|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: July 16-31, 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.
Residents of Donbass Will Take Part in the Russian Parliamentary Elections
Main Event: According to a resolution adopted by the Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) on July 20, 2021, residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions of Ukraine holding Russian passports will be able to register and cast their vote online if they want to take part in the September 19 elections of the State Duma.
Event in Details: On May 2, 2021, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs announced 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. Russia expects that the number of people wishing to obtain Russian citizenship through a simplified procedure may increase to one million in Donbass 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 and take part in Russian elections. Russia has also used the argument of protecting its citizens in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region to legitimize the war against Georgia.
On May 24, 2021, 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. “This is definitely the first step, because the same thing happened once in Crimea, when the residents of Crimea received Russian passports,” the Ukrainian President noted.
Why the Event is Important: 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. Giving Ukrainian citizens, living in separatist regions of Ukraine, the right to vote is an important step towards the annexation of these territories and the integration into Russia’s political space.
Russia Files a Lawsuit Against Ukraine at the European Court of Human Rights
Main Event: The Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation announced that Russia filed a lawsuit against Ukraine in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on July 22, 2021.
Event in Details: In its complaint, Russia blames the Ukrainian authorities for the death of its civilians, illegal imprisonment and ill-treatment of people. The main episode of the lawsuit concerns the 2014 “coup d’etat” which was followed by a mass shooting, the killing of local residents in the House of Trade Unions in Odessa on May 2 and war crimes committed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and nationalist battalions in Donbass. The lawsuit, along with many other items of “evidence,” focuses on the discrimination against the Russian-speaking population and the displacement of the use of the Russian language from education and everyday life.
The lawsuit also concerns the situation in Crimea. In particular, the Office of the Prosecutor General accuses the Ukrainian authorities of blocking the North Crimean Canal which is the main source of a fresh water supply to the population of the annexed Crimean peninsula. The complaint mentions the 2014 crash of a Malaysian Boeing which claimed the lives of 298 people. Russia accuses the Ukrainian authorities of the tragedy saying the latter did not close the airspace over the war zone.
Note: The estimates in the claim represent the Russian interpretation of events.
Why the Event is Important: The lawsuit against Ukraine is part of Russia’s propaganda war against Ukraine and the West. Russia itself is directly or indirectly related to most of the facts in the claim. Therefore, a similar claim to the European Court of Human Rights is aimed at accusing of others by Russia and waging an information war.
Interview with the Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council: Key Messages
Main Event: On July 26, 2021, the Rossiyskaya Gazeta Russian government newspaper published an interview with Rashid Nurgaliyev, the Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council. In the interview, Nurgaliyev speaks about new challenges and protecting common interests in the CIS space.
Event in Details: In the interview, Nurgaliyev focused on relations with the CIS member states. According to him:
Who is Rashid Nurgaliyev?
Nurgaliyev has been the Deputy Secretary of the Security Council since 2012. In 2004-2012, he was the Minister of Internal Affairs. He supervises the directions of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region in the Security Council and acts as a crisis manager during the period of internal political instability in the occupied regions of Georgia. Nurgaliyev last visited the Tskhinvali region on July 26-28 this year and met with Aslan Bzhania, the de facto President of Abkhazia, in Moscow, on July 30.
Rashid Nurgaliyev Visits the Tskhinvali Region, July 28, 2021. Source: Web-page of the De Facto President of the Tskhinvali Region.
Why the Event is Important: Nurgaliyev is a seasoned member of Putin’s political team. He does not excel in public speaking and mostly works behind the scenes. Therefore, the views expressed in his interview can be considered as the Kremlin’s messages.
Prime Minister of Armenia Invites Russian Border Guards
Main Event: On July 29, 2021, at a government meeting, the Acting Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, proposed to deploy Russian border posts along the length of the country’s border with Azerbaijan in order to prevent the risk of clashes between the parties during the border demarcation work.
Event in Details: Pashinyan views the deployment of the CSTO monitoring mission on the border as one of the solutions to clear up the Armenian-Azerbaijani accusations; however, if the mission fails, the Armenian side can accept another international format. Until now, Pashinian asked to deploy Russian border guards only in the Syunik region, but due to military incidents in other sections of the border in recent months, it became necessary to strengthen the entire border line.
Dmitry Peskov, the Press Secretary for the Russian President, did not comment on Pashinian’s initiative. He said Russia is continuing contacts with Yerevan and Baku to fully implement the tripartite agreement which ended the second Nagorno-Karabakh war.
Russian Military Posts
The issue of expanding Russia’s military presence in Armenia became even more critical for Yerevan after the 44-day war of 2020. Shortly after the end of the war, two military bases were opened in the Syunik region and Russian border guards were stationed in some parts of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Syunik is located in the south of Armenia and the region faces new security challenges in the wake of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. After Azerbaijan reclaimed the territories which were lost during the first Nagorno-Karabakh war, Azerbaijani military posts were set up near the settlements of Syunik.
Armenia and Russia are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The organization unites Russia’s ally countries. Armenia is the only country in the South Caucasus where a military base is deployed under a bilateral agreement (there are illegal Russian military bases in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. A total of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers have been stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh since November 9, 2020). Following the 1995 agreement, the 102nd military base with up to 5,000 military personnel was deployed in Gyumri. In 2010, the term of the agreement on the deployment of the base was extended from 25 to 49 years (until 2044). On November 30, 2016, an agreement was signed on creating a joint military group consisting of the Armed Forces of the two countries.
