, the Federal Security Service of Russia detained a Russian citizen, Mikhail Baranov, on charges of treason.
Event in Details: On September 13, the Russian Special Service announced the detention of a director of an aircraft factory with access to technical documentation marked “top secret” who took photos of drawings with a mobile phone and transferred them electronically to a Ukrainian citizen, an employee of the Odessa Aviation Factory.
A total of six cases of treason were initiated in Russia in the summer of 2022, including a case against scientists. Before the start of the Russian military aggression in Ukraine, there was a “spy war” between Russia and Ukraine which has gained more intensity during the war. Several cases were launched against a number of government officials for spying for Russia on the territory of Ukraine.
Why the Event is Important: Amid Russia’s war against Ukraine, it is highly likely that the “spy war” will escalate. We should expect more similar cases in the event of a prolongation of the war.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit Will Be Held in Samarkand
Main Event: A summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with the participation of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, will be held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 16, 2022.
Event in Details: The Russian President also met with the leaders of the Central Asian countries within the framework of the summit on September 15. Among them was the President of Turkmenistan, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, who will attend the summit as an honored guest. Mr. Putin met with the President of Kyrgyzstan, Sadir Japarov, and the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
Planting of Trees. Source: kremlin.ru
The organization was founded in 2011 and its members are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Pakistan and India. Iran will soon become a member of the organization. Belarus and Mongolia have an observer status in the organization.
Why the Event is Important: Russia’s political and economic isolation from the West is increasing due to its military aggression in Ukraine. Similar meetings are an opportunity to break through Western isolation and sanctions. Although the members of the organization do not openly support the Russian military aggression, such a summit and bilateral meetings create an opportunity for the Russian leader to acquire allies and/or supporters on the anti-Western front.
Kazakh City Refuses to Hold a “Victory Dictation”
Main Event: The administration of Semey (Semipalatinsk until 2007), a city in the east of Kazakhstan, refused to participate in a Russian propaganda contest.
Event in Details: The administration of Semey refused to participate in a “Victory Dictation” due to the backlash expressed on social media. The International Historical Dictation on the Events of World War II has been held in Russia and its allied states, including the occupied Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, since 2019. The organizer of the event is the Russian House whose representatives are actively working in Tskhinvali and Sokhumi.
Similar events are part of Russia’s “soft power” policy which is aimed at glorifying the role of the Soviet Army in World War II. The victory in World War II is the main propaganda narrative of the Russian government which the Kremlin still promotes today. According to Moscow, the war against fascism in Ukraine is still ongoing.
Against the backdrop of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, Kazakhstan fears that Russia can take aggressive steps against Kazakhstan which the Kremlin considers an artificially created state. In recent months, unpleasant facts were observed in the relations between Russia and Kazakhstan when the latter did not recognize the so-called separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and did not openly support Russia’s military aggression. For its part, Russia hindered the transportation of Kazakh oil to the West.
In Kazakhstan, the influence of Russian culture is still great and the Russian language and television are popular; however, the number of anti-Russian statements in the public space has also increased.
Why the Event is Important: These certain cases are examples of how the pro-Russian attitude of a Russian ally country can slowly change despite strong historical and cultural influence.
Credit Card Tourism Will be Disrupted for Russian Citizens in Uzbekistan
Main Event: On September 12, 2022, at least two banks in Uzbekistan restricted the issuance of bank cards to non-residents.
The so-called “credit card “tourism” developed in Uzbekistan one month after the start of the war against Ukraine. Due to the sanctions imposed on Russia, Russian citizens arrived in Tashkent to obtain MasterCard and VISA cards in Uzbek banks. It became impossible to use such cards issued in Russia from March 6. From March 23, Russian travel companies offered their customers a special package – arrival in Uzbekistan and getting credit cards where they would arrive at a bank at a pre-booked time and get a card. There are similar services in other post-Soviet countries; however, Uzbekistan had the least bureaucracy and the prices were more acceptable.
Why the Event is Important: As a result of the credit card tourism, the number of Russian tourists to Uzbekistan has increased, creating certain positive economic effects, although it appears that the unlimited issuance of credit cards to Russian citizens has also created some political risks. Accordingly, such a decision can be a kind of preventive step whose purpose is to prevent a possible violation of the sanctions regime.
Interview of a Government Official: Key Messages
Main Event: on September 14, 2022, Denis Gonchar, the Director of the 4th CIS Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, gave an interview to the Russian news agency Ria Novosti. Mr. Gonchar oversees relations with countries of the South Caucasus, as well as the occupied Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region.
Denis Gonchar. Source: RIA Novosti
Key Messages of the Interview:
Why the Event is Important: Denis Gonchar, the Director of the 4th CIS Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, oversees the South Caucasus region, including the occupied regions of Georgia. Accordingly, his assessments express the position of the Russian government.