Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst

Publication:  N20

Review period:  November 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:

  • According to the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement signed on November 9 between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russian peacekeepers will be deployed in the conflict zone.
  • Russia considers that attempts to exert foreign pressure in post-Soviet countries are unacceptable.
  • Pro-Russian candidate loses the Moldovan presidential election.
  • Ukraine terminates another agreement signed within the Commonwealth of Independent States.
  • Russia resumed financial assistance to Kyrgyzstan.
  • Kazakhstan is to switch from Cyrillic to Latin.
  • The de facto President of Abkhazia held his first working meeting with the President of Russia.


Russia Brokered a Ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh

Main Event:  On November 9, 2020, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, and the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, signed a statement on a ceasefire and  the cessation of all hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone from 00:00 on November 10, 2020, Moscow time. The agreement was signed during a videoconference.

Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev sign a ceasefire agreement. Source:  Webpage of the President of Azerbaijan.

Event in Details:  Renewed hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan began on September 27, 2020. Three attempts at a ceasefire, including one mediated by Moscow, were unsuccessful. Eventually, the parties agreed to a ceasefire after Azerbaijan made several territorial gains which culminated in the capture of Shusha, a strategically important city in Nagorno-Karabakh. Occupation of Stepanakert/Khankendi, the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh separatist republic, was significantly easier for the Azerbaijani army. Due to the difficult situation from the military point of view, the Armenian side, in order to avoid further grave consequences, practically declared capitulation and signed a nine-point agreement.

Nine-point agreement in brief

  • A complete ceasefire and the cessation of all hostilities from November 10, 2020.
  • The Agdam District will be returned to the Republic of Azerbaijan by November 20, 2020.
  • A total of 1,960 Russian peacekeepers will be deployed at the frontline for a period of five years with an automatic extension (note:  the deployment of Russian peacekeepers started at 06:00 am on November 10).
  • A peacekeeping center is being set up to control the ceasefire.
  • The Republic of Armenia will return the Kelbajar region to Azerbaijan by November 15, 2020 (note:  extended to November 25 at the request of the Armenian side) and the Lachin region by December 1, 2020. The Lachin corridor (5-km wide) will remain under the control of the Russian peacekeepers.
  • Internally displaced persons and refugees return to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent areas under the control of the UN.
  • The exchange of prisoners of war, hostages and other detainees is to be made as well as the remains of casualties.
  • All economic activity and transport links in the region are to be unrestricted, including between Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic.

The area of deployment of Russian peacekeepers. Source:  RIA Novosti

Why the Signing of the Agreement is Important for Armenia:  By signing the ceasefire agreement, Armenia avoided even more serious human or territorial losses and, at this stage, retained a significant part of the separatist republic of Nagorno-Karabakh with the exception of the city of Shusha. Otherwise, the Armenian side would have faced the inevitable risk of losing control over Nagorno-Karabakh as a whole and a large number of victims.

Why the Signing of the Agreement is Important for Azerbaijan:  Although the Russian intervention stopped Azerbaijan’s successful military operations, Azerbaijan reclaimed part of the occupied territories by military means and part under the agreement as well as regaining Shusha, a city of historical and strategic importance.

Why the Signing of the Agreement is Important for Russia:  The reached agreement shows that Russia is the only state that can play an important role in the conflicts in the South Caucasus. The deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh increases Russia’s role in the region’s military-political processes even more.


Russian President at the SCO Summit

Main Event:  At the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) online summit on November 10, 2020, the Russian President said that attempts to exert foreign pressure in post-Soviet countries are unacceptable.

Vladimir Putin attends online summit. Source:  Webpage of the President of Russia.

Event in Details:  Addressing the summit, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said that external pressure on Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova was unacceptable. According to Putin, these countries should independently solve their internal problems without foreign interference.

Speaking about Belarus, Putin said that the republic was under an attack by external forces, experiencing unprecedented pressure, resisting sanctions and provocations unleashed through an information and propaganda war. (Protests against the incumbent President, Aleksander Lukashenko, have been ongoing since the presidential election, for more than three months).

Sergey Naryshkin, the Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, also sees a “Western hand” in the ongoing processes in Belarus and Moldova. According to him, the protests in Belarus have been well-organized from the very beginning and are being coordinated from the West. Speaking about Moldova, he said that a group of American specialists of “colorful revolutions” was detached to Moldova in the run-up to the elections (the first round of elections was held on November 1).

The SCO is a regional international organization comprised of the following member states:  China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The organization cooperates in the fields of politics, military, economy, energy and culture.

