Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst

Publication: N16

Review period:  September 1-15, 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 President of Belarus received a pledge of assistance from his Russian counterpart.
  • Joint Russian-Belarusian military exercise, the Slavic Brotherhood-2020, started near the western border of Belarus.
  • Belarus will export oil products from Russian ports instead of Lithuanian ports.
  • Another patriotic project – the Park of Living History, Fedyukhiny Heights, was opened in Crimea.
  • The meeting of the advisers of the leaders of the Norman Four was held in Berlin.
  • Russia assists its allies with books and hot meals.
  • The de facto leaders of the occupied regions of Georgia met with Russian officials at the Kremlin.
  • The Russian embassy in Turkmenistan expressed concern with the closure of the Russian classes.
  • Azerbaijan has reconsidered its participation in large-scale military exercises in the Southern Military District of the Russian Federation.


Russian President Pledged Financial Assistance to his Belarusian Counterpart

Main Event:  The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, hosted his Belarusian counterpart, Alekasnder Lukashenko, in Sochi on September 14, 2020. The face-to-face meeting lasted more than four hours. This is Lukashenko’s first visit abroad since the August 9 elections in Belarus.

Meeting of Vladimir Putin and Aleksander Lukasheko in Sochi. Source:  Web-page of the Russian Presidential Adminsitration.

Event in Details:  According to the official results of the Central Election Commission of Belarus, Lukashenko received 80.1% of the vote in the August 9 presidential elections while opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, received 10.1%. Mass rallies have been held in Minsk and other cities of Belarus demanding Lukashenko’s ouster since then. Hundreds of thousands of protesters joined the latest large-scale demonstration, the “March of Heroes,” in Minsk and other cities on September 13. Workers of leading enterprises also went on strike and prominent Belarusians made protest statements.

To suppress the protest, the government arrests, intimidates or imposes fines on demonstrators. At this stage, protest leaders are neutralized (either imprisoned or forced to emigrate).

Russia’s support:  The ongoing political crisis in Belarus is the biggest challenge to Lukashenko’s power during his 26-year rule. Despite Lukashenko’s anti-Russian pre-election rhetoric, he asked Russia for help after the elections. In addition to ministerial meetings, Lukashenko hosted the Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, on September 3. The high-level meetings ended with a direct meeting between Lukashenko and Putin.

Lukashenko-Putin Meeting: During the face-to-face meeting, Putin personally congratulated Lukashenko on his “victory” in the elections. Putin expressed overt support to Lukashenko and recognized him as the legitimate leader of Belarus. Putin commented on the ongoing processes in Belarus, saying that the Belarusians should sort out the situation in their country themselves without foreign interference.

The parties did not sign any document during the meeting; however, Lukashenko received several promises from Putin:

  • Russia will provide a USD 1.5 billion loan to Belarus. In Belarus, amid the foreign currency deficit created due to the political crisis, Russian aid is significant, considering that the International Monetary Fund refused Minsk’s request in March to grant Belarus a USD 940 million loan.
  • Restrictions on air and land transportation, imposed by Russia since the end of March due to the coronavirus pandemic, will be resumed.  
  • The work of the intergovernmental commission and key enterprises will be intensified.
  • Belarus will be the first to receive the Russian vaccine against the coronavirus.
  • The parties will cooperate in the field of defense.
  • Russia will withdraw the reserve, comprised of representatives of the law enforcement bodies and the National Guard, from the border of Belarus.

Why the Meeting is Important:  The main outcome of the meeting is the Putin’s pledge to provide a USD 1.5 billion loan to Belarus. Prompt financial assistance is vital for Lukashenko to overcome the economic challenges posed by the political crisis and the pandemic. Russia’s political and financial support will help Lukashenko maintain his power for the short term.


Launch of the Slavic Brotherhood – 2020

Main Event:  Military exercises, the Slavic Brotherhood-2020, launched in Belarus on September 14 2020.

Military exercises in Belarus. Source:

Event in Details:  Joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises, the Slavic Brotherhood 2020, will be held in Belarus at the Brest military training ground, near the Polish border, on September 14-25. According to the organizers, the military exercises have been regularly held annually since 2015. According to the Russian side, the Russian military servicemen will leave the territory of Belarus after the end of the exercises.

The Serbian military forces were also expected to take part in the exercises; however, due to political pressure from the West, Belgrade refused to participate. The exercises were held in Serbia in 2019, and in Russia in 2018.

Regional context: President Aleksander Lukashenko has blamed the Western countries, especially its immediate neighbors Lithuania and Poland, for the political crisis following the August 9 presidential elections in Belarus. To paint the image of the enemy, Lukashenko accuses Poland of seizing western Belarusian lands and NATO of an attempt of military aggression.

