Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst

Publication:  N22

Review period:  December 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.

  • Russia called on member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to support the Prime Minister of Armenia.
  • In Russia, a former football player was convicted of spying for Ukraine.
  • In Latvia, as part of the fight against Russian propaganda, journalists affiliated with the news agency, Rossiya Segodnya, were detained.
  • In Kazakhstan, a statement of a Russian MP was perceived as a territorial claim against Kazakhstan.
  • Uzbekistan became an observer state in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
  • Belarus suspends export of oil products through the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda.
  • Despite US sanctions, Russia plans to complete the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline by 2021.


Russia Called on Member States of the CSTO to Support the Prime Minister of Armenia

Main Event:  During an online conference of the CSTO on December 2, 2020, the President of Russia spoke about the need to support the Prime Minister of Armenia.

Online conference of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Source:  Web-page of the CSTO

Event in Details:  During the online conference, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, called on leaders of the CSTO member states to support the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, and his team in their efforts to establish peace and achieve the implementation of the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement. “Armenian leaders and the Prime Minister personally had to make painful but necessary decisions for the Armenian people. These decisions required courage from the Prime Minister,” said Vladimir Putin.

On November 9, the leaders of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a ceasefire agreement. In addition to the territories reclaimed as a result of the 44-day war, Azerbaijan also recaptured the remaining occupied territories (except for a significant part of ​​Nagorno-Karabakh) under the agreement. Protests against Pashinyan have been held since the day of signing the agreement. Opposition and protestants accuse Pashinyan of treason and demand him to step down.

Members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization are Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Why the Event is Important:  If Nikol Pashinyan resigns amid the internal political crisis in Armenia, the full implementation of the November 9 agreement might be jeopardized, creating the risk of renewed military confrontation and shattering Russia’s reputation as a mediator. So, it is important for Russia that the incumbent Prime Minister of Armenia retain power for some period and fully ensure the implementation of the November 9 agreement.


Ukrainian Spy Faced Court in Russia

Main Event:  On December 7, 2020, the Moscow City Court found Vasily Vasilenko, a citizen of Ukraine and a former professional football player, guilty on charges of espionage and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Trial of Vasily Vasilenko. Source:  TASS

Event in Details:  In October 2019, Vasilenko was arrested on charges of the smuggling of hazardous substances, weapons and cultural property. His case was later reclassified as espionage. In 1992-2001, Vasilenko played for several Ukrainian football teams:  Tavriya, Torpedo and Druzhba.

In 2020, relevant services of Ukraine and Russia arrested a number of people on charges of espionage:

  • On March 31, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) announced that a covert communication channel had been decrypted between a Ukrainian Navy senior official and a Russian Federal Security Service official in annexed Crimea.
  • On April 14, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) arrested the SBU Major General Valery Shaitanov on charges of treason and terrorism.
  • On April 15, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) uncovered a Ukrainian intelligence “sabotage and terrorism” group in annexed Crimea. It reportedly included a female Russian military officer who had handed state secrets to Ukraine’s military intelligence between 2017 and 2018.
  • On May 6, the SBU arrested one individual on charges of espionage in favor of Russia. The detainee was accused of illegally sharing information about “modern missile systems.”
  • On June 22, in the Kursk Oblast, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation detained Lt. Col. Dmitry Borzenkov, the Head of the Regional Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, on charges of treason and working for the Ukrainian Security Service.

Why the Event is Important:  After the 2014 events when Russia annexed Crimea and openly supported separatists in eastern Ukraine, the “spy war” between Russia and Ukraine intensified. There have been frequent reports of “spies” on both sides indicating a high degree of military-political confrontation between Moscow and Kyiv.


Latvia Continues the Fight Against Russian Propaganda

Main Event:  On December 3, 2020, the Latvian State Security Service detained, questioned and searched locations of several journalists on allegations of working for the Russian outlets Sputnik and Baltnews. The outlets are associated with the Russian international news agency Rossiya Segodnya.

Six journalists were detained, questioned and later released on recognizance. Among the detainees was Andrei Yakovlev, the former editor-in-chief of Baltnews. The journalists are suspects in a criminal case.

Latvian Law Enforcement Agencies

The case was initiated under the article on the violation of the EU sanctions regime. Sanctions were imposed against Dmitry Kiselyov, the Director General of the agency Rossiya Segodnya. Allegedly, the suspects transferred “operating resources” to the sanctioned person (Kisilyov). Kisilyov has been on the EU sanctions list for his role in promoting Kremlin propaganda in support of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The investigation has been underway since January.

Fight Against the Russian Media

On June 30, 2020, the National Electronic Media Council (NEPLP) of Latvia banned seven Russian television channels as they were controlled and managed by the Russian propagandist, Dmitry Kiselyov. The ban affected the following channels:  RT’s main English-language broadcast service, its Spanish and Arabic counterparts and the RT Documentary channel as well as the HD versions of the programs. According to the Latvian Special Services, these were the most influential channels promoting the Kremlin’s propaganda in the West. In addition, RT also attempted to present Latvia as a failed state.

Russia’s Reaction

According to Yevgeny Primakov, the Head of the Federal Agency for the CIS, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Affairs, the Agency will go to bat for the journalists. He described the silence of the EU on this issue as support for the Latvian government. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the detention a “punitive measure” with anti-Russian sentiments.

Why the Event is important:  During Vladimir Putin’s rule, Russian television channels became an influential tool in the Kremlin’s foreign policy which the Kremlin has used for propaganda purposes against the West, including pro-Western countries in the post-Soviet space. Consequently, Latvia plans to weaken Russian media influence within the country by banning the broadcasting of Russian state channels.


