Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst

Publication: N15

Review period: August 16-31, 2020

Russia claims regional hegemony in the post-Soviet space and considers that strengthening Western positions in the region poses a threat to its national interests. The purpose of our review is to provide readers with information about important events related to Russia’s policy in the post-Soviet space. The review is a biweekly publication and will be useful for everyone – decision-makers, public employees, media representatives and other people who are interested in the ongoing processes in post-Soviet countries.


Main Events:                                                                                      

  • The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, supports the Belarusian President, Aleksander Lukashenko, to maintain power.
  • The Russian Orthodox Synod appoints a new head of the Belarusian Church.
  • Russian allies will be the first to receive the Russian vaccine.
  • The Russian Minister of Defense met with his Azerbaijani counterpart in Baku after a meeting with the Armenian Minister of Defense.
  • The President of Russia sent birthday wishes to the Armenian ex-President, Robert Kocharyan.
  • The President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, issued an order to study the history of the victims of the Stalinist repressions and perpetuate their memory.
  • Moldova, in addition to Russia, will also receive alternative gas from Romania.
  • The Russian Deputy Minister of Economic Development, responsible for the implementation of socio-economic projects in the occupied regions of Georgia, paid his first visit to Abkhazia.
  • Representatives of the de facto armed forces of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region are participating in the sixth International Army Games for the first time.


Putin’s Full Support for Lukashenko

Main Event:  The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, praised Minsk’s response to the post-election protests in Belarus in an interview with the state TV channel Rossia-24 on August 27.

Event in Details:  On August 9, presidential elections were held in Belarus. The incumbent President, Aleksander Lukashenko, was re-elected with the official results of the Central Election Commission of Belarus crediting him 80.1% of the vote. Protest rallies against Lukashenko, unprecedented for Belarus, were held once the first unofficial results were reported. Lukashenko used repression against his opponents. During the crisis, Putin and Lukashenko had several telephone conversations.  Their meeting is also planned in the coming days.

Russia’s support:  Lukashenko received overt and effective support from Russia alone during the most difficult period of his 26-year rule. The Russian president made a clear statement that he has formed a reserve of law enforcements to intervene in Belarus in the event of “violence by extremists.” Lukashenko has already received support from Russia as Russian journalists were dispatched to fill the positions of those Belarusian journalists in the Belarusian state media who quit  in protest.

Why the Event is Important:  Amid unprecedented protests in Belarus, Lukashenko faces a real threat to his leadership for the first time in his 26-year rule. Recent developments have shown that Lukashenko, to maintain his power, is ready to receive full assistance from Putin, including military. However, this is likely to be achieved through restricting the sovereignty of Belarus.

Why the Event is Important for Russia:  In recent years, Russia has tried to get Belarus to agree on deeper political and economic integration within the framework of the Union State. Lukashenko, however, has been opposed. The crisis in Belarus allows Russia to get more concessions from Minsk through its support for Lukashenko to maintain his power.


Russian Synod Appoints New Head of Belarusian Church

Main Event:  The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church dismissed Metropolitan Pavel of Minsk and Zaslavsk on August 25, 2020. According to a representative of the Synod, the Metropolitan himself requested his resignation from his ecclesiastical title.

Metropolitan Pavel of Minsk and Zaslavsk (pictured left) with Aleksander Lukashenko. Source:  Web-page of the President of Belarus.

Event in Details:   Presidential elections were held in Belarus on August 9. According to the official results of the Central Election Commission of Belarus, the incumbent President, Aleksander Lukashenko, was re-elected. Mass demonstrations and strikes in Belarus have not stopped since the announcement of the election results. Authorities use brutal raids and repressions against protesters.

On the second day of the elections on August 10, Metropolitan Pavel congratulated Lukashenko on his victory. However, after the brutal dispersal of the crowds of protesters and the escalation of repression, the Metropolitan veered slightly and apologized for his hasty congratulations. Later, on August 17, he visited some of the protesters who had been beaten by the riot police.

Lukashenko did not welcome the Metropolitan’s policy and called on the clergy not to intervene in politics. Following the aforementioned, Metropolitan Pavel of Minsk and Zaslavsk, who has held this position since 2013, was dismissed.  

