|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: May 16-30, 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.
Russia Offers to Help Demarcate the Armenian-Azerbaijani Border
Main Event: The Council of Foreign Ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) gave a press conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan on May 19, 2021 where the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that Moscow was ready to mediate in the process of the demarcation of the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Event in Details: According to Armenia, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces crossed the border into the Syunik and Gegharkunik regions of Armenia, invading and encroaching several kilometers in three directions on May 12. Armenia appealed to its allies in the CSTO (a pro-Russian military alliance whose members are Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) and directly to Russia.
Azerbaijan denied the allegations, saying its troops were taking up positions on the border between the two countries in the highlands after the snow melted. In the following days, several incidents occurred between Azerbaijani and Armenian militaries in the border area. On May 25, an Armenian soldier was killed in a cross-border shooting. On May 27, the Azerbaijani side detained six Armenian soldiers in the Kelbajar region. According to Baku, they were trying to cross the border and mine supply routes of the Azerbaijani Army. Against the background of the border dispute, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia resigned on May 27.
According to Lavrov, Russia proposed that the parties start the process of delimitation and demarcation and set up a joint Armenian-Azerbaijani border commission with Russia’s possible participation as a consultant and mediator. Lavrov said that Russia informed its allies in the CSTO about the efforts made for resolving the incident which arose due to the lack of an international legal demarcation of the border. After Lavrov’s statement, the Russian President discussed the border incident with the President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia.
Estimates of Armenia and Azerbaijan
In response to Lavrov, the Secretary of the Security Council of Armenia, Armen Grigoryan, said that such a discussion would be possible only after the withdrawal of Azerbaijani troops from the sovereign territory of Armenia. For his part, the Azerbaijani Prime Minister, Ali Asadov, supported Russia’s proposal to set up a tripartite commission on the delimitation and demarcation of the Azerbaijani-Armenian border.
The Acting Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, also made a statement saying that “the proposal of its strategic partner, Russia, and the Minsk Group of the OSCE is acceptable for Armenia.” According to Pashinyan, the Armenian side and the co-chairs of the Minsk Group offer both sides the chance to return to their starting positions and then begin the delimitation and demarcation process with international involvement.
The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War
As a result of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020, Azerbaijan reclaimed part of Nagorno-Karabakh, including Shusha, a city of historical and cultural significance, and regained control of seven Azerbaijani regions which were occupied by Armenia during the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. A total of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh following the November 9 ceasefire agreement. During the war, Russia took a practically neutral position and intervened only as a mediator when it became possible to establish Azerbaijan’s control over the entire territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. At this stage, Russia is the only guarantor of maintaining Armenian influence in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Why the Event is Important: The neutral positions of Russia and the CSTO in the current Armenian-Azerbaijani confrontation indicate that Armenia is losing both the political and the diplomatic war with Azerbaijan.
Belarus Will Receive USD 500 Million from Russia
Main Event: On May 28, 2021, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, hosted the President of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, in Sochi.
Event in Details: The meeting between Putin and Lukashenko ended in two days. The official part of the presidents’ meeting took place on May 28 and lasted for five hours. The next day, as an informal part of the meeting, the presidents took a boat trip. Lukashenko met with Putin for the third time this year.
Belarus will receive the second tranche (USD 500 million) of the promised USD 1.5 billion Russian loan by the end of June. According to Dmitry Peskov, the Spokesman of the Russian President, this was decided before the “all the stories with the plane” when the Lukashenko regime forced a Ryanair plane travelling from Athens to Vilnius to land at the Minsk airport (May 23) and arrested a dissident journalist on board.
The Kremlin pledged to provide the USD 1.5 billion loan to Lukashenko in September 2020. Minsk received the first tranche of USD 500 million in December 2020. The loan will help Belarus pay off its state debts and provide services.
The process of re-rapprochement between Moscow and Minsk began after the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus. If there were tensions between the parties before the elections, the situation changed after the August presidential elections. Amid protest rallies against Lukashenko, unprecedented for Belarus, and growing pressure from the West, a reconciliation with Moscow and an acceleration of the integration process with Russia became the only way for Lukashenko to maintain power.
Why the Event is Important: In the wake of the “incident with the plane,” Lukashenko’s prospects for rapprochement with the West have been blocked for a long time which will strengthen the isolation of his regime as well as Russia’s influence in the internal political processes of Belarus. In such an environment, Russian financial and political support remains the only way to save Lukashenko’s regime which will extend his tenure at the expense of deeper integration with Russia.
Zelensky Says that Russian Passports in Donbass Are a Step Towards Annexation
Main Event: On May 24, 2021, at a press conference summarizing his two years in office, the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, said that issuing Russian passports to residents of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics is a “big problem” and the first step to the annexation of the territory.
Event in Details: Zelensky says his priorities are to resolve the ongoing conflict in Donbass between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian Armed Forces, de-occupy the Russian-annexed Crimea and continue his fight against the oligarchs. “This is definitely the first step, because the same thing happened once in Crimea, when the residents of Crimea received Russian passports,” noted the Ukrainian President.
On May 2, 2021, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that over 527 thousand people living in eastern Ukraine were granted Russian citizenship in the last two years. On April 24, 2019, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, signed a decree on granting expedited citizenship to residents of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. The first passports were issued on July 14, 2019. Russian passports can be obtained in the Rostov region which borders Ukraine. Russia expects that the number of people wishing to obtain Russian citizenship through a simplified procedure may increase to one million in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics by the end of 2021.
Granting Russian citizenship is a Kremlin practice which Russia once used in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. Shortly before the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, Moscow began issuing passports to residents of the breakaway regions of Georgia. Today, the majority of the people in these regions are Russian citizens. Russia has also used the argument of protecting its citizens in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region to legitimize the war against Georgia.