Why the Event is Important:  Russia considers post-Soviet countries to be in its sphere of influence and views the interference of external forces in the internal political processes of these countries as a threat to the Kremlin’s interests. Moscow believes that the West is actively involved in the ongoing processes in Belarus and Moldova, aimed at weakening Russian influence in these countries.


Pro-Western Candidate Maia Sandu Won the Moldovan Presidential Election

Main Event:  In the second round of the presidential election in Moldova on November 15, 2020, a pro-Western candidate defeated the incumbent pro-Russian president.

Event in Details:  The first round of the presidential election in Moldova was held on November 1, 2020. In the first round, the former Prime Minister, Maia Sandu (the Action and Solidarity pro-Western party), received 36.16%, while the incumbent President, Igor Dodon (formally an independent candidate, albeit an informal leader of the pro-Russian Socialist Party), received  32.61% of the votes.

Second round of the election

Maia Sandu won the second round of the election on November 15. She received 57.75% of the votes. Dodon was the most pro-Russian president in the post-Soviet space and Russia sees a “Western hand” in his defeat.

Russia’s pre-election projections

Sergey Naryshkin, the Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, announced that a group of American specialists of “colorful revolutions” was detached to Moldova in the run-up to the election.

He said that the US State Department instructed its embassy in Chisinau that if the incumbent President Igor Dodon won, the opposition would have staged mass protests demanding the annulment of the voting results. According to Naryshkin, during the pre-election period, non-governmental organizations and media outlets with US connections were spreading false news in the media about falsification plans of the government.

Why the Event is Important:  Russia considers Moldova to be in its sphere of influence and the victory of the pro-Western presidential candidate is seen as a threat to the Kremlin’s interests. The victory of Maia Sandu will weaken Russia’s influence in Moldova but with strong pro-Russian political groups in Moldova, Moscow will retain its leverage over Moldovan politics.


Ukraine Terminates Another CIS Agreement

Main Event:  On November 5, 2020, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine supported a draft law on Ukraine’s withdrawal from the Antimonopoly Policy agreement coordinated within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Event in Details:  According to members of the Verkhovna Rada, the exchange of information under the agreement represented a risk for Ukraine that CIS countries could use this information to exert trade and economic pressure on Ukraine. This is not the first CIS agreement that Ukraine has terminated. In recent months, Ukraine withdraw from the following agreements on cooperation within the CIS:  the agreement on the establishment of the CIS Council for Cultural Cooperation, the agreement on the preparation of military personnel for CIS border troops, the agreement on cooperation between the border troops of the CIS member countries in scientific research activities and the agreement on the establishment of a management board of the Financial Intelligence Unit to combat illegal migration.

Why Ukraine terminates agreements

After the Russian aggression in 2014, Ukraine began the process of withdrawal from the CIS. In May 2018, the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, issued an order to withdraw from CIS international treaties. On April 1, 2019, the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation was terminated.

Is Ukraine a member of the CIS?

Interestingly, Ukraine’s membership in the CIS has been the subject of a constant legal debate. Ukraine has ratified the agreement on creation of the CIS; however, it has not signed the CIS Charter. Therefore, legally, Ukraine was considered only a founding state of the CIS and not a member.

Why the Event is Important:  With the termination of the agreements signed within the CIS, Ukraine is symbolically rejecting membership of the pro-Russian organization. Over the last decade, the CIS has become just a formal organization. Ukraine’s withdrawal from CIS agreements once again demonstrates that Kyiv is against returning under the influence of Russia.

Russia Resumed Financial Assistance to Kyrgyzstan

Main Event:  During a meeting in Moscow on November 14, 2020, the First Vice Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, Artyom Novikov, and the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Kozak, agreed on a gradual resumption of Russian financial assistance to Kyrgyzstan.

Event in Details:  On November 12, prior to the decision on the resumption of financial assistance, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, also spoke to the Acting President of Kyrgyzstan, Sadir Japarov. Timely receipt of Russian financial assistance is crucial for Kyrgyzstan to overcome the economic challenges posed by the outbreak of the new coronavirus. Russia has cut off financial aid to Kyrgyzstan following the crisis triggered by the October 4 parliamentary elections.  As Moscow said, “the situation looked like a mess and chaos” in Kyrgyzstan.