Metropolitan Pavel was replaced by Bishop Venimian of Borisov and Marinogorsk. He was appointed as the Head of the Kuban Eparchy. The previous head of the Eparchy died of the coronavirus on August 8. 

Criticism from the Catholic Metropolitan: The Head of the Catholic Church in Belarus, Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, a citizen of Belarus, was not allowed to enter Belarus from Poland on August 31. The reason for refusing the Metropolitan’s entry to Belarus, most likely, is the criticism from his side on August 27. The Metropolitan condemned the violence by law enforcement forces against the protesters.

Why the Event is Important:  Amid the crucial struggle for power, criticism from religious leaders could become a significant challenge for Lukashenko and delegitimize his actions. That is why Lukashenko is trying to quickly neutralize such authoritative opponents.


Russian Vaccine for Allies

Main Event:  On August 11, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, announced that Russia became the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine.

The Sputnik V Vaccine. Source:  Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation.

Event in Details:  The Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, is financed by the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The vaccine was developed at the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology and one of the largest biopharmaceutical companies in Russia – Binnopharm. Production of the vaccine began on August 15.

The Russian vaccine has undergone only two early stage trials. Without a completed phase III trial, as required by international standards, the effectiveness of the vaccine is the subject of skepticism.

When will a coronavirus vaccine be ready:  According to Alexander Gintsburg, Director of the Gamaleya Research Center, the vaccine will enter into circulation starting on January 1, 2021. The vaccine’s phase III trial is also scheduled for this period.

Who will receive the Russian vaccine: So far, Russia’s closest allies declared their desire to receive the Russian vaccine.

  • Kazakhstan:  Following a visit of the Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, Roman Sklyar, to Moscow, it was announced that Kazakhstan signed a deal to get supplies of the Russian vaccine once clinical trials (all three stages) are completed.
  • Belarus:  According to the press service of the President of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, Belarus will be the first to receive the Russian vaccine. The presidents of the two countries agreed on this during a telephone conversation on August 24.
  • Moldova: The Moldovan pro-Russian President, Igor Dodon, said he had reached an agreement on receiving the Russian vaccine during his visit to Moscow on August 4. Opponents to Dodon consider the agreement unreliable and unpatriotic.

Why the Event is Important:  If the Russian vaccine succeeds, Russia will emerge as an advanced scientific country in the international arena and the vaccine could become a tool of “soft power” that Russia will use to rebuild its shattered reputation.


Russian Minister of Defense Visited Baku

Main Event:  The Russian Minister of Defense, Sergey Shoygu, visited Baku on August 25, 2020.

Event in Details:  During his visit to Baku, Shoygu took part in the opening ceremony of the Sea Cup competition. The competition is held within the framework of the International Army Games 2020. During the visit, Shoygu met with the Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev, and the Minister of Defense, Zakir Hasanov.

Meeting between Ilham Aliyev and Sergey Shoygu. Source:  Web-page of the President of Azerbaijan.

Meeting with the Armenian Minister:  Prior to his visit to Baku, Shoygu met with the Minister of Defense of Armenia, David Tonoyan, in Moscow on August 23.  According to official data, issues of regional security and bilateral military cooperation were discussed at the meeting. As Armenian side reported, further steps in the field of military cooperation were agreed at the meeting. On the next day of the meeting, the Deputy Minister of Defense of Armenia, Makar Ghambaryan, and the Deputy General Director of the United Aircraft Corporation of Russia, Ilya Tarasenko, signed an agreement. Under the agreement, the Russian Corporation will modernize Armenia’s aviation equipment and maintain the full life cycle of aircraft manufactured by Russia (mainly the Su-25).

Border confrontation:  Shoygu’s meeting with the defense ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan was preceded by a confrontation between the parties. A military confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out far from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, about 55 km from the Georgian border, in the Tovuz region of Azerbaijan and the Tavush region of Armenia on July 12. At least five Armenian and 12 Azerbaijani soldiers, including one general, were killed in the clashes.

