|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: June 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.
Latvian Lawmaker Arrested on Charges of Spying for Russia
Main Event: On June 10, 2021, a total of 69 lawmakers of the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia authorized the Office of the Prosecutor General to arrest Janis Adamsons and search his home.
Event in Details: Janis Adamsons is suspected of spying for Russia. During a Saeima session, Adamsons said that he learned about the ongoing probe against him from journalists. He was arrested on June 11.
Adamsons graduated from the Kyiv Higher Naval Political School. From 1979 to 1991, he served in the Soviet Border Guard Forces in the Far East of Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Adamsons served as the Commander of the Latvian Border Guard Service and the Minister of Internal Affairs. Currently, he is a member of the Parliamentary Committee for Defense, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention. Janis Adamsons is also a member of the Harmony opposition Social Democratic Party which defends the rights of the Russian-speaking population in Latvia.
Allegations against Adamsons
Adamsons is accused of transmitting information to Russia for the past four years. The Security Service provided evidence for 43 cases of espionage. He used his own computer to pass information. The information covered various issues, including changes in the law, army supplies and budget, results of a visit to the eastern border of Latvia and the position of the Baltic Assembly on the Nord Stream 2 project.
Why the Event is Important: The post-Soviet countries which the Kremlin considers to be its sphere of influence are a special target of the Russian Special Services. The recent high level of espionage indicates a high degree of political confrontation between Russia and Ukraine and the Baltic states.
Kazakhstan Rebuffs Russia’s Offer
Main Event: Kazakhstan rebuffed Russia’s offer to its allies to jointly respond to Western sanctions.
Event Details: The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Aleksandr Pankin, said earlier this month that the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) was working on a “consolidated response” to sanctions against some of its members which was quickly rejected by Kazakhstan. On June 5, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said that Kazakhstan was against the “politicizing” of the trade bloc, since the integration processes within the organization are purely economic in nature and the Western sanctions are politically motivated and target individual states rather than the EAEU as a whole.
In addition to Russia and Kazakhstan, the Eurasian Economic Union unites Armenia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan. The Western sanctions are imposed on Russia and Belarus. The European Union banned Belarusian airlines from using the EEU airports and airspace since the Lukashenko regime forced a Ryanair plane to land at the Minsk airport and arrested a dissident journalist on board.
Why the Event is Important: Kazakhstan’s rebuff of the Kremlin’s offer shows that Russia’s influence over the EAEU member states is limited when it comes to the involvement in Moscow’s anti-Western projects and affects the economic relations of these states with the West.
Russia Tries the Leader of the Crimean Tatars
Main Event: On June 1, 2021, a Russia-administered court in the annexed Crimea sentenced Refat Chubarov, an exiled Leader of the Mejils, the Crimean Tatars’ self-governing body, to six years in prison.
Event in Details: Chubarov was accused of plotting mass unrest and violating Russia’s integrity in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. Chubarov left Crimea in March 2014 and currently lives in Kyiv. Russia declared the Mejlis as an extremist organization and banned its activities. Russia also persecutes other leaders of the Crimean Tatars who do not tolerate Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
Earlier, Russia extended a ban on the entry to Crimea for another Leader of the Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Jemilev, until 2034. 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. Jemilev, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, was the Chairman of the Mejils. 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 a high authority among the Crimean Tatars who oppose the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
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.
Dmitry Kozak Speaks about Relations with Ukraine
Main Event: On June 5, 2021, Dmitry Kozak, the Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration, overseeing the direction of post-Soviet countries, spoke about Ukraine on the air of the Russia 24 news channel.
Event in Details: Dmitry Kozak has been the Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration since January 2020. He is responsible for the direction of post-Soviet countries as well as the de facto republics of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. According to Kozak:
Why the Event is Important: Dmitry Kozak is one of the most influential high-ranking officials in the direction of Ukraine which is why his assessments are so important. His views on Russian-Ukrainian relations can also be seen as the Kremlin’s.
Slogan on Ukrainian FC Jersey Sparked Outrage in Russia
Main Event: On June 10, 2021, a day before the start of the UEFA European Football Championship, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) requested Ukraine to remove the words Glory to the Heroes from the slogan of its national team jerseys.
Event in Details: UEFA said that the Glory to the Heroes slogan should not be indicated on the national team jerseys during UEFA games. The unveiling of the new design of the Ukraine’s national team jersey was held on June 7. The shirt includes an outline map of the country showing the borders of Ukraine, including Crimea, and Glory to Ukraine – Glory to the Heroes phrases. UEFA said the map was not a concern as it reflected the UN recognized borders; however, the specific combination of the two slogans is deemed to be clearly political in nature, having historic and militaristic significance. UEFA made the decision after an outrage sparked in Russia. At this stage Ukraine is not going to comply with the UEFA request.
