|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: October 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.
Sergey Lavrov Speaks About the 3+3 Format
Main Event: At a press conference on October 6, 2021, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, spoke at about the 3+3 format.
Event in Details: Sergey Lavrov answered media questions after a meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
While answering a question about the current events in the Caucasus, Sergey Lavrov also spoke about the 3+3 format. “In 2020, Russia played a decisive role in stopping the war (the second Nagorno-Karabakh war) and having a trilateral agreement signed under which Russian peacekeepers were deployed to ensure peace in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. In addition, the joint agreement contains principles which define further steps in establishing peace, including the restoration of all transport links and economic ties in the region. This will benefit not only Armenia and Azerbaijan but also Georgia as another South Caucasus country as well as Iran, Russia and Turkey which are the closest neighbors of these three South Caucasus countries. In this context, today we discussed an initiative to create a 3+3 format to include the three South Caucasus countries and the three ’big’ neighbors, namely, Russia, Iran and Turkey. Our Iranian friends support this initiative as well as Azerbaijan and Turkey. We are working on it with our Armenian colleagues. We hope that Georgia, despite its current problems, will be able to realize its fundamental interests in setting up such a mechanism for consultations and approving decisions to accelerate the development of the region,” he said.
About the 3+3 format
After the end of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, came up with the idea to create a six-country regional cooperation platform. The format provides for the cooperation between the three South Caucasus countries (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia), Turkey, Iran and Russia to establish stability and peace in the region. Mr. Erdogan also spoke about this initiative during his visit to Azerbaijan in June 2021.
Why the Event is Important: The new initiative is aimed at creating a cooperation format which will reduce the involvement of non-regional countries (US, EU) in the South Caucasus and, at the same time, increase the degree of influence of regional countries (Turkey, Iran) and especially of Russia over the current political or economic processes in the region.
Putin Hosted the Prime Minister of Armenia
Main Event: On October 12, 2021, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, hosted the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, in Moscow.
Meeting between Vladimir Putin and Nikol Pashinyan. Source: kremlin.ru
Event in Details: This is the fourth meeting between Putin and Pashinyan this year. The meeting was held in both a formal and an informal environment. In addition to issues of bilateral relations, the main topic of discussion was the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which, according to Mr. Pashinyan, “remains unresolved.”
According to Nikol Pashinyan, Russia and Vladimir Putin played a decisive role to end the second Nagorno-Karabakh war which started on September 27 and lasted until November 10, 2020. As a result of the war Azerbaijan recaptured its territories and part of Nagorno-Karabakh which has been occupied by the Armenian side since 1994.
Why the Event is Important: Russia’s role as a guarantor of Armenia’s security has grown since the latter’s defeat in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. After the escalation of confrontations with Azerbaijan in the post-war period, Moscow’s support became even more critical for Armenia.
Diocese of the Russian Church in Armenia
Main Event: On October 15, 2021, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church decided to establish a diocese in Armenia.
Event in Details: By a decision of the Synod, the Diocese of Yerevan-Armenia of the Russian Orthodox Church was established within the Republic of Armenia. The Head of the Diocese will be Archbishop Leonid of Klinsky who has been chairing the Diocese of Vladikavkaz and has overseen religious affairs in the Tskhinvali region for many years. He is also the Vice-Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. In September 2021, Leonid was appointed as Vicar of the Patriarchate of Moscow and was awarded the title of Archbishop of Klinsky.
On October 12, during a meeting with the Russian Patriarch, the Head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Karekin II, voiced his hopes that the Russian Orthodox Church will be represented in Armenia at the highest level.
Interestingly, the decision to establish a diocese of the Russian Church in Armenia was made after a meeting between Karekin II and Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazadeh, the Chairman of the Caucasian Muslims Office, in Moscow on October 13. The meeting was mediated by the Russian Patriarch Kirill.
Why the Event is Important: In Armenia, where the number of Orthodox Christians is small, the establishment of the Diocese of the Russian Church could be linked to the protection of Orthodox Christians living in Nagorno-Karabakh (including Russian military servicemen) and churches.
Russian Defense Minister Summarized the Zapad-2021 Strategic Exercise
Main Event: On October 6, 2021, the Russian Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, together with generals summarized the Zapad-2021 Russian-Belarusian strategic exercise.
Event in Details: Shoigu positively assessed the drill “the objectives of which have been achieved and the training issues fully addressed.” According to him the exercise demonstrated the ability of the two countries’ military groups to effectively respond to regional security challenges.
In the course of the exercise, new forms and methods of warfare were practiced, considering the peculiarities of modern local wars and armed conflicts.
Exercise Logo. Source: wikipedia.org
The Zapad-2021 Russian-Belarusian strategic exercise was held on September 10-15 at ten Russian military bases on the Baltic Sea and five military training grounds of Belarus. The exercises involved up to 200,000 military servicemen as well as used 760 units of military equipment and 15 ships. The exercise was the largest in Europe in recent decades.
Why the Event is Important: Conducting such large-scale strategic exercises is a signal which the Kremlin is sending to its opponents in NATO and the post-Soviet space that Moscow will use military force to defend its own interests if necessary.
Ukraine Files a New Lawsuit Against Vladimir Putin’s Friend
Main Event: On October 12, 2021, the house arrest of Viktor Medvedchuk, Chairman of the Opposition Platform — For Life Ukrainian party and a member of the Verkhovna Rada, was extended until December 7 due to new charges.
Event in Details: The pro-Russian Ukrainian politician, Viktor Medvedchuk, is accused of setting up a scheme for financing separatist forces in the Donbass region. On October 8, the Prosecutor General, Irina Venediktova, accused Mr. Medvedchuk of purchasing coal from separatist-controlled territories along with former high-ranking officials in the government of the former Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko. This action was ultimately aimed at supporting the separatists.