Why the Event is Improtant:  Despite the fact that the military exercises are held regularly, Lukashenko’s goal is to show the West that he has Russia’s support under the given regional context. From a domestic political prospective, Lukashenko wants to create an “enemy icon” in the form of the West and show the Belarusians that only he can defend the country against the “enemy.”


Belarus Will Export Oil Products from Russia Instead of Lithuania

Main Event:  On September 7, 2020, Alexander Tishenko, a spokesman for the Belarusian concern Belneftekhim, announced that talks had begun on re-routing export flows of Belarusian oil products from Lithuania to Russian ports.

Event in Details:  On September 3, the Russian Energy Minister, Aleksander Novak, said that Moscow and Minsk are considering re-routing the export flow of Belarusian oil products s from Lithuania to Russian ports.

Belarus exports oil products mainly from Lithuanian ports. The purpose of the current negotiations is to redirect export flows from the ports of St. Petersburg and Ust-Luga. At this stage, the export-related economic issues are being clarified so that the export of Belarusian oil products is profitable for all participants (oil refineries, ports, carriers, railway lines).

Political context:  The presidential elections in Belarus were held on August 9. Protests against the incumbent President, Aleksander Lukashenko, have been held since then.

The West has not recognized the election results and the European Union plans to impose sanctions on high-rank officials in Belarus. Lithuania sharply criticizes Lukashenko and is calling for tougher sanctions against him. Only Russia supports the Belarusian leader in the current political crisis.

Why the Event is Important:  After the elections in Belarus, Lithuania became one of the most outspoken critics of Lukashenko’s rule. Despite years of successful cooperation in the energy sector, re-routing export flows of oil products from Lithuania to Russia might be considered as a political decision caused by Lithuania’s active support of Lukashenko’s opposition.


Opening of a Military Park in Crimea

Main Event:  A military theme park was opened in Crimea on September 4, 2020.

Event in Details:  The opening of a military theme park near Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula occupied by Russia was marked by reenactments of a key battle of the 19th-century Crimean War. The park is dedicated to “reviving the 2000-year history of Crimea.”

The reenactment of a battle from the Crimean War. Source:  RFE/RL.

The Park of Living History, Fedyukhiny Heights, is a cultural-educational park where the 2000-year history of Crimea is presented in thematic spaces. The park aims at creating a “powerful cultural and educational center that will attract the Crimean people and tourists from all over Russia.”

Construction of the park began in 2014 after the occupation and annexation of the peninsula by Russia. The construction of the park was partially funded by the Russian government.

Why the Event is Important:  The resurgence of Russian military history is a part of the Kremlin’s patriotic projects aimed at strengthening the patriotic spirit of Russian society and legitimizing the annexation of Crimea.


Regular Meeting of Advisers of the Leaders of the Norman Four was Held in Berlin

Main Event:  A meeting between advisers of the leaders of the Norman Four was held in Berlin on September 11, 2020.

Event in Details:  The Norman Four (the Normandy Format) is a group comprised of the leaders of Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France aimed at resolving the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The Format was created in Normandy on June 6, 2014 when the leaders of the four countries marked the 70th anniversary of the Allied Landing Operation.

From the Russian side the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, Dmitry Kozak, participated in the meeting. Kozak, in addition to the Ukrainian direction, also supervises the directions of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. According to Kozak, the negotiations ended without any progressive results.

It was the first meeting since July when, reportedly, Kozak did not see any prospects for further negotiations and Russia also stressed the ineffectiveness of the meetings. The meeting did take place which gives hope for the continuation of negotiations despite Kozak’s statement that the issue of meeting the leaders of the Four was not even discussed.

The meeting was preceded by an unpleasant fact:  Donbass was at peace for almost six weeks until September 6 when a Ukrainian military was killed.

Why the Event is Important:  Despite the lack of progress in resolving the conflict in Donbass, the negotiations will weaken confrontations in the conflict zone for a short term.


Russia Assists its Allies with Books and Food

Main Event:  Russia will assist its allies in the post-Soviet space with textbooks and food.

Event in Details: Under the UN World Food Program, Russia assisted eight countries with books and food in 2020, providing 58.5% of the total aid (USD 15.5 million) to Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Russia has contributed USD 26.5 million to support the program since the beginning of 2020. As announced on September 7, the Russian-backed hot meals assistance would be delivered to 100 schools in Kyrgyzstan. Hot meals assistance will also be provided to Tajikistan. Russia will spend USD 21 million for food provision and renovation of  school canteens in Tajikistan by 2023.

According to the Russian Federal Agency for CIS States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Affairs, 97,988 textbooks and fiction books will be sent to the post-Soviet countries in the fall of 2020. Armenia will receive the most – 18,562 books. Books will also be delivered to the occupied regions of Georgia:  Abkhazia will receive 10,102 books and the Tskhinvali region – 11,992.

