|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: October 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.
CSTO Holds Large-Scale Exercises in Tajikistan
Main Event: On October 18-23, 2021, the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Forces held trainings at the Kharbmaidon military training ground in Tajikistan.
Event in Details: The final stage of the Interaction-2021, Search-2021 and Echelon-2021 exercises was held at the Kharbmaidon military training ground, 20 km from the Tajik-Afghan border. The CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Forces practiced the tasks of preparing and conducting a joint operation to localize an armed border conflict associated with attempts by militants of international terrorist organizations to penetrate the territory of a member state of the CSTO. The exercises involved 4,000 servicemen and over 500 pieces of military equipment.
The training is related to the ongoing processes in Afghanistan. According to the Tajik Defense Minister, Sherali Mirzo, various factors led to a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan, contributing to the establishment of a country which is proliferating international terrorism and creating a serious threat to the security and stability in the region. According to the Secretary-General of the CSTO, Stanislav Zas, the exercises proved that Tajikistan is reliably protected from terrorist incursions.
The members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization are Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Forces were formed on February 4, 2009. The Forces comprise a total of 18,000 people and are designed to respond quickly to the security challenges and threats of the CSTO member states.
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. Several large-scale exercises were conducted in CSTO member countries during the last few months.
Why the Event is Important: While the Taliban movement is offering cooperation with the Central Asian countries and Russia, countries in the region fear that the instability created in Afghanistan could spill over into their own countries. Tajikistan, which among the CSTO member states has the
longest border with Afghanistan, is the most vulnerable in this regard. The risk that new developments in Afghanistan will have a negative impact on Tajikistan is high; therefore, the
activation of the CSTO is also aimed at deterring the Afghan threat.
Putin Says Western Military Backing of Ukraine Poses a Threat to Russia
Main Event: On October 21, 2021, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said that the Western backed military development of Ukraine poses a serious threat to Moscow.
Event in Details: At the plenary session of the 18th annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, Mr. Putin said: “Formal membership (of Ukraine) in NATO may not take place, but military development of the territory is already underway, and this really poses a threat to Russia. We are aware of that. The visit of the US Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin, to Kyiv effectively paves the way for Ukraine to join NATO.” The Kremlin assesses Ukraine’s rapprochement with NATO as crossing Russia’s “red lines.”
During his visit to Ukraine, Mr. Austin supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity and said that Russia has no right to veto Ukraine’s membership in NATO. In addition to Ukraine and Georgia, the US Secretary of Defense also visited Romania. Speaking at a news conference on October 21, the Spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, criticized Mr. Austin for his aggressive Russophobic tone which she said fueled the revanchist sentiment of Kyiv’s “party of war.”
Why the Event is Important: For the Russian president, Ukraine’s integration with the West, especially in the military direction, is tantamount to crossing “red lines” and is considered to be a major threat to the country’s security. Mr. Putin’s statements are open messages to Ukraine and the West that Moscow will not allow Ukraine’s rapprochement with NATO and its integration into a military alliance.
Vladimir Putin Backs His Ukrainian Friend
Main Event: On October 21, 2021, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said that the prosecution of a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician, Viktor Medvedchuk, relates to his political position.
Event in Details: As Mr. Putin said at the plenary session of the 18th annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, Viktor Medvedchuk, Chairman of the Opposition Platform — For Life Ukrainian party, is being persecuted for his outspoken political stance and attempts to normalize relations with neighboring countries
“As for Mr. Medvedchuk, they are trying to convict him of treason. Why? Did he steal secret information? Or secretly handed it over? No,” the Russian President answered questions about Viktor Medvedchuk.
Viktor Medvedchuk’s Case
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. 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. On October 12, the house arrest of Mr. Medvedchuk was extended until December 7 due to new charges among which is setting up a scheme for financing separatist forces in the Donbass region.
Why the Event is Important: Viktor Medvedchuk is a close friend of the Russian president and the most pro-Russian politician in Ukraine. He has supporters in the south-eastern regions of Ukraine where the Russian-speaking population is large. Mr. Putin’s comments on the arrest indicate that the Russian president is very interested and are a signal to the Ukrainian authorities that the case is not secondary to the Kremlin.
New Military Doctrine for the Union State
Main Event: On October 20, 2021, the Russian-Belarusian military top brass discussed problems of cooperation between the Ministries of Defense of the two countries, new threats facing the Union State and a coordinated response to new challenges.
Event in Details: The meeting between the military officials was held in Moscow. The Russian Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, also attended the meeting. Mr. Shoigu charged that the activities of the NATO military bloc are growing near the borