|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: February 16-28, 2021
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.
Armenian Prime Minister Makes Intemperate Remarks about the Russian Iskanders
Main Event: On February 23, 2021, in an interview with the Armenian online newspaper, 1in.am, the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, made intemperate remarks about the Russian-made Iskander operational-tactical missiles.
Event in Details:
What did Pashinyan Say?
In his interview, Pashinyan said that the Russian Iskanders launched during the war “did not explode or maybe ten percent of them exploded.” This statement was Pashinyan’s response to the former Armenian President, Serzh Sargsyan, who said that Armenia could not use the Russian Iskanders effectively against the enemy in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war and the missiles could only be used on the fourth day of the war.
Reaction of the General Staff of Armenia
The Deputy Chief of the Armenian General Staff, Tiran Khachatryan, who was conferred with the title of National Hero of Armenia for his participation in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, mocked Pashinyan for this statement and was relieved of his post on February 24. On February 25, the General Staff issued a statement denouncing Pashinyan as utterly incompetent and a threat to the future of Armenia, demanding his ouster. Pashinyan accused the uniformed leadership of attempting a coup. The political crisis loomed large over the entire post-war recovery.
Armenia was the first country to buy four Iskanders from Russia in 2016. The purchase cost Armenia up to USD 100 million. In September 2016, the Iskanders were demonstrated at a military parade on the 25th anniversary of Armenia’s independence in Yerevan. These complexes are a simplified, export version of the missile (Iskander-E), which has a range of 280 km. The missile can cover a large part of the territory of Azerbaijan; however, an attack on Baku requires firing from the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
What They Say in Russia
According to Russian and Azerbaijani officials, there is no evidence that the Iskander was used in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, although Armenian military officials claim otherwise. According to a spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Yerevan has not used the Iskanders which are stored in warehouses of the country’s Armed Forces. Pashinyan was misled as a result of which he used inaccurate information. Dmitry Peskov, the Spokesman of the President of Russia, did not comment on Pashinyan’s statement, saying Russian weapons and military equipment have constantly proven their effectiveness in different parts of the world.
Army Reform Plans
At a government meeting following the scandalous statement, Pashinyan announced that he was planning to reform and modernize the Armed Forces of Armenia in cooperation with Russia. For this purpose, a working group will be set up to define the concept and timing of the army’s reform. Earlier, the Armenian Defense Minister, Vagharshak Arutyunyan, said that Armenia is interested in expanding and strengthening the 102nd military base of the Russian Federation in Gyumri.
Why the Event is Important: Pashinyan criticized the Iskanders within the internal political dispute. For Russia, criticism of Russian military equipment is unacceptable since it is fighting for its status as a leading country in the world military market.
Status of the Russian Language in Nagorno-Karabakh
Main Event: On February 17, 2021, a bill on the recognition of the Russian language as an official language along with Armenian was introduced into the parliament of the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Event in Details: The bill is signed by the de facto President of Nagorno-Karabakh, Arayik Harutyunyan. The bill provides for conducting business in Armenian and, if necessary, in Russian, and encourages Armenian and Russian publications and press materials as well as the creation of Armenian-Russian textbooks, reference books, scientific-methodological and popular science literature.
The bill’s authors argue that the necessity to introduce a second official language is based on “the historical memory of the cultural, military and economic relations between Nagorno-Karabakh and Russia and the fact that Russian is the second language of communication for many residents of the region.” Understanding the need for a long-term presence of Russian peacekeepers in the region, the new status for Russian will pave the way for increased cooperation with Russia across all sectors.
Russia gained importance in the region after the second Nagorno-Karabakh war when Azerbaijan reclaimed the Armenian-occupied territories of Azerbaijan and part of Nagorno-Karabakh, including Shusha, a city of historical and cultural significance. As a result of Russian intervention, the Armenian side managed to retain much of Nagorno-Karabakh, including Stepanakert/Khankendi, the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh separatist republic, when the parties signed a ceasefire agreement on November 9.
At this moment, Russian peacekeepers ensure the security of the unrecognized republic. After the resumption of the education process in Nagorno-Karabakh, banners reading “Thank you, Russia,” and in some places, Russian flags, appeared in schools.
Why the Event is Important: After the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, Russia is the only guarantor of the security in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Raising the status of the Russian language by the de facto government of Nagorno-Karabakh is a more symbolic step, highlighting Russia’s new role in the region in the wake of the war.
First Visit of the Newly-Elected President of Kyrgyzstan to Russia
Main Event: During his first working visit to Russia on February 24, 2021, the newly-elected President of Kyrgyzstan, Sadir Japarov, met with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
Meeting of the Presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Source: Web-page of the Russian Presidential Administration.
Event in Details: According to official data, the parties discussed issues of bilateral cooperation in the political, trade-economic and cultural-humanitarian fields as well as interaction in Eurasian integration projects.