Statement of the State Duma Deputy was Perceived as a Territorial Claim Against Kazakhstan

Main Event:  The Kazakh Foreign Ministry invited a representative of the Russian embassy after a Russian State Duma Deputy, Vyacheslav Nikonov, called the territory of Kazakhstan a “gift from Russia.”

Vyacheslav Nikonov on the talk show, First ChannelSource:   Footage from the talk show

Event in Details: “Kazakhstan did not exist; northern Kazakhstan was not inhabited at all. You [Kazakhs] existed much further south. Indeed, the territory of Kazakhstan is a great gift from Russia and the Soviet Union,” said Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of the Russian State Duma and the Chairman of the Education and Science Committee, on December 10, during a broadcast of the Big Game talk show on the Russia’s First Channel.

According to the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, “the increasing provocative statements of some of Russian politicians towards Kazakhstan are seriously damaging allied relations.”

Putin’s Territorial Claims

Territorial claims against post-Soviet countries have previously been voiced by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. On June 21, 2020, the Russian state TV channel Россия 1 showed the documentary film, entitled Moscow. Putin. Kremlin, where the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, states that:  “In the process of the Soviet Union’s formation, many of the republics that joined the Union acquired a large part of Russia’s lands and traditional historical Russian territories.” According to Putin, while seceding from the Soviet Union, each republic should have maintained territories they owned at the moment they joined the Union and “should not have taken a gift from the Russian people.” Putin did not specify which republics or territories he meant but said:  “The Soviet Union was established on the basis of full equality with the right to secede; however, no procedures were prescribed.” Even though Putin’s statement referred to Crimea, it was perceived differently in post-Soviet countries.

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. Consequently, Kazakhstan painfully reacts to similar territorial claims from the Russian political elite.


Uzbekistan was Granted Observer Status in the Eurasian Economic Union

Main Event: On December 11, 2020, during an online summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Uzbekistan and Cuba were accepted as observers in the EAEU.

Videoconference of the EAEU. Source:  Web-page of the EAEU

Event in Details:  In 2016, after the death of Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s approach towards the EAEU changed. Unlike Karimov who pursued an isolationist policy, his successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, is actively expanding foreign ties. During his presidency, important steps were taken to get closer to Russia. In the spring, Uzbek lawmakers decided to become an observer state in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

About the Organization

The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is an international economic association that was established on January 1, 2015 with the participation of Russia and its allies:  Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Moldova is only an observer at this stage.

Why the Event is Important for Russia:  Russia considers Uzbekistan an important country in the Central Asian region and granting Uzbekistan an observer status in the Eurasian Economic Union is a message to Russia that Uzbekistan is abandoning its isolationist foreign policy. Russia anticipates that such positive messages will be followed by the development of cooperation not only in the field of the economy but also in the field of politics.

Why the Event is Important for Uzbekistan:  The Uzbek President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, unlike his predecessor, Islam Karimov, is eager to develop relations with Russia. Mirziyoyev ‘s foreign policy is less isolationist and hopes to reap economic benefits by developing cooperation with Russia, especially within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union.


Belarus Suspends Exports of Oil Products Through the Lithuanian Port of Klaipeda

Main Event:  The Lithuanian oil company Klaipėdos Nafta announced on December 15, 2020 that BNK (UK) Limited, a subsidiary of the Belarusian Oil Company, would stop exports of oil products from the port of Klaipeda.

Baltic ports. Source:

Event in Details:  Under new contracts, exports of oil products from the port of Klaipeda is suspended and in future tenders Klaipėda will not be indicated as a sales point.

Political Context

The President of Belarus, Aleksander 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 and imposed sanctions. First, Lukashenko intends to refuse to export cargo from the port of Klaipeda. The ports of St. Petersburg and Ust-Luga are considered as potential ports. Belarus annually exports 10-11 million tons of oil products, including 6 million tons through the Baltic ports.

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.


Russia Resumes the Construction of the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline

Main Event:  On December 11, 2020, a representative of the Russian energy giant Gazprom announced the resumption of the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

Event in Details:   The work will be resumed in the exclusive economic zone of Germany. The Russian pipe-laying ship Fortuna will lay a 2.6-kilometer section of the pipeline on December 5-31. The construction of the pipeline was resumed despite warnings from the US Embassy in Germany to halt the construction of the pipeline. The project could not be completed by early 2020 due to delays, although Moscow hopes the project will be completed by early 2021.

US Sanctions

Ukraine is actively lobbying against the completion of the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project and has full support from the US. The first sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 were imposed in December 2019 as a result of which the Swiss Allseas company refused to extend the project. Sanctions then expanded on companies and individuals involved in the construction. Fearing the US sanctions, Western companies working in pipe lay, heavy lifting and sub-sea construction withdrew their specialized ships from the project. In response to Washington’s position, Russia said it would complete the project with its own technical resources.

About the Project

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. With the completion of the project, the production of the Nord Stream 1 will be doubled to 110 billion cubic meters per year which is more than a quarter of the EU’s gas consumption. Ukraine and the United States are particularly opposing the project. Reportedly, the North Stream 2 project is 94% complete. A 160-kilometer section of the pipeline is under construction.

The route of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Source:  Webpage of Gazprom.

Why the Project Completion is Important for Russia:  The Nord Stream 2 project’s completion will enable Russia in the nearest future to minimize its reliance on Ukraine’s pipeline network for transiting gas to Europe and establish direct ties with Germany – the main consumer of Russian gas.