|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: March 1-15, 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.
Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service on Georgia’s Internal Political Processes
Main Event: On March 9, 2021, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service released a statement on Georgian internal political processes.
Event in Details: According to Sergey Naryshkin, the Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, “the US is undermining positions of the ruling Georgian Dream Party,” and called it a provocative move “aimed at destabilizing the country.” Naryshkin noted that “the dissatisfaction with the actions of the Georgian ruling party, which is evading the obedience to US demands to precisely follow the course of Euro-Atlantic integration, is growing in Washington. The US plans to organize systematic work to provide support to the opposition and undermine the positions of the Georgian Dream,” says the statement.
Sergey Naryshkin. Source: Web-page of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.
Naryshkin made similar statements about other post-Soviet countries as well. For example, in November last year, he announced that a group of American specialists of “colorful revolutions” was detached to Moldova in the run-up to the elections. He said that the US State Department instructed its embassy in Chisinau that if the incumbent President Igor Dodon won, the opposition would stage mass protests demanding the annulment of the voting results. Dodon lost the election to a pro-Western candidate, Maia Sandu.
Naryshkin saw foreign influences in the internal affairs of Belarus as well. On September 16, 2020, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service accused the West of organizing the ongoing events in Belarus. During his visit to Belarus on October 22, 2020, Naryshkin noted that they see attempts to replace the current political government in Belarus with “unconstitutional methods” which is backed by “foreign influence.”
Why the Event is Important: Russia considers post-Soviet countries, including pro-Western states, to be its sphere of influence, and views the Western interference as inadmissible. The statement by the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service is a message to the West and the political elites of these countries that the Kremlin will not tolerate the increasing influence of the West on the ongoing political processes in the post-Soviet space.
Kremlin Appoints a New Official Responsible for the Direction Post-Soviet Countries
Main Event: As per the Russian presidential decree of March 2, 2021, Igor Maslov was appointed as the Head of the Directorate for Interregional Relations and Cultural Contacts with Foreign Countries at the Presidential Administration.
Event in Details: Maslov replaced Vladimir Chernov, who retired. Maslov worked in European countries under the guise of a diplomat for years. According to the Dossier Center, Maslov is a veteran of the Russian Intelligence Service, and the Colonel of the Foreign Intelligence Service.
Maslov has been Chernov’s deputy for years and has been supervising the direction of Moldova in recent years. Maslov was responsible for controlling the internal political processes in Moldova. He directly supervised Igor Dodon (the President of Moldova in 2016-2020), even before his presidency, as well as other Moldovan politicians. In 2014, Dodon, as the leader of the Socialist Party, met with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. According to media reports, Maslov was one of the organizers of the meeting.
The Directorate for Interregional Relations and Cultural Contacts with Foreign Countries was established in 2005 and is aimed at opposing pro-Western governments in the post-Soviet space, especially in Georgia and Ukraine. In 2005-2013, the Directorate supervised the direction of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region.
Why the Event is Important: The new official responsible for the direction of the post-Soviet countries in the Russian Presidential Administration is an intelligence officer and an experienced diplomat with extensive experience of work with pro-Russian forces. At this stage, Maslov’s appointment does not lead to substantial changes and the area of responsibility of the Directorate remains the same.
Europe Extends Sanctions on Russia
Main Event: On March 12, 2021, the European Union extended sanctions against 177 individuals and 48 legal entities for the “violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” until September 15, 2021.
Event in Details: Individual sanctions provide for travel restrictions, the freezing of assets and a ban on making funds or other economic resources available to the listed persons and entities. Interestingly, the decision to extend the sanctions was made based on a written procedure without further consideration.
The restrictive measures are part of a package of sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia in 2014, including sectoral economic sanctions and sanctions on Russian citizens living in Crimea and companies operating on the peninsula. Prerequisite for the lifting of sanctions is the implementation of the Minsk Agreement. The sanctions on Crimea will be lifted only after the peninsula is returned to Ukraine.
Why the Event is Important: The extension of the European sanctions is a signal to Russia that the EU’s position towards Ukraine remains unchanged and that normal relations with Russia cannot be restored until peace is established in Ukraine.
Leader of the Crimean Tatars is Banned to Enter Crimea Until 2034
Main Event: Russia extended a ban on entry to Crimea for the Leader of the Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Jemilev, until 2034.
Mustafa Jemilev. Source: Wikipedia
Event in Details: Jemilev, one of the prominent leaders of the Crimean Tatars, was banned from entering Crimea after the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014. The original restrictions were in effect for five years; however, in 2019, the ban was extended until 2034. The extension was announced at an ongoing trial against Jemilev. Prosecutors of the trial in the Crimean city of Armyansk accuse Jemilev of attempting to illegally enter Crimea, recklessly import of a firearm, and the illegal possession of ammunition.
Jemilev, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, was the Chairman of the Mejils, the Crimean Tatars’ self-governing body. The Mejlis was banned after the annexation. Jemilev is a prominent anti-Soviet dissident and a vocal critic of Russia over its annexation of Crimea. He enjoys high authority among the Crimean Tatars, who oppose the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
Arrest of a pro-Ukrainian activist: At the same time, the Military Court of the Russian Southern District found a Crimean pro-Ukrainian activist, Oleg Prikhodko, guilty on charges of terrorist plots and sentenced him to five years in prison. Prikhodko was arrested in October 2019.
Why the Event is Important: For Russia, support for its policy by ethnic or different groups living in Crimea is essential to legitimize the annexation. Criticism of the annexation, especially from the local population, is perceived by Russia as a hostile move, and therefore Moscow is trying to pursue a repressive policy against them.
New US Administration Against the Completion of the Nord Stream 2 Project
Main Event: At a congress hearing, the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, emphasized the Biden administration’s opposition to the completion of the Nord Stream 2, and said the administration continues to review further sanctions.
Event in Details: At a meeting of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Blinken said that the nearly completed pipeline was a “bad idea.” The US opposes to the completion of the project and has already imposed sanctions on companies and individuals involved in the construction. The US Administration will review other possibilities for sanctions going forward, said Blinken.
Republican senators are urging the Biden administration to impose sanctions on more companies and complain that the sanctions were imposed against only one company owning a pipeline shipbuilder so far, while there are more companies involved in the construction. In Washington, Ukraine and Poland are actively lobbying against the project. On February 22, the Foreign Ministers of both countries called on Biden to block the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, calling it a “dangerous project.” The project implementation will weaken the transit function of Ukraine and Poland.
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
Nord Stream 2. Source: Web-page of Gazprom
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 the US: Washington considers the project as a threat to the its national interests, targeted towards eliminating Ukraine from the European gas transit network and increasing Russia’s influence in the European energy sector. Washington believes that the sanctions on the project is wiser step at this stage than to ruin relations with Germany, the leading European state, and the main user of the pipeline.
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. Russia also believes that the US perceives the Russian gas pipeline as a competitor as it seeks to expand liquefied natural gas exports in Europe.
Ukraine to Secede from the Russian Energy System
Main Event: According to the Minister of Energy of Ukraine, Yuri Vitrenko, the energy system of Ukraine will be separated from the energy systems of Russia and Belarus by 2022.
Event in Details: According to Vitrenko, the United Energy System of Ukraine will switch to isolated mode by 2022, and it will be fully synchronized with ENTSO-E (European Network of Transmission System Operators) by 2023. The connection to the European grid will ensure the de-monopolization of the electricity market in Ukraine. The construction of new energy facilities is also considered in Ukraine to avoid possible problems while obtaining electricity from Europe, said the Minister.
Why the Event is Important: In the event of successful integration into the European energy system, Ukraine’s energy reliance on Russia will be reduced, weakening Moscow’s leverage over Kyiv and accelerating Ukraine’s political and economic integration with Europe.
Azerbaijani Registers the Russian Vaccine
Main Event: On March 12, 2021, the Ministry of Health of Azerbaijan registered the Sputnik V Russian vaccine.
Event in Details: According to the Ministry of Health, the Russian vaccine “has proven its high effectiveness against the coronavirus infection.” Earlier, the country’s Prime Minister, Ali Asadov, ordered to purchase the Russian vaccine. Azerbaijani expects the Russian vaccine for the next six months. At this stage, Azerbaijani uses a vaccine produced by a Chinese company.
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. On February 26, Moldova also joined these countries, where 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.
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.
Why the Event is Important: The widespread use of the Russian vaccine and its effectiveness will make Russia an internationally advanced scientific country in the international arena and allow using the vaccine as a tool of “soft power” of its foreign policy. The success of the vaccine in post-Soviet countries will give Russia a competitive advantage over the West in the region which the Kremlin considers as its traditional sphere of influence.
Russia to Build Schools in Kyrgyzstan
Main Event: During his visit to Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Minister of Education, Sergey Kravtsov, and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Almazbek Beishenaliev, signed a protocol on cooperation in establishing of a joint educational infrastructure in the country.
Event in Details: As a result of the agreement, Russia will build new schools in Kyrgyzstan where teaching will be conducted in Russian. Moscow is ready to expand the Russian Teachers Abroad project in Kyrgyzstan. At this stage, about 30 teachers from Russia work in local schools. As planned, the number of teachers will further increase.
Kyrgyzstan is one of the most pro-Russian countries in the post-Soviet space, where the Russian language is widely used. In addition, Cyrillic is still used in Kyrgyzstan, while Central Asian countries (excluding Tajikistan) started to switch to the Latin alphabet.
Why the Event is Important: For Russia, the Russian language is a tool of “soft power” which is considered an important lever for maintaining influence in the post-Soviet space. In recent decades, the Russian language has slowly been losing popularity in other countries of Central Asia. For Russia it is a positive signal that the Russian language and culture is still attractive in Kyrgyzstan. Russian funding for the construction of new schools in Kyrgyzstan underscores the extent of the Kremlin’s influence on the country’s political life.