|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: September 16-30, 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 58th 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.
The Kremlin’s Decision on the Admission of the Occupied Regions of Ukraine to Russia
Main Event: On September 30, 2022, a signing ceremony of agreements on the entry of the occupied regions of Ukraine into the Russian Federation was held in Moscow.
Event in Details: Against the background of the recent failure of the Russian military aggression in Ukraine, Moscow decided to join the occupied regions of Ukraine with the Russian Federation like it did with Crimea in 2014.
To legitimize the annexation of the Ukrainian regions, illegal referendums were held in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics as well as in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions on September 23-27. According to Russia, the “referendum” results showed that the majority of locals supported joining Russia:
The illegal referendums in the occupied regions of Ukraine were held in a war situation and under the conditions of Russian military presence; therefore, the international community does not recognize their legitimacy.
The agreement was signed by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, according to which all four occupied regions joined Russia, forming four new entities within Russia. The Head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushulin; the Head of the Luhansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik; the Head of the Russian-occupied Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, and the Head of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia region, Evgeny Balitsky, took part in the signing ceremony.
Signing Ceremony at the Kremlin. Source: kremlin.ru
Why the Event is Important: Holding the “referendums” was a formality for Russia which Moscow needed to legitimize the annexation of the occupied regions of Ukraine. Such a radical decision can be explained by Russia’s recent failures on the frontline in Ukraine and the legitimization of the general military mobilization.
Russian Ministry of Defense Presented “Evidence” of the Use of Bio-weapons in Ukraine
Main Event: On September 19, 2022, according to Igor Kirillov, the Chief of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection Troops of the Russian Armed Forces, the Russian Ministry of Defense submitted material evidence confirming USA’s military-biological activities in Ukraine.
Event in Details: According to Igor Kirillov, at a meeting of member states participating in the Convention on the Prohibition of Biological and Toxin Weapons which was held in Geneva on September 5-9, the Russian side presented evidence confirming the violation of the Convention by the USA and Ukraine. “None of the delegations doubted the authenticity of the submitted documents,” Mr. Kirillov said.
Igor Kirillov accused Washington and Kyiv of urgently destroying documents on military-biological activities in Ukraine. In addition, he blamed the USA for the fact that only 89 of the 184 countries participating in the Convention attended the meeting due to pressure from Washington.
Why the Event is Important: Russia has long been accusing the USA of using bio-weapons against Russia for which Moscow says Washington uses bio-labs in Ukraine and Georgia, among other places. The issue of bio-laboratories occupies a large place in Moscow’s anti-Ukrainian/anti-Western propaganda which Russia has been actively using since the start of the war in Ukraine, including by running a disinformation campaign on this issue.
OSCE Staff Member Was Convicted in the So-Called Luhansk People’s Republic
Main Event: On September 19, 2022, an interpreter who worked in the OSCE local office was convicted of treason in the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment.
Event in Details: Dmitry Shabanov was arrested in April. He is accused of handing confidential information to special services of a foreign country and working for the US Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Shabanov is a local who was arrested along with five other employees of the OSCE mission after the beginning of the Russian military aggression in Ukraine. After the start of the war, about 500 employees of the OSCE mission left the region.
Why he Event is Important: Russia’s exposure of Western “spies” is a message to the local population that Moscow will not allow the presence of disloyal people in the occupied regions of Ukraine.
Restricted Entry of Russian Citizens to the Baltic States
Main Event: From September 19, 2022, Russian citizens with tourist visas, including with valid Schengen visas issued by third countries, were restricted from entering the territory of Poland and all three Baltic states.
Event in Details: On September 7, the Latvian Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkēvičs, announced the imposition of restrictions. According to him, all three Baltic countries – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – restricted the land border entry for Russian citizens from Russia and the territory of Belarus into their countries.
The restriction applies to Russian citizens holding tourist and business visas as well as those with visas issued for participation in cultural and sports events. An exception will be made for truck drivers, diplomats and those entering Europe for family and humanitarian reasons, including dissidents.
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. From September 19, Switzerland also suspended the simplified visa procedure. From September 30, Russian citizens holding tourist visas will no longer be able to enter Finland.
Why the Event is Important: As Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine continues, Western countries consider it important to put pressure on the Kremlin so that Russian citizens will feel the effects of sanctions more acutely and use the discomfort created to change the Kremlin’s military policy.
Kazakhstan Complicates the Procedure for Issuing Residence Permits to Foreigners (Russian Citizens)
Main Event: On the initiative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan of September 26, 2022, amendments will be made to an order for issuing permits to foreigners and stateless persons for temporary and permanent residence in the country.
