|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: September 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.
Leaders of Belarus and Russia Agree on Integration
Main Event: On September 9, 2021, the President of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, paid his fifth official visit to Russia this year while the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has never visited Belarus.
Event in Details: The three-hour meeting between the presidents of the two countries ended with a significant result. The sides agreed on all 28 programs of the so-called integration “roadmap” of Belarus and Russia despite the fact that many issues had been previously unacceptable for the parties. Particularly, intensive negotiations to reach an agreement on the programs have been going on for the last three years. The Council of Ministers of the Union State in Minsk supported the implementation of 28 programs on the second day of the meeting.
Meeting between the Leaders of Belarus and Russia. Source: kremlin.ru
“Today, I would like to happily note that all 28 programs were agreed upon. We are talking about 28 so-called alliance programs aimed at unifying the legislation of Russia and Belarus in different areas of the economy, leveling the working conditions of the economic entities of the two countries, creating common financial and energy markets and transport space, and forming a common industrial and agricultural policy,” Putin said after the meeting.
The agreement also covers energy issues which are important for Belarus. According to the agreement, the price of gas and oil will be maintained at the level of the current year in 2022 and an agreement on the establishment of a common gas market with the allied state will be signed in 2023. The presidents also agreed to create a common market for oil, petroleum products and electricity.
What Preceded the Meeting
The day before the meeting in Moscow, Russia moved fighter jets to Belarus to patrol the border. According to the Ministry of Defense of Belarus, Russian jets arrived at the Baranovichi airfield to form a joint training center of the air forces and air defense forces of Belarus and Russia.
On September 9, the Zapad-2021 joint strategic exercise, the largest in Europe in recent decades, was officially opened at the Mulino military training ground in the Nizhny Novgorod region. The exercises will take place on September 10-16 at ten Russian military bases on the Baltic Sea and five military training grounds of Belarus which are located near the Polish-Lithuanian border. The exercises will involve up to 200,000 military servicemen, including those from other Russian allies in the post-Soviet space.
In response to the exercise, the foreign and defense ministers of the Baltic states and Poland convened on September 13 in Riga, calling upon the EU and NATO for unification against the exercises.
The process of rapprochement between Russia and Belarus 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: Amid the growing isolation from the West, Lukashenko was forced to accept the terms of political and economic integration with Russia after a long period of resistance. The agreement which was reached on the so-called alliance programs will undermine the sovereignty of Belarus and increase Moscow’s influence over Minsk; however, in return, Lukashenko will retain power in the short term and relinquish the presidency “with dignity.”
Russian-Ukrainian War over the Historical Past
Main Event: On September 8, 2021, Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called on Ukraine to stop its desecration of the graves of Soviet fighters.
Event in Details: According to Zakharova, the Russian side knows that the government of the city of Drohobych in the Lviv Oblast intends to destroy the Eternal Flame memorial at the fraternal cemetery of Soviet soldiers who were killed during the liberation of western Ukraine. Following the allegations, the Russian consulate in Lviv received a response that “it is unacceptable to interfere in the affairs of another country and Ukraine suffered losses from both fascist-Nazi and Soviet-communist totalitarian regimes in World War II.”
Dismantling of the Monument
At the same time, a monument erected in 2001 in honor of friendship with Moscow was dismantled in Kyiv. The monument was damaged in 2015 and a decision was taken to dismantle it in the summer of 2021. Currently, the monument is being stored in the administration of one of the districts of Kyiv.
Why the Event is Important: The fight against the common Soviet past in Ukraine, which is ultimately aimed at undermining the unity of Russians and Ukrainians, is seen as an expression of hysteria of anti-Russian, pro-Western and nationalist forces against Russia’s attempt to interpret history in a different way. That is why Moscow reacts harshly to any move by Ukraine which offers historical facts that differ from the Russian interpretation.
Russian Special Services Detain Crimean Tatars in Crimea
Main Event: On September 7, 2021, another Crimean Tatar, Eldar Menseitov, was detained in the city of Molodizhne, the Russia-occupied Crimean peninsula.
Event in Details: Menseitov is the former deputy chairman of the Mejlis, the self-governing body of the Crimean Tatars. Russia considers the Mejlis as detrimental to the Kremlin’s interests and banned its activities. Eldar Menseitov is a defense witness in the ongoing trial of Mustafa Jemilev, a leader of the Crimean Tatars and a member of the Verkhovna Rada. Jemilev, one of the prominent leaders of the Crimean Tatars, was banned from entering Crimea after the annexation of the peninsula by Russia in March 2014. The original restrictions were in effect for five years; however, in 2019, the ban was extended until 2034.
The same day, the Russian Federal Service (FSB) accused five Crimean Tatars of sabotaging a gas pipeline. The Russian Special Services claimed that the Ukrainian Military Intelligence procured the detainees with an explosive device and promised a cash reward for planting it at the pipeline. The gas pipeline, which runs near Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, was damaged in August. Among the detainees is Nariman Jelyal, the Deputy Speaker of the Mejlis. Over 50 Crimean Tatars who gathered to protest the arrest were also detained.