Sadir Japarov won the January 10, 2021 early presidential elections. He received up to 80% of the votes. The early presidential election was called as a result of political chaos in the country and the resignation of the President, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, which followed the October 4 parliamentary elections. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, was one of the first to congratulate Japarov on his victory. To please Russia, Japarov said that the Russian language would retain its official status in Kyrgyzstan. He said Kyrgyzstan had “close, fraternal and allied relations” with Russia. Prior to his visit to Russia on February 19, Japarov stressed the importance of the strategic partnership with Russia for Kyrgyzstan’s national interests.
On February 22, two days before his visit to Moscow, Japarov appointed an MP, Gulnara-Klara Samat, as the new Ambassador of Kyrgyzstan to Russia.
Why the Event is Important: Establishing business relations and friendship with the Russian President is crucial to strengthening the power of the newly-elected President of Kyrgyzstan as prompt assistance from Russia is vital to overcome economic challenges and fight the pandemic. Amid the political turmoil in the run-up to the elections, Russia cut off economic aid to Kyrgyzstan until a stable political environment was created. Russia was also skeptical of Japarov.
Next Meeting Between the Presidents of Belarus and Russia
Main Event: On February 22, 2021, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, hosted the President of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, in Sochi. In addition to the working meeting, the presidents also went skiing. The last face-to-face meeting between the presidents was also held in Sochi in September 2020.
Event in Details: According to official data, the presidents discussed energy issues and the development of bilateral relations in the economy as well as the integration within the Union State. In Russia, Lukashenko is criticized for slowing down integration processes.
Russian-Belarusian relations started off badly in 2020. Anti-Russian sentiments characterized Lukashenko’s speeches; however, the situation changed after the August 2020 presidential elections. Amid protest rallies against Lukashenko, unprecedented for Belarus, and growing pressure from the West, a reconciliation with Moscow became the only way for Lukashenko to maintain power. Therefore, Lukashenko has been talking more about integration. According to him, out of 33 requirements of the integration roadmap, only six-seven remain unfulfilled.
Why the Event is Important: Lukashenko seeks political and economic guarantees from Russia without which his power, in the face of internal and external challenges, will weaken. In exchange for the Kremlin’s support, Belarus should make some concessions and pay more attention to Russia’s request for integration.
Moldova Registers the Russian Vaccine
Main Event: On February 26, 2021, Moldova registered the Sputnik V Russian vaccine. Moldova is the 38th country to use the Russian vaccine.
Event in Details: In Moldova, the registration of the Russian vaccine caused internal political controversy. The former pro-Russian President of Moldova, Igor Dodon, accused the newly-elected pro-Western President, Maia Sandu, of blocking the Russian vaccine. Eventually, the Russian vaccine was registered. On the same day, vaccines produced by other companies were also registered in Moldova. On February 27, the country received a batch of 21,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Romania. A total of 200,000 doses of the vaccine will be received from Romania as humanitarian aid.
In post-Soviet countries, the Russian vaccine is already registered in Belarus (as part of a joint Russian-Belarusian project, Belarus itself will launch the production of the Russian vaccine), Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. Unlike these countries, Ukraine is refusing the Russian vaccine. The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine banned the registration of the Russian vaccine. Georgia will also not use the Russian vaccine.
On August 11, 2020, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, announced the registration of the “first vaccine in the world” against the coronavirus. The Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, was 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.
Sputnik V Vaccine. Source: Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation
Why the Event is Important: The widespread use of the Russian vaccine and its effectiveness will make Russia an internationally advanced scientific country and allow using the vaccine as a tool of “soft power” of its foreign policy. With the extensive use of the Russian vaccine in post-Soviet countries, Russia will gain a competitive advantage over the West in the region which the Kremlin considers its traditional sphere of influence.
Ukraine and Poland Lobbying Against the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Project
Main Event: On February 22, 2021, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, and his Polish counterpart, Zbigniew Rau, called on the US President, Joe Biden, to thwart the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, calling it a “dangerous project.”
Event in Details: The ministers assure Biden that if the project is successful, Russia will convince the Ukrainian public that the West does not care about its own principles and, ultimately, about Ukraine’s security and development. On February 19, the Biden administration imposed additional sanctions on Russian vessels and their owners involved in the construction of the pipeline. Earlier, on February 17, four members of the House of Representatives requested from the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, information on the status of the Nord Stream 2 project; namely, what was done to thwart the construction of the pipeline.
The first sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 were imposed in December 2019 as a result of which the Swiss Allseas company, working on pipe lay on the seabed, refused to extend the project. Sanctions then expanded. Fearing the US sanctions, companies and individuals of various profiles involved in the construction of the pipeline withdrew from the project. In response to Washington’s position, Russia said it would complete the project with its own technical resources. At this stage, Russia is trying to complete the project with its own 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 Nord Stream 2 project is 94% complete. A 160-kilometer section of the pipeline is under construction.
Why Thwarting the Project is Important for Ukraine: Upon the Nord Stream 2 project’s completion, Ukraine’s transit function will be minimized and Ukraine will become vulnerable to Russian political and economic pressure.
Why the Project’s Completion is Important for Russia: The Nord Stream 2 project’s completion will enable Russia 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, in the nearest future.