Why the Event is Important: Armenia’s security environment has deteriorated since its defeat in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. Russia was a guarantor of Armenia’s security even before the war. After its military failure in the 44-day war, Russia’s support became even more critical for Armenia. While Armenia experienced military pressure from Azerbaijan only in some parts of the border after the war, border incidents have been taking place all along the border in recent months. In the current situation, deterrence of Azerbaijan is only possible through increased military cooperation with Russia.
US and Germany Agree to Complete the Nord Stream 2 Project
Main Event: On July 21, 2021, the United States and Germany agreed to complete the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.
Event in Details: The US has been actively lobbying against the construction of the gas pipeline for many years. The sanctions imposed on companies involved in the construction thwarted the completion of the project; however, Washington appears to have ultimately escaped the ruin of relations with its ally Germany which is the main lobbyist for the project and will be the main user after the construction is completed.
Ukraine actively opposed to the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project whose launch will minimize its transit role and strengthen Russia’s leverage on Kyiv. This question was also the main argument that Washington used against the project. To compensate for the expected damage (USD 2 billion for the transit of Russian gas per year) to Ukraine, Washington and Berlin agreed on a package of measures that includes possible sanctions against Russia if the project affects Ukraine’s budget or national security.
According to the agreement, if Russia uses energy barriers in Ukraine or takes further aggressive actions, Germany will try to limit Russia’s export opportunities to Europe, including in the energy and/or other sectors of the economy. At the same time, Germany will appoint a special representative who will grant Ukraine a ten-year extension of the Russian transit agreement which expires in 2024. The bilateral agreement also provides for the establishment a Green Fund with at least a USD 1 billion investment to support the energy and security sectors of Ukraine and Poland. The gas pipeline project bypasses Poland, like Ukraine.
Assessment of Ukraine-Poland
Ukraine and Poland will be the two main victims of the project. The foreign ministers of these countries issued a joint statement criticizing the US for agreeing to complete the pipeline construction. According to them, the decision poses additional political, military and energy threats to Ukraine and Central Europe as well as increases Russia’s ability to have a destructive impact on European security and increases divisions between NATO and EU members.
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. Reportedly, the Nord Stream 2 project is 94% complete. A 160-kilometer section of the pipeline is under construction.
Nord Stream 2. Source: Web-page of Gazprom
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. At this stage, when the completion of the project has become a reality, the main task of Ukraine is to ensure the compensation for transit revenues and obtain firm guarantees from its allies against political pressure of Russia.
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 Project Implementation 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 in the nearest future and establish direct ties with Germany – the main consumer of Russian gas.
Joint Military Exercises Planned Near the Afghan Border in Tajikistan
Main Event: On July 19, 2021, Aleksandr Lapin, the Commander of the Central Military District of the Russian Federation, announced that joint military exercises will be held in Tajikistan on August 5-10.
Event in Details: Amid the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the intensification of the Taliban movement, security risks increased in Central Asia, prompting the mobilization of Tajik and Uzbek troops. The situation in Central Asia is also a challenge to Russia’s security whose allies border Afghanistan.
The military exercises will be held at the Harb-Maidon military training ground in the Khatlon region, Tajikistan, on August 5-10. Military servicemen of Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan will take part in the exercises. Ahead of the planned exercises, Russia deployed tanks on the Afghan-Tajik border which were previously stationed at a Russian military base in Tajikistan. As part of the exercises, participants will practice joint combat operations to destroy illegal armed formations. From the Russian side, units of the Russian 201st military base will be involved in the exercises. The base is Russia’s largest military base abroad and is located in two cities – Dushanbe and Bokhtar.
In parallel, Russia holds joint military exercises with Uzbekistan at the Termez military training ground in Uzbekistan near the Afghan border. The exercises started on July 30 and will last until August 10.
Following the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghan territory, which is due to end in August, Taliban fighters narrowed government forces in a number of directions, including along the borders of Central Asian countries. Hundreds of government troops fled to Tajikistan which fears that the conflict could spill over into its territory. There are similar concerns in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Why the Event is Important: The planned military exercises are preventive in nature and are aimed at addressing new security concerns related to the strengthening of the Taliban in Central Asia.
Lithuanian Politician Convicted of Spying for Russia
Main Event: On July 27, 2021, a Lithuanian court found a Lithuanian politician, Algirdas Paleckis, guilty on charges of espionage in favor of Russia and sentenced him to six years in prison.
Event in Details: In the past, Paleckis was the Chairman of the Socialist People’s Front, a pro-Russian party, a diplomat and a member of the Seimas (parliament of Lithuania). He was arrested for collaborating with the Russian Intelligence Service in 2018. Allegedly, Paleckis collected information about the ongoing political processes in the country for money.
On June 10, 2021, the Saeima (parliament of the Republic of Latvia) authorized the Office of the Prosecutor General to arrest Janis Adamsons and search his home. Janis Adamsons is suspected of spying for Russia. Adamsons is accused of transmitting information to Russia for the past four years. 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 the Baltic states.