Azerbaijan’s concerns:  After the border confrontation of July 12, the provision of military supply from Russia to Armenia has been intensified which is a serious concern for Azerbaijan. Aliyev discussed the issue of supplying military goods to Armenia during a telephone conversation with the Russian president on August 12. According to Aliyev’s press service, after the confrontation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Armenia received more than 400 tons of military goods from Russia via the airspace of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran.

Arms trade:  Armenia and Russia are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and in addition to Russian military bases deployed in Armenia, Armenia receives Russian weapons for free or at a reduced price. At the same time, Azerbaijan-Russian military cooperation has increased significantly in recent years. Reportedly, Azerbaijan has purchased weapons worth more than USD 4 billion from Russia in the last ten years.

Why the Event is Important:  Despite the strategic partnership between Russia-Armenia, military cooperation between Azerbaijan and Russia has significantly developed in recent years. Russia is trying to balance its close alliance with Armenia by developing relations with Azerbaijan, including in the military field. At this stage, despite Yerevan’s dissatisfaction, it is important for Moscow to be a conflict mediator between the two countries. Thus, Russia maintains its status of an influential player in the region.


Putin Sent Birthday Wishes to the Armenian Ex-President

Main Event:  The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, sent birthday wishes to the Armenian ex-President, Robert Kocharyan, on his 66th birthday on August 31, 2020.

Event in Details:  Putin’s birthday wishes to Robert Kocharyan were published on the Kremlin’s web-page. Putin personally extended birthday greetings to Kocharyan in a telephone call as well. According to the Russian president, Kocharyan is known in Russia as a “prominent statesman” who has done much for the development of modern Armenia and contributed to the strengthening of friendly relations between the two countries.

Robert Kocharyan was the president of Armenia from 1998 to 2008. Kocharyan faced court trial during Nikol Pashinyan’s tenure as the Prime Minister which began in 2018. He has been arrested three times since then. Finally, in June 2020, Kocharyan was released from prison where he was placed in pre-trial detention. He was accused of “overthrowing the constitutional order” in March 2008 when the government dispersed an opposition rally using force, resulting in a number of deaths and the arrest of the current Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan.

Russia’s position:  The Kremlin considers that the trial against Kocharyan is politically motivated and has expressed support to the ex-president in various ways. For example, when the trial began in 2018, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that such actions contradicted the statements of the Armenian authorities as they were not going to persecute their predecessors for political reasons. After initiating a criminal case, Putin even extended birthday greetings to Kocharyan. At a session of the Supreme Economic Council of Eurasia, held in Yerevan in October 2019, Putin met with Kocharyan’s wife and son.

Why the Event is Important:  Putin’s demonstrative birthday greetings to Kocharyan is a message to the current Armenian government that the Kremlin does not welcome Nikol Pashinyan’s policy of the persecution of former Armenian leaders/presidents who are friends of Russia. Kocharyan was considered one of the most pro-Russian presidents in the post-Soviet space and his imprisonment damages the Kremlin’s reputation as Moscow fails to defend its allies.


Victims of the Stalinist Repressions Were Commemorated in Uzbekistan

Main Event:  On the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions, August 31, 2020, the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, visited the Shahidlar Khotirasi (Memory of Victims) Square and recited surahs from the Quran in memory of the victims of repression.

Event in Details:  Representatives of the older generation, the religious sphere and the creative intelligentsia also attended the event.

Memorial event. Source:  Web-page of the President of Uzbekistan.

At the event, Mirziyoyev spoke about the struggle for independence by their ancestors and about the need to deliver historical justice to the citizens of Uzbekistan. He said that during the totalitarian regime in 1937-1953, 100,000 citizens of Uzbekistan were repressed and 13,000 were mercilessly shot. Mirziyoyev issued an order to study the history of each of the repressed and perpetuate their memory.

In recent years, Memory of the Repression Victims museums have been opened across the country, new books are being written, films are being shot and research is being conducted on the victims of the repression.

Why the Event is Important:  Facilitating the process of understanding the history of one’s own country and assessing the Soviet past is an important step for the Uzbek president towards the consolidation of the nation and the establishment of the Uzbek state.