Political crises

The October 4, 2020 parliamentary elections were followed by protests in Kyrgyzstan. Along with the population, political groups also expressed dissatisfaction with the election results which was followed by the annulment of the election results the next day. On October 13, Dmitry Kozak visited Kyrgyzstan to resolve the crisis. However, telephone conversations with Putin and Kozak’s visit did not help President Sooronbay Jeenbekov. To avoid a further aggravation of the internal political crisis, Jeenbekov resigned on October 15. His duties were entrusted to Sadir Japarov who resigned on November 14. The reason for his resignation is his desire to run in the early presidential elections scheduled for January. The law prohibits the incumbent president or acting president from running in the election.

In Kyrgyzstan, the parliamentary elections of October 4, 2020 were followed by protests. The next day, nationwide protests succeeded in pushing the Central Election Committee to annul the outcome of the elections. On October 13, the Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration, Dmitry Kozak (Kozak also oversees the directions of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region), visited Kyrgyzstan to resolve the crisis. The telephone conversations with Putin and Kozak’s visit were unsuccessful. On October 15, Sooronbay Jeenbekov resigned to avoid a further escalation of the domestic political crisis and Japarov was appointed as the acting president. He resigned on November 14 in order to run for early presidential elections scheduled for January as the law

prohibits an incumbent or an acting president from participating in elections.

Why the Event is Important:  Prompt financial assistance from Russia will allow the Kyrgyz government to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis. At the same time, it will be a message to Sadir Japarov that he was able to sort out relations with Moscow during the internal political crisis.


Kazakhstan is to Switch from Cyrillic to Latin

Main Event:  The President of Kazakhstan instructed the government to prepare the final version of the Latin alphabet for the Kazakh language.

Event in Details:  The President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, instructed the Ministers of Culture and Education, together with experts, to prepare the final version of the Latin alphabet for the Kazakh language. According to the decision of the previous president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in 2017, the Kazakh language should be switched from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet by 2025. By this time, all publications, documents or street signs must be in Latin. Two versions of the Latin alphabet have been developed at this stage but the final version has not yet been approved.

The Muslim population of the Soviet Union used the Arabic script which was replaced by Latin in 1926.  The Cyrillic alphabet was introduced in 1940. In Central Asia, in addition to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have decided to switch from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. Cyrillic is still used in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Why the Event is Important:  Kazakhstan’s decision is aimed at strengthening its national identity and distancing itself from the Russian and Soviet imperial past. The rejection of Cyrillic by the former colonies is a sign to Russia that these post-Soviet countries are trying to escape Russia’s cultural influence and is ultimately aimed at limiting the Kremlin’s political influence.


De facto President of Abkhazia Met with the President of Russia

Main Event:  On November 12, 2020, the de facto President of Abkhazia, Aslan Bzhania, met with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in Sochi.

Event in Details:  Bzhania as the de facto president visited Moscow for the sixth time during the last seven months. During the previous five visits, Bzhania failed to meet face to face with Putin. According to official information, issues of the current state and prospects of bilateral trade-economic and cultural-humanitarian cooperation, the implementation of the Alliance and Strategic Partnership Agreement and foreign policy coordination were discussed at the meeting. The meeting lasted three hours. Reportedly, Bzhania was quarantined for two weeks before meeting with Putin.

More detailed information about the meeting with Putin is not available at the moment. As usual, there is always little information about Bzhania’s visits to Russia.

Aslan Bzhania meeting with Vladimir Putin, Source:  Webpage of the President of Russia.

Chronology of Bzhania’s visits to Russia

Bzhania first visited Moscow on May 5. He was accompanied by the de facto ministers of finance and economy. For the second time, he visited Moscow on June 24 and participated in the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the victory in World War II. The third visit took place on July 30. As a result of the visit, the de facto administrative border between Abkhazia and Russia, which was closed due to the new coronavirus pandemic, was opened. Bzhania visited Moscow for the fourth time on September 7 and met with the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, Dmitry Kozak, and the First Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Mikhail Babich. As part of his fifth visit to Moscow on October 29, Bzhania met with Dmitry Kozak, Mikhail Babich and Aleksey Filatov, the Head of the Directorate for Cross Border Cooperation at the Presidential Administration.

Why the Event is Important:  Meeting with Putin is critical for the de facto leader of Abkhazia. The de facto government of Bzhania has no resources to overcome the economic crisis caused by the new coronavirus. Bzhania hopes that after the meeting, Moscow will provide sufficient financial assistance in a timely manner in order to mitigate the severe consequences of the economic and possible domestic political challenges. The meeting with Putin was also significant for Bzhania as he failed to meet with the Russian president during his previous five visits to Moscow, raising suspicions in Abkhazia that the Kremlin did not sympathize with Bzhania.