Why the Event is Important for Ukraine: Granting Russian citizenship to Ukrainian citizens is a part of the Kremlin’s hybrid war tactics that undermine the country’s sovereignty in eastern Ukraine and set the stage for Russian annexation of parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Ukraine Commemorates the 77th Anniversary of the Deportation of Crimean Tatars
Main Event: The 77th anniversary of the deportation of Crimean Tatars was marked in Ukraine on May 18, 2021.
Event in Details: The Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Crimean Tatars Genocide has been officially celebrated in Ukraine since 2015. The deportation of thousands of Crimean Tatars to Central Asia on charges of collaborating with Nazi Germany began on May 18, 1944. Out of the 250,000 deportees, tens of thousands died during or in the deportation process. During the last years of the Soviet Union, Crimean Tatars began to migrate from Central Asia to Crimea.
The situation of Crimean Tatars worsened again in 2014 after the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia. Opponents of the Russian policy are victims of discrimination and political persecution. Russia extended a ban on the entry to Crimea for the Leader of the Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Jemilev, until 2034. Russia justifies the repressions by fighting Islamists and pro-Ukrainian “terrorists.”
“We will not forgive that 70 years later you were forced to leave your homes again due to the Russian annexation,” Zelensky said at the memorial event to the deportation victims.
Why the Event is Important: Commemorating the historic day of Crimean Tatars is part of Ukraine’s de-occupation policy of the Crimean peninsula which aims at keeping the annexation of Crimea by Russia on the international agenda and demonstrating Russia’s discriminatory policy towards the local population.
Russia Sees Ukraine’s Military Build-up as a Threat
Main Event: On May 27, 2021, in an interview with RIA Novosti, Vladimir Kulishov, the Head of the Border Service of the Russian Federal Security Service, spoke about Ukraine.
Event in Details: Kulishov stated that:
Why the Event is Important: Russia views Ukraine’s move to strengthen its military infrastructure in the Azov and Black Sea regions as a source of threat. Therefore, it is important for Moscow to prevent the strengthening of Ukraine’s military infrastructure to maintain and further increase its influence.
Turkmenistan: The Incumbent President ‘s Son Will Be Responsible for Developing Cooperation with Russia
Main Event: On May 21, 2021, at a government meeting, the Deputy Prime Minister, Chairman of the Supreme Control Chamber of Turkmenistan, Serdar Berdymuhamedov, made a report on the development of a program for Turkmen-Russian interstate economic cooperation for 2021-2023.
Event in Details: Serdar’s father, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, approved the program and instructed Serdar to ensure the implementation of the planned activities. According to the President, the implementation of the program will contribute to the cooperation between the two countries. Berdymukhamedov considers Russia as one of the leading trade and economic partners of Turkmenistan and the interstate cooperation meets the welfare interests of the population of these countries.
The program is a “roadmap” focusing on trade in the fields of industry, energy, agro-industry, high technology, services and finance.
As a member of a Turkmen delegation, Serdar Berdymukhamedov visited Russia twice in April: he attended a meeting of foreign ministers of the CIS in Moscow and the Eurasian Economic Union forum in Kazan.
Serdar Berdymukhamedov Against the Background of His Father’s Photo. Source: rbc.ru.
Trade Turnover between Russia and Turkmenistan Amounted to USD 1 billion in 2020.
Why the Event is Important: Serdar Berdymukhamedov is a high-ranking government official and the son of the authoritarian ruler of Turkmenistan. Serdar’s “successful” political career indicates that Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is preparing his son as his successor. Presumably, promoting rapprochement with the Russian political elite and cooperation with the Kremlin is part of a power transfer operation aimed at increasing Serdar’s political authority.
Putin Hosted Kyrgyzstan’s New President in Sochi
Main Event: On May 24, 2021, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, hosted his Kyrgyz counterpart, Sadir Japarov, in Sochi.
Meeting of the Presidents. Source: Web-page of the President of Kyrgyzstan
Event in Details: Japarov views Russia as a key ally and trade and economic partner of Kyrgyzstan. An important topic of discussion between the presidents was the problem of regional security; in particular, the clashes on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border on April 28-30 and the restoration of infrastructure destroyed as a result of the conflict. The confrontation killed 36 and injured 154 Kyrgyz people as well as claimed lives of 19 and injured 87 Tajiks.
This was the second meeting of the presidents in 2021. Japarov first met with Putin in February after he was elected as the president in January. The election was followed by an online opening of a gold refinery plant in Jerooy on March 17. The Jerooy gold refinery plant is the country’s second largest mine, operated by the Russian Alliance Group. It is interesting that Japarov signed a law on May 14 that allows him to temporarily deprive the largest Canadian mining company, Centerra Gold, the right to operate the Kumtor gold mine.
Why the Event is Important for Kyrgyzstan: Sadir Japarov, the president-elect after the October 2020 internal political crisis, is trying to forge closer ties with the Russian leader and gain his trust. It is important for Japarov that the Kremlin recognize him as a reliable partner and loyal ally which will also help the Kyrgyz president to consolidate power within the country and overcome economic challenges.
Number of Teachers from Russia to Kyrgyzstan Will Further Increase
Main Event: On May 26, 2021, the Russian Minister of Education, Sergey Kravtsov, and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Bolotbek Kupeshev, discussed the expansion of the Russian Teacher Abroad project.
Event in Details: As a part of the project’s expansion, there are plans to build three new schools in different regions of Kyrgyzstan: in the cities of Osh, Karakol and the village of Novopavlovka in the Chuy region. Teaching in these schools will be conducted in compliance with Russian educational standards and teachers will be appointed from Russia.
At the same time, Russia is ready to accept 150 children from Kyrgyzstan at the Artek International Children’s Center in the annexed Crimea.
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 other 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 its “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.