Moldova Will Receive Alternative Gas from Romania

Main Event:  The grand opening of a new gas pipeline, connecting Moldova to Romania, scheduled for August 27, 2020 has been postponed due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

Event in Details:  The opening of the Ungheni-Chisinau new interconnection gas pipeline was planned for Moldova’s Independence Day on August 27. The new pipeline is an extension of the 43-km Iasi (Romania)-Ungheni (Moldova) gas pipeline (put into operation in 2014). As a result of the EUR 70 million project, Moldova has been connected to the European gas distribution network.

The Moldovan-Romanian gas pipeline. Source:

The new 120-km Iasi-Ungheni-Chisinau pipeline will deliver 1.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year to Moldova from Romania and thus will reduce Moldova’s total dependency on Russian gas.

Challenges:  At this stage, Moldova cannot fully replace Russian gas. Due to technical reasons, Romania will not be able to supply the necessary volume of gas to Moldova in the nearest future. In addition, Moldova buys Russian gas at a reduced price. If in January the price for 1,000 cubic meters of gas was USD 176, by the end of the year it will be USD 100.

Why the Event is Important:  Connection to the European gas distribution network will reduce Moldova’s reliance on Russian gas and significantly increase the country’s energy security which currently depends on only one supplier (Russia).

Russian Government Official Visited Abkhazia During the Pandemic

Main Event:  The First Deputy Minister of Economic Development of Russia, Mikhail Babich, visited Abkhazia on August 20-21, 2020.

Event in Details:  During the new coronavirus pandemic, amid the restrictions on traffic between Abkhazia and Russia, the visits of Russian delegations to Abkhazia were suspended. Financing of projects planned in Abkhazia was also delayed.

During the past months, this is the first time for a high-level Russian official visit. It was the first visit to Abkhazia for Babich as the First Deputy Minister of Economic Development. In January 2020, as a result of structural changes in the Russian government, the Ministry of North Caucasus Affairs was abolished. The Ministry oversaw the implementation of socio-economic projects in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. The functions of the abolished Ministry were taken over by the Ministry of Economic Development. Babich, responsible for the directions of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, became the Deputy Minister.

As part of the visit, Babich met with the de facto president and the de facto prime minister of Abkhazia. He visited completed and ongoing projects funded by Russia in Sokhumi as well as in other settlements.

Meeting between Mikhail Babich and the de facto leaders of Abkhazia. Source:  Web-page of the de facto president of Abkhazia

The Russian budget will spend RUB 4.5 billion in 2020-2022 to implement socio-economic projects in Abkhazia. Construction of 48 facilities will be completed in 2020. Babich’s responsibility is to control the spending of the money.

Why the Event is Important:  Due to the pandemic, the de facto government of Abkhazia faced serious economic challenges. The Abkhaz population did not receive revenues from tourism and the implementation of socio-economic projects funded by Russia is also being delayed. The visit of a high-level official is a message to Abkhazia’s newly elected illegitimate government that they will be receiving Russian funding.


International Army Games and the Occupied Regions of Georgia

Main Event:  The sixth International Army Games, organized by Russia, started on August 23, 2020.

The opening of the International Army Games. Source: Web-page of the Russian Ministry of Defense

Event in Details:  The International Army Games 2020 started on August 23 and will last until September 5. Thirty international competitions are planned in the military-technical field as part of the event. The main organizer of the Games is the Ministry of Defense of Russia.

Most of the competitions will take place in Russia while six of them will be held in Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Uzbekistan. It was planned to hold the event in other participating countries as well; however due to the pandemic, it will take place only in the post-Soviet countries.

Competition participants: Representatives of military agencies from 90 countries, including NATO member states, were invited to participate in the competition. Finally, 30 states will take part. Representatives of the de facto Ministry of Defense of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region will participate in the Games for the first time.

Why the Event is Important: Holding military competitions is a foreign policy tool for Moscow and an additional opportunity to demonstrate Russia’s superiority in the military-technical field.  

Why the Event is Important for the Occupied Regions of Georgia: Participation in the competitions is an opportunity for the de facto governments of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region to gain international legitimacy and enter the international arena.