Slogan on the Ukrainian National FC Jersey which UEFA Requested to Remove. Source: BBC
Ukraine’s move provoked a protest among representatives of the State Duma, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the sports world in Russia. The spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, called it a “desperate artistic action.” The Russian Football Union sent a letter of complaint to UEFA over the issue, threatening to leave the Euro 2020. Russia believes that a sports uniform should not be used for political purposes and states that with the map outlined on the shirt, the Ukrainian Football Association joined the “Russian Peninsula” (Russia annexed Crimea in 2014). Russia also dislikes the Glory to Ukraine – Glory to the Heroes slogan because it is seen as part of Ukrainian state propaganda seeking to establish a motto associated with the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (banned in Russia) and Stepan Bandera. Ukraine says that the Army and Stepan Bandera combated against the Soviet authorities and so their merits are highly valued.
Why the Event is Important: Using its map and the mottos of historical significance during sporting events is a part of Ukraine’s state policy which aims at reinforcing patriotic sentiments within the country and exposing Russia’s aggressive policies in the international arena.
Main Event: On June 9, 2021, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, condemned a draft law on the indigenous population of Ukraine and accused the Ukrainian government of anti-Russian actions.
Event in Details: The draft law, which is due to take effect at the end of the summer, says that the only indigenous residents of Crimea are the Crimean Tatars, Karaites and Krymchaks. Russians are not among them. The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, submitted the bill to the Verkhovna Rada on May 18 when Ukraine celebrated the 77th anniversary of the deportation of Crimean Tatars. “The bill is official Kyiv’s step forward in the direction of Crimea,” Zelensky said.
The number of Crimean Tatars is about 300 thousand and the overwhelming majority of them live in Crimea. About 500 Karaites out of a total 1,200 people live in Crimea. The number of Krymchaks does not exceed a hundred people.
The State Duma called the bill “an insult to historical memory and a blatant provocation aimed at escalating tensions and conflicts between the Ukrainian, Russian and other indigenous people of Ukraine.” For Putin, the bill resembles the “theory and practice of Nazi Germany.” According to Putin, the law will force hundreds of thousands of people who do not want to be a second-class resident to either leave their homes or join another ethnic group.
Russia views the bill as another step of Ukraine’s anti-Russian policy. The Law on Education of Ukraine adopted in 2017 is also considered discriminatory in Russia. By the law, languages can be used in schools according to their status. The Russian language is taught only before the fourth grade and then as a foreign language since Russians fell into the category of national minorities. As a result of the enactment of this law, the number of Russian-language schools reduced.
Why the Event Concerns Russia: Russia views Ukraine’s new bill as official Kyiv’s anti-Russian policy which is aimed at reducing Russian influence in Ukraine and stirring up anti-Russian sentiments.
US Waives Sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 Project
Main Event: On June 8, 2021 at a Senate Committee on Appropriations hearing, US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said that Washington was working with Germany to mitigate any negative effects of the completion of the North Stream 2 pipeline.
Event in Details: The US waived sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 AG (the company behind the pipeline) and its CEO, Matthias Warnig, as Washington seeks to mend ties with Germany. As the White House explained, the move was in US “national interests.” At the same time, Washington approved sanctions against four ships involved in the construction of the pipeline (the Baltic Researcher, the Akademik Cherskiy, and the icebreakers Vladislav Strizhov and Yury Topchev).
According to Blinken, the main task of the State Department in the context of easing sanctions is to find the most effective ways to support the interests of Ukraine and other countries. According to Washington, it is better to jointly find ways on how to compensate for the lost transit fees to Ukraine and create an environment in which Russia will not be able to use gas as an instrument of pressure on Ukraine and other countries. Blinken said the Biden administration sees the pipeline as a “bad idea” but they should also consider the reality that the pipeline is nearly complete.
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 the Event is Important for the US: Washington considers the project as a threat to its national interests, targeted towards eliminating Ukraine from the European gas transit network and increasing Russia’s influence in the European energy sector. However, under the new administration, maintaining relations with Germany has become a more important factor than suspending the project by all possible means. Therefore, at this stage, Washington is focused on identifying ways to reduce Russia’s negative influence on its allies.
Why the Event 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. Therefore, given the waiver of sanctions, Ukraine will focus on obtaining compensation for transit fees as well as getting strong guarantees from its allies against Russia’s political 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 and establish direct ties with Germany, the main consumer of Russian gas, in the nearest future.