Event in Details: In order to obtain a temporary or permanent residence permit in Kazakhstan, it is necessary to submit a copy and original of the national passport. With the new changes, it will be necessary to present a foreign passport and as per another amendment an applicant must submit the original of the conviction certificate and not the digital version which will be certified by the signature and seal of a competent person.
According to the Kazakh side, they will not grant permanent residence permits to Russian citizens without Moscow’s consent. Reportedly, only in April-May, a total of 570,000 Russian citizens entered Kazakhstan. The emigration of Russian citizens to countries where they do not need a visa has increased since the Russian President announced “partial mobilization” on September 21, 2022.
Why the Event is Important: Due to the Russian military aggression in Ukraine, many Russian citizens are leaving Russian territory and traveling to neighboring countries. The ever-increasing number of Russian citizens is considered a source of danger which, according to the decision of the Kazakh authorities, requires more regulation and preventive measures.
Moldovan Citizens Fighting on the Side of Russia Will Be Punished
Main Event: On September 26, 2022, a meeting of the Security Council of Moldova discussed the issue of revocation of citizenship for those Moldovan citizens who hold Russian passports and who participate in the war against Ukraine.
Event in Details: According to the President of Moldova, Maya Sandu, after Russia’s announcement of the “partial mobilization,” there is a risk that residents of the separatist republic of Transnistria will also be drafted for the war. According to Ms. Sandu, Moldova should not allow its citizens to fight “on the aggressor’s side.” At the same time, the punishment of Moldovan citizens who do not have Russian citizenship but will fight against Ukraine is also being discussed. Maya Sandu called on Moldovan citizens to return to their homeland from Russia.
Why the Event is Important: Following the announcement of the “partial mobilization” in Russia, Russian citizens, including those who may hold dual citizenship, are being drafted into the Russian Armed Forces. Many citizens of post-Soviet countries living in Russia also hold Russian citizenship, so there is a high probability that they will also be affected by the conscription. With this step, Moldova is trying to prevent its citizens from participating in the war against Ukraine.
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan Refuse Russian Bank Cards
Main Event: After the announcement of the “partial mobilization” in Russia, Central Asian banks refused to service cards of the MIR Russian payment system.
Event in Details: Halyk Bank, Kazakhstan’s leading financial service group, was the first in Kazakhstan to refuse the use of Russian bank cards. According to the National Bank of Kazakhstan, the country’s legislation does not prohibit the use of Russian bank cards; however, each bank can make such a decision independently.
The situation is the same in Uzbekistan where the use of MIR cards have been suspended since September 23. On September 27, the Tajik Dushanbe City Bank refused to service the system due to “technical problems.” A similar situation was created in several banks in Turkey and Vietnam.
Under the conditions of the Western sanctions, Russia has been developing its independent payment system MIR for several years. These cards are used in several countries including Armenia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well as in the occupied regions of Georgia.
The refusal from banks was preceded by a warning from the US Treasury about possible sanctions. Organizations which promote the operation of the Russian payment system MIR outside of Russia will face the risk of sanctions.
Why the Event is Important: The refusal of the banking sector of Central Asian countries to service the Russian payment system will limit the ability to use MIR cards outside Russia which will harm and impede Russian citizens and companies doing business in these countries. At the same time, with a similar step, the banking systems of these countries will avoid possible Western sanctions.
Samarkand Hosts a Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
Main Event: A summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 16, 2022 with the participation of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. The summit adopted the Samarkand Declaration.
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 attended the summit as an honored guest. Mr. Putin met with the President of Kyrgyzstan, Sadir Japarov, and the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The Russian President also held a bilateral meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev.
At the end of the summit, Vladimir Putin held a summary press-conference. Putin’s official statement emphasized the issue of economic development and West’s anti-Russian policy.
Samarkand Summit. Source: kremlin.ru
The Shanghai Cooperation 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 overtly 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.
Russia Calls on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Resolve the Border Conflict Through Politics
Main Event: On September 18, 2022, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, had a telephone conversation with his Kyrgyz and Tajik counterparts, Sadir Japarov and Emomali Rahmon.
Event in Details: The main topic of the presidents’ telephone conversation was the discussion of the current situation on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border. The border conflict between the two neighboring Central Asian states resumed on September 16. In recent years, military confrontations in border regions between the two countries have become more frequent, resulting in deaths of civilians.
Vladimir Putin called on the parties not to allow further escalation and to use only peaceful, political-diplomatic means to settle the situation. He expressed readiness to help the parties in ensuring stability.
Why the Event is Important: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are both members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The CSTO is a military alliance and unites Russia’s allied states in the post-Soviet space. The conflict between the CSTO members points to problems within the alliance and Russia’s limited resources to prevent escalation of conflict among the organization’s members.
Prime Minister of Armenia Requests the Deployment of an International Mission along the Border with Azerbaijan
Main Event: On September 22, 2022, during his speech at the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, stated that the deployment of an international monitoring mission in the Armenia-Azerbaijan border region will be an important factor for regional stability.
Event in Details: Nikol Pashinyan also spoke about the issue of the deployment of international observers at a government meeting on September 29. According to him, this mission can be implemented by the UN Security Council, the OSCE or any other international organization.
The issue of inviting international observers became relevant after the military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan resumed on September 13. On the same day, the issue of the renewed military confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan was discussed at a special meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on the initiative of Armenia; however, Armenia did not receive practical support from the allies who 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 role. To study the situation on the ground and develop proposals for de-escalation, a decision was made to send the Secretary-General of the CSTO, Stanislav Zas, to Armenia. He arrived in Yerevan on September 23. Mr. Zas also visited the capital of Armenia on September 29.
The CSTO is a military alliance which unites Russia’s allies in the post-Soviet space – Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
Why the Event is Important: Voicing the idea of inviting an international mission clearly indicates that Yerevan is suspicious of Russia’s peacekeeping role and believes that CSTO membership and strategic alliance with Russia no longer guarantee security and support of Armenia during military-political confrontation with Azerbaijan.
Vladimir Putin Hosts Aleksander Lukashenko
Main Event: On September 26, 2022, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, hosted the Belarusian President, Aleksander Lukashenko, in Sochi.
Meeting Between the Presidents. Source: kremlin.ru
Event in Details: Since Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, Aleksander Lukashenko has been meeting with Vladimir Putin most often in bilateral or multilateral formats, including at a summer residence of the Russian President in Sochi. Belarus does not directly participate in Russia’s military aggression, although the Kremlin carried out military aggression against Ukraine from Belarusian territory. Due to its support of Russia, political and economic sanctions are also imposed on Belarus. For example, Belarus is unable to export fertilizers which was an important source of income for the country. That is why this issue was one of the important topics discussed at the meeting.
Why the Event is Important: Aleksander Lukashenko, facing severe political and economic isolation from the West, is forced to seek Russia’s support which he sees as the only way to overcome economic challenges and maintain power at this point.
President of Belarus Paid an Unofficial Visit to Abkhazia
Main Event: On September 28, 2022, the President of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, made an unexpected visit to the de facto Republic of Abkhazia. The de facto President, Aslan Bzhania, hosted the Belarusian President at a state country house in Bichvinta. Mr. Lukashenko left Abkhazia in the evening the same day.
Event in Details: Aleksander Lukashenko arrived in Abkhazia from Sochi, where he met with the Russian President the day before. According to the Press Secretary of the Russian President, Dmitry Peskov, the Presidents did not discuss the issue of recognizing the de facto republic of Abkhazia at the meeting.
Aleksander Lukashenko said that the last time he was in Abkhazia was a long time ago when he was an ordinary member of the parliament. According to him, he discussed the issue of Abkhazia during a meeting with the Russian President the day before in Sochi and they agreed that Abkhazia cannot be abandoned and should be assisted.
According to Aleksander Lukashenko, his visit is not related to any special situation.
Information about the visit was also published on the web-page of the President of Belarus where Abkhazia is not mentioned as a country and Aslan Bzhania is referred to only by name without indicating the status of “president.”
Why the Event is Important: This was Aleksander Lukashenko’s first “unofficial” visit to the occupied region of Georgia. Despite Russia’s pressure, Mr. Lukashenko still does not recognize the independence of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region; however, the Belarusian President may be forced to recognize the occupied regions of Georgia under the conditions of international political and economic pressure exerted on him and when his only supporter is Russia. This visit can also be considered as a preparatory step for possible recognition.
Russia Organized a Regional Forum of Female Compatriots in Bishkek
Main Event: On September 27-28, 2022, a regional forum of female representatives of the Russian-speaking communities of the CIS countries, the Middle East and Asia was held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Event in Details: The event was organized by the Governmental Commission for Affairs of Russian Compatriots Living Abroad. More than 50 women from 26 countries, engaged in active public and social life of diasporas, participated in the event. Among those who delivered speeches were members of the Russian Federation Council and the State Duma, representatives of ministries and organizations responsible for relations with the Russian-speaking population abroad. Participants of the event were also read a welcome speech of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Andrey Rudenko. Mr. Rudenko oversees the post-Soviet countries, as well as the occupied regions of Georgia.
A new concept for Russia’s humanitarian policy
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. 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 concept allocates the issue of finding support for compatriots living abroad as a separate direction. Page 26 of the document also mentions the issue of deepening cooperation with the occupied regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region.
Why the Event is Important: With Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, Moscow’s international reputation has been further tarnished. The goal of such events is to use the existing tools of Russia’s “soft power” to overcome isolation and mobilize the Russian-speaking population living abroad.