Why the Event is Important:  Assistance to schools in post-Soviet countries is an instrument of Russia’s “soft power” aimed at supporting Russian education in these countries and maintaining Russian cultural and political influence.


Meeting of the De Facto Leaders of the Occupied Regions of Georgia and Kremlin Officials

Main Event:  The de facto leaders of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, Aslan Bzhania and Anatoly Bibilov, met with Kremlin officials in Moscow on September 9, 2020.

Meeting of the de facto leader of the Tskhinvali Region with Dmitry Kozak. Source:  Web-page of the de facto president of the Tskhinvali region.

Event in Details:  The de facto leaders of the occupied regions of Georgia arrived in Moscow on a working visit on the same day. This is Bzhania’s fourth visit to Moscow since his term in office.

The meetings were held with Dmitry Kozak, the Deputy Head of the Administration of the President of Russia, who has been supervising the directions of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region since February 2020. The meeting was also attended by the First Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Mikhail Babich, who oversees the socio-economic direction in the occupied regions of Georgia.

Context of the visit:  The de facto governments of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region face economic challenges due to the new coronavirus pandemic. The implementation of investment programs financed by Russia is also impeded. The failed tourist season in Abkhazia has led to serious financial problems in the tourism sector. The payment of pensions and salaries is being delayed as is financial assistance from Russia.

Why the Event is Important:  Timely financial assistance from Russia to Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region can mitigate the negative impact of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. The purpose of the meeting with the Kremlin officials was also to speed up the fund allocation.


Russia Protested the Closure of “Russian Classes” in Turkmenistan

Main Event:  On September 7, 2020, the Russian Embassy in Turkmenistan expressed concern over the closure of Russian-language classes in schools in Ashgabat. On September 15, the Russian Foreign Ministry also asked to clarify the situation with the dissolution of Russian-language classes.

Event in Details: According to the embassy, ​​Russian-language sections at some educational institutions in the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, have stopped because of failing to comply with sanitary norms imposed due to the new coronavirus pandemic. The embassy reminded the Turkmen authorities that the April 23, 2002 Treaty on a bilateral Friendship and Cooperation envisages the promotion of the Russian language in Turkmenistan and the development and teaching of the Turkmen language in Russia.

On August 30, parents and students of the Russian-language section organized a protest in the yard of Ashgabat school N 64. The protest was triggered by the closure of the Russian-language section and the dismissal of teachers and students. According to the school’s administration, students are to move to other schools as school N 64 is overcrowded and thus it is impossible to meet the sanitary-hygienic requirements.

As reported earlier, the Russian-language section was only closed at the Ashgabat N 64 secondary school. No information is available about other schools.

Nationalization:  In the 1990s, the first President of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, took a course of “nationalizing culture and education.” Under the new policy, Russian TV channels and the Pushkin Theater were closed, higher education was swapped to the Turkmen language and Russian-language schools were closed. Kazakh-language and Uzbek-language schools were also closed. Until now, it was possible to get an education in Russian only in a few schools in the so-called “Russian classes.”

Why the Event is Important:  From Moscow’s point of view, reducing Russian-language schools in post-Soviet countries and undermining the role of the Russian language is part of a targeted campaign aimed at weakening Russia’s cultural and political influence.


Azerbaijan Will no Longer Participate in Large-Scale Military Exercises Planned in Russia

Main Event:  On September 5, 2020, the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan refused to participate in the planned command-staff exercises in Russia – Kavkaz 2020. No official statement has been issued explaining the refusal. Azerbaijan will send only two military personnel as observers.

Event in Details:  Strategic command-staff exercises – Kavkaz 2020 is scheduled on September 21-26. The exercises will take place in the south of Russia at the military training grounds of Kapustin Yar and Ashuluk and in the waters of the Black and Caspian Seas. According to the Russian Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, this year the most important part of the exercises will be the largest combat training event. As he stated, the exercises will assess the capabilities of the Southern Military District in the field of military security of south-west Russia.

The area of responsibility of the Southern Military District includes the South Caucasus, including the occupied regions of Georgia. The military bases in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region are under the military district. Part of the Kavkaz 2020 exercises will be held in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region.

According to available information, military personnel from Belarus, Myanmar, Iran and Pakistan will take part in the exercise.

Like Azerbaijan, India refused to participate in the exercise on August 30 due to the global pandemic and logistical issues. However, the refusal may also be related to the participation of representatives of Pakistan with which India has strained relations.

Why the Event is Important:  Despite the strategic partnership between Russia and Armenia, military cooperation between Azerbaijan and Russia has significantly developed in recent years. The refusal to participate in the large-scale exercises organized by Russia might be considered as a message that Baku, in the wake of confrontations between Armenia and Azerbaijan (a high-rank Azerbaijani soldier was killed in a cross-border confrontation in July), is not happy with Russia’s military assistance to Armenia (Armenia received more than 400 tons of military goods from Russia via the airspace of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran).