Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst

Publication: N17

Review period:  September 16-30, 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 Kremlin offers to host talks between Armenia-Azerbaijan to resolve the conflict.
  • The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service accuses the West of organizing the ongoing events in Belarus.
  • In response to non-recognition by the West, the President of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, plans to divert cargo exports from Lithuania to Russia.
  • A USD 1.5 billion Russian loan will largely go towards refinancing Belarusian “debt to Gazprom.”
  • Next steps to derail the construction of the Nord Stream 2.
  • The Kavkaz 2020 large-scale military exercises took place in the occupied regions of Georgia as well.
  • Romania strengthens position as Moldova’s top trading partner.
  • A pro-Russian blogger was arrested in Kazakhstan for inciting ethnic strife.


Russia Offers to Mediate between Armenia-Azerbaijan

Main Event:  On September 30, 2020, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, confirmed Moscow’s readiness to host talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Event in Details:  Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s offer during a telephone conversation with the Foreign Minister of Armenia, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, and the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijani, Jeyhun Bairamov. According to Lavrov, Moscow is ready to organize another meeting between the ministers and Russia will continue to work both independently and together the with co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the OSCE to mediate the conflict through political-diplomatic means.

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Russia had always maintained a balanced position and that Moscow would use friendly relations with both sides to resolve the conflict. The Russian president, during telephone conversations with the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia, has also called for a ceasefire.

Resumption of hostilities:  The military confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan resumed on September 27. After the 1994 Ceasefire Agreement to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, this is the largest-scale confrontation that continues until now. In 2016, as a result of the Four-Day War, Azerbaijan gained a small territorial advantage. In July 2020, a several-day-long confrontation took place near Nagorno-Karabakh at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

Why the Event is Important:  Despite the fact that Russia is a strategic ally of Armenia, in the early stages of the renewed conflict, Moscow seeks to act as a neutral mediator. This may be the result of sharply improved relations with Azerbaijan in recent years and the negative attitude towards the current Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan.


Russian Intelligence Service Accuses the West of Fomenting Protest Rallies in Belarus

Main Event:  On September 16, 2020, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service accused the West of organizing the ongoing events in Belarus.

Event in Details:  According to Sergey Naryshkin, the Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the ongoing protests in Belarus are well-organized from the very beginning and are coordinated from the West.

Sergey Naryshkin. Source:  Web-page of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.

According to Naryshkin:

  • The West began preparations for protests long before the elections.
  • From 2019, the US allocated USD 20 million to various NGOs to organize anti-government rallies.
  • Activists have been instructed in Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine where American instructors conducted “non-violent protest” trainings.
  • The US supports the presidential candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, and other opposition activists.
  • The US calls on the European allies to put pressure on the Belarusian government to start negotiations with the Opposition Coordinating Council on the “transfer of power” which is seen as an attempt to stage another “colorful revolution” and an unconstitutional coup.

Russia has made similar assessments of protests in the past when the “colorful revolutions” took place as a result of protests in Georgia and Ukraine.

Crises in Belarus:  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%. Since then, mass rallies have been held in Minsk and other cities of Belarus demanding Lukashenko’s ouster. On September 14, Lukashenko met with the Russian president who pledged his support. Before Naryshkin’s statement, Lukashenko blamed 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 blames NATO for an attempt at military aggression. The West considers the elections illegitimate.

Why the Event is Important:  Lukashenko and Russia want to create an “enemy icon” in the form of the West and emphasize possible threats therefrom. This will help Lukashenko stay in power for a short term.


Belarus Plans to Export Cargo from Russia Instead of Lithuania

Main Event:  On September 25, 2020, the President of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, during a meeting with the Governor of the Leningrad Oblast of the Russian Federation, Aleksander Drozdenko, said that he had proposed and idea to the President of Russia about building a terminal in the Leningrad Oblast for the transshipment of Belarusian cargo.

Event in Details:  According to Lukashenko, the construction of the port can be financed from the loan that was left over from the construction of a nuclear power plant in Belarus. Lukashenko instructed the government to prepare to divert trade flows from Baltic ports to Russia after the West, including the Baltic states, sharply criticized Lukashenko over the August 9 presidential elections.

Lukashenko plans to shift cargo exports from the port of Klaipeda and is considering ports of St. Petersburg and Ust-Luga for the transshipment of Belarusian cargo. Belarus annually exports 10-11 million tons of oil products of which 6 million tons of goods are exported through Baltic ports.

The main problem of the new initiative is related to finances. Today, exports from the port of Klaipeda are cheaper than from Ust-Luga. Therefore, first of all, a redirection to Russian ports requires the clarification of  economic resources related to export which should make the export of Belarusian oil products profitable.

Baltic ports. Source:

Political context:  In Belarus, protests against the incumbent President, Aleksander Lukashenko, have been held since the August 9 presidential elections. The West did not recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate president and imposed sanctions on Belarusian officials. Amid the current political crisis, only Russia supported the Belarusian leader.

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, diverting oil exports from Lithuania to Russia could be considered as a political decision caused by Lithuania’s active support to Lukashenko’s opposition.

Why the Event is Important for Russia:  By establishing control over the flow of Belarusian cargo, Russia will increase its economic and political influence in Belarus and, at the same time, ensure a new source of revenue.


Belarus Will Repay the “Debt to Gazprom” with the Russian Loan

Main Event:  A USD 1.5 billion Russian loan will largely go towards refinancing Belarusian “debt to Gazprom.”

Event in Details:  During a meeting in Sochi on September 14, 2020, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, pledged a USD 1.5 billion loan to the President of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko. In the wake of the political crisis in Belarus which followed the August 9 presidential elections, Lukashenko’s government faces economic challenges as well. The Russian loan will be a “lifeline” for Lukashenko, although the loan is likely to be spent under the terms outlined by the Kremlin.

On September 20, the Russian Finance Minister, Anton Siluanov, said that Belarus will use USD 330 million of the USD 1.5 billion Russian loan to repay its debt to Gazprom. Belarus will receive USD 1 billion of the promised loan by the end of the year with the rest forthcoming in 2021. According to Siluanov, the loan will help Belarus and its state-owned companies pay off debts and ensure financial stability.

Why the Event is Important:  Amid the political crisis in Belarus, the Russian loan will help Lukashenko maintain his power for the short period. However, the terms of the loan make Lukashenko a hostage to the Kremlin’s political demands.


Europe’s Efforts to Stop the Construction of the Nord Stream 2

Main Event:  On September 15, 2020, the European Parliament adopted a resolution in which one of the requirements stipulates the halt of the construction of the Nord Stream 2.

Event in Details: The resolution concerns Alexei Navalny who was allegedly poisoned and is now undergoing treatment in Germany. In connection with the poisoning, the European Parliament calls for tougher sanctions against Russia and the termination of the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

The adopted resolution is not legislative in nature, being more of a recommendation, and its implementation is not mandatory for EU institutions and the governments of the member states.

According to the Kremlin, Navalny’s case should not affect the pipeline project as it is a commercial project and is in the interests of Russia and the European Union, especially Germany. Despite the German political elite’s support to the completion of the pipeline project, pressure on Angela Merkel’s coalition government has increased since the poisoning of Navalny. Opponents are calling for the pipeline project suspension unless Moscow investigates the poisoning.

Coalition against the Nord Stream 2

On September 21, the US Secretary of State made another noisy statement against the project. Pompeo said Washington would form a coalition aimed at impeding the completion of the pipeline. Earlier, insurance companies refused to insure ships participating in the construction of the pipeline. Sanctions were first imposed on foreign companies in December 2019 as a result of which the Swiss Allseas company refused to extend the project.

About the project

Reportedly, the North Stream 2 project is 94% complete. Upon the project’s completion, as anticipated by the Russian side in 2021, the Nord Stream 1’s productivity will be doubled to 110 billion cubic meters per year which is more than a quarter of the EU’s gas consumption. The Nord Stream 2 will stretch across the Baltic Sea and directly connect Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine. The Nord Stream 2 will be the longest offshore pipeline (1,230 km) in the world.

Why Halting the Project is Important for the US:  Washington considers the project as a threat to the national interests of the United States, targeted towards eliminating Ukraine from the European gas transit network and increasing Russia’s influence in the European energy sector.


The Kavkaz 2020 Exercises were Held in the Occupied Regions of Georgia

Main Event:  On September 21-26, 2020, the Kavkaz 2020 large-scale military exercises were held in the Southern Military District of the Russian Federation.