“We are talking about selling state interests and financing Russian terrorists,” Ivan Bakanov, the Head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), said on October 8.
Viktor Medvedchuk’s Case
On May 11, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) searched the headquarters of Viktor Medvedchuk’s political party as well as his offices and two residential houses. Later, a Kyiv court placed Mr. Medvedchuk under house arrest. Viktor Medvedchuk is a close ally of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. According to reports, Mr. Putin is the godfather of Viktor Medvedchuk’s daughter, Darya. He often visited Russia and met with Russian officials as well as with the Russian president personally.
According to the Prosecutor General there are three major allegations against Viktor Medvedchuk: first, a Ukrainian company, New Projects, which is involved in the development of a gas field near the occupied Kerch and is linked to Mr. Medvedchuk, made a deal with senior officials of the Russian government; second, Mr. Medvedchuk passed information about the deployment of a covert unit of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to Taras Kozak, a Ukrainian lawmaker, in 2020 who was in Russia by that time and third, Mr. Medvedchuk allegedly drew up plans to create an appropriate infrastructure in favor of Russia and involved Ukrainian labor migrants to Russia in this anti-Ukrainian activity.
Why the Event is Important: The arrest of the Russian President’s close friend and the most pro-Russian politician in Ukraine testifies to a deep crisis in Russian-Ukrainian relations when the parties can make no progress in resolving problems in bilateral relations and military maneuvers and similar arrests remain as the only way out.
UEFA Presented Crimea as Part of Ukraine and Caused Russia’s Dissatisfaction
Main Event: On October 6, 2021, on his Telegram channel, Sergey Aksyonov, the de facto Head of the Russia-occupied Crimea, accused UEFA of meddling in politics and thus undermining its own authority since the EURO 2024 logo launch light show presented Crimea as an integral part of Ukraine.
Fragment from the UEFA Light Show. Source: uefa.com
Event in Details: UEFA prepared a light show to present the brand, logo and motto of the 2024 European Football Championship which was unveiled at the Olympiastadion in Berlin. The championship will be held in Germany. The video shows a map of Europe where Crimea is a part of Ukraine.
After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia is trying to prove that Crimea is part of Russia; however, at this stage, no organization or country, including Moscow’s allies, recognizes this.
This is not the first time when Russian-Ukrainian confrontations affect sports:
Why the Event is Important: Sports “scandals” have intensified since Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the start of a Moscow-boosted separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Moscow is trying to legitimize the annexation of Crimea not only politically but also in the sports field which is part of its global policy against Ukraine.
Competition for Young CIS International Relations Specialists in Moscow
Main Event: On October 6-9, 2021, the final forum of the Competition for Young CIS International Relations Specialists was held in Moscow.
Event in Details: The competition, named after Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet Foreign Minister in 1957-1985, has been held annually since 2018. Over 1,100 young scientists from 11 countries took part in it.
This year, a record number of participants (513) joined the competition and submitted a total of 472 scientific papers. The research topics focused on diplomacy, Eurasian integration and historical memory. A total of 60 finalists were selected who presented their visions about the future of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, the Eurasian Economic Union and the CIS.
The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrey Rudenko, who oversees the direction of post-Soviet countries, said that the scientific papers submitted by participants are of practical importance for Russian Foreign Ministry. Rudenko himself awarded the finalists.
Why the Event is Important: This forum is a tool of Russia’s “soft power” which it uses in post-Soviet countries to support the political elite which is benevolent to Russia as well as to popularize Russia’s view of the political process.
When Will the Nord Stream 2 Be Launched?
Main Event: On October 4, 2021, the operator of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline announced the start of filling its first pipeline with gas.
Event in Details: On September 6, the operator of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline announced the completion of the project despite many obstacles; however, commercial operations are yet to begin as the operator is still waiting for a draft decision from the German regulator on its application for approval as an independent gas transmission network operator. The first decision might not be published before January 2022. According to media reports, all of the bureaucratic processes may soon be over and the pipeline will start delivering the first commercial gas in October. The situation in Europe, where gas reserves are almost exhausted and prices per thousand cubic meters of gas are increasing, can accelerate the process.
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 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 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. The production of the Nord Stream 2 alone will be 55 billion cubic meters which will be enough for 26 million European families. As a result of the project Ukraine will lose USD 2 billion in transit taxes annually.
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, which will increase the Kremlin/Gazprom’s influence on the European gas market.
Russia Plans to Open Russian Schools in Its Ally Countries
Main Event: On October 15, 2021, at the 7th World Congress of Compatriots Living Abroad, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, stated that Russia’s priority is to open Russian schools in all its ally countries.
Event in Details: Sergey Lavrov said that Russia is already constructing five schools in five different cities of Tajikistan. This is an important project for Russia as there are many Russian compatriots living in Tajikistan. The minister wants the project in Tajikistan to serve as a model for all of Russia’s allies and strategic partners. According to Mr. Lavrov, Russian universities also expand their branches in CIS member states.
A similar program is being implemented in Uzbekistan where, as part of the Class humanitarian project, a total of 32 specialists were to test the level of knowledge of the Russian language among teachers and schoolchildren. The project will be implemented until 2030. According to Sergey Lavrov, Russia plans to build five schools in Uzbekistan as part of the Supporting and Promoting the Russian Language Abroad program. Currently, the number of Russian-language schools totals 900 in Uzbekistan.
As Sergey Lavrov noted, Armenia also expressed interest in such a project.
Why the Event is Important: For Russia, the Russian language is a tool of “soft power” which is considered as an important lever for maintaining influence in the post-Soviet space.
Recently, Russia has become particularly active in building Russian-language schools and popularizing the Russian language in post-Soviet countries which are considered Russia’s allies and where the Russian language is still popular.