The detention of Crimean Tatars has become a commonplace since the Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014. The Russian Security Services consider Crimean Tatars unreliable and react sharply to any political activity on their part. Criticism of the annexation, especially from the local population, including the Crimean Tatars, is perceived by Russia as a hostile move and, therefore, Moscow is trying to pursue a repressive policy against them. Leaders of the Crimean Tatars are either in exile or in prison.
The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, says that such arrests are Russia’s response to the setup of the Crimean platform. The Crimean Platform Summit, which Kyiv hosted on August 23, 2021, adopted a joint declaration. The main goal of the platform is to ensure the de-occupation of Crimea and the restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty over the peninsula.
Why the Event is Important: Activities of the Russian Special Services in the light of frequent arrests of spies working in favor of the Crimean Tatars and Ukraine is Moscow’s response to Kyiv’s increasingly active anti-Russian policy.
CSTO Member States Conduct Another Military Exercise
Main Event: On September 7-9, 2021, the Rubezh-2021 joint military exercise was held at the Edelweiss military training ground in Kyrgyzstan with the participation of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
Event in Details: The exercise involved a total of 500 military personnel of the Russian military base stationed in Kyrgyzstan and 129 units of military equipment.
CSTO Exercises in Kyrgyzstan. Source: odkb-csto.org
The exercises were aimed at improving the skills of the officers in organizing combat operations and managing troops as well as at enhancing the coordinated actions of the Rapid Deployment Collective Forces of the Central Asian region. According to legend, the military first blocked and then destroyed a conditional adversary who illegally intruded onto a CSTO member state’s territory.
Three more military exercises will be held along the Tajik-Afghan border in October and one in November.
[The members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization are Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.]
Why the CSTO Became Active
In the light of recent events in Afghanistan, the CSTO has become more active. After the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, Taliban fighters took control of the country and the border with the Central Asian countries. Security risks, therefore, increased in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
On August 23, 2021, an extraordinary meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was held. Military exercises are also being held intensively. Military exercises were held at the Kharb-Maidon military training ground in the Khatlon district, Tajikistan, on August 5-10. In parallel, Russia held joint military exercises with Uzbekistan at the Termez military training ground in Uzbekistan near the Afghan border. The exercises started on July 30 and ended on August 10.
Why the Event is Important: While the Taliban movement is offering cooperation to the Central Asian countries and Russia, countries in the region fear that the instability created in Afghanistan could spill over into their own countries. That is why Russia, together with its regional allies, is trying to take preventive measures (military exercises, political dialogues, etc.) and contain possible threats.
Russia Completes the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Construction
Main Event: On September 6, 2021, Gazprom announced the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.
Event in Details: The pipe-laying ship Fortuna completed the welding of the last sections of the pipeline after which pipe number 200,858 was lowered onto the seabed of the Baltic Sea in German waters. As the next step, the section of the pipe coming from the German shore will be connected to the section coming from the Danish waters. Once all the necessary documentation is prepared, the pipeline will pass the certification process and be ready for operation. As scheduled, the pipeline will launch operation by the end of the year.
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, eventually, Washington 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. 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.
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.
Nord Stream 2. Source: Web-page of Gazprom
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.
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.
Russian Government Officials Visit Abkhazia
Main Event: In early September 2021, delegations from the Russian Ministry of Economic Development paid two official visits to Abkhazia to inspect the progress of projects financed by Russia.
Event in Details: On September 2, the Russian Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Dmitry Volvach, and the Deputy Minister of Energy, Evgeny Grabchak, visited Abkhazia. The Russian delegation comprised Vitaly Gudin, the Director of the Department for Special Programs and Projects of the Ministry of Economic Development, overseeing the directions of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, and his Deputy, Anton Melnik. As part of the visit, the Russian delegation inspected social and infrastructural facilities which were restored under the Russian investment program, including the Park Prince of Oldenburg in Gagra and two Gagra sub-stations – Gagra-1 (throughput capacity – 110 kV) and Bzyb (throughput capacity – 220 kV).
On September 13, Gudin and Melnik paid another working visit to Abkhazia. They were accompanied by a number of employees of the Ministry of Economic Development. The purpose of the visit was to study the progress of the investment program in more details.
The Russian Ministry of Economic Development oversees the implementation of the 2020-2022 investment program promoting the socio-economic development of Abkhazia. As part of the program, a total of RUB 1.5 billion is allocated annually for the implementation of socio-economic projects in Abkhazia. A similar program is being implemented in the Tskhinvali region.
Why the Event is Important: The Russian Ministry of Economic Development is responsible for the implementation of Russian-funded projects in the occupied regions of Georgia. Such visits are also intended to check the spending of money on site.