Event in Details:  Military servicemen from the Russian Federation, as well as from Armenia, Belarus, China, Myanmar and Pakistan, participated in the Kavkaz 2020 strategic command-staff exercises. In total, up to 80 thousand military servicemen participated in the military exercises. Azerbaijan and India refused to participate.

The military exercises were held at the Kapustin Yar and Ashuluk military training grounds and in Black Sea waters. The joint exercises with the de facto armed forces of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region were held at military training grounds in the occupied regions.

Vladimir Putin attends the exercises’ closing ceremony. Source:

Transcaucasia, including the occupied regions of Georgia, comprises the Southern Military District. The military bases in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region are under the jurisdiction of the District.

Why the Event is Important:  The Kavkaz 2020 large-scale military exercises are aimed at checking the combat readiness and demonstrating the strength of its forces in the southern direction of Russia, including in the South Caucasus.


Romania Strengthens Position as Moldova’s Top Trading Partner

Main Event:  According to the National Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of Moldova, Romania has replaced Russia and became the country’s main trading partner.

Event in Details:  By 2010, the main market for Moldovan goods was Russia where 90% of Moldovan products were sold. However, according to new data, Romania imports far more Moldovan goods than Russia. Russia accounts for 13% of the share of the exports of the pro-Russian separatist Republic of Transnistria while Moldova and the EU account for the rest of the share.

Trade with Europe:  For the first seven months of 2020, the EU accounts for 64.7% of exports. Exports to Romania amounted to USD 356.05 million while imports amounted to USD 348.73 million. According to the data, Romania has become the main trading partner of Moldova.

Trade with the CIS:  Exports to the Commonwealth of Independent States amounted to USD 220.8 million (16% of the total exports) while imports amounted to USD 733.6 million. As for Russia, exports amounted to USD 137.49 million while imports – USD 337.61 million. Gas and electricity supplies account for a large share of products imported from Russia.

Transnistrian exports:  At the same time, it is noteworthy that Transnistrian exports to EU countries totaled USD 179 million while this number was only USD 91 million to the member states of the pro-Russian Eurasian Economic Union.

Why the Event is Important:  Although part of Moldova’s political elite is pro-Russian, including the President, Igor Dodon, the development of economic relations with the West is deemed more beneficial than with Russia. These trends will weaken economic ties with Russia which in the long run will help reduce Russia’s economic and political influence in Moldova.


Pro-Russian Activist was Arrested in Kazakhstan for Inciting Ethnic Strife

Main Event:  A Kazakh court has sentenced pro-Russian blogger, Ermek Taichibekov, to two months in pre-trial detention on charges of inciting ethnic strife.

Event in Details:  Ethnic Kazakh Ermek Taichibekov is a well-known pro-Russian blogger in Kazakhstan who was first arrested in 2015 for inciting ethnic strife by publishing “inflammatory” materials on Facebook and supporting the idea of uniting Kazakhstan with Russia. He served only two years of his four-year sentence and was released in 2017.

Ermek Taichibekov was arrested on September 23, presumably for an interview with the Russian media where against the background of the Russian Empire’s flag he stated that the Kazakh government is pursuing a Russophobic policy.

Following the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, several people have been arrested in Kazakhstan on charges of inciting separatism and ethnic strife. Kazakhstan is particularly skeptical of Russian-related separatism and has taken various steps to prevent ethnic separatism since the 1990s:

  • The 1995 constitutional amendment prohibited the creation of autonomous districts on the territory of the country. The purpose of the amendment was to prevent the creation of autonomies in Russian-populated regions.
  • In 1997, the capital was moved from Almaty to Astana (now Nur Sultan), mostly populated by Russians. Following the move of the capital, the number of ethnic Kazakhs in Astana increased.
  • In Kazakhstan, regions with a majority of ethnic Russians were united with regions where Kazakhs comprised the majority, thus regions with ethnic Russians have disappeared.

Why the Event is Important:  After the annexation of Crimea by Russia, there were fears that Russia might take a similar step in post-Soviet countries with a majority of ethnic Russians should the case of an appropriate political environment arise. Kazakhstan is well aware of Russia’s attitude towards the northern regions of Kazakhstan, considering this part of the country as the Russian-speaking world. Accordingly, with such arrests, the Kazakh authorities are trying to prevent any manifestation of pro-Russian separatism and avoid the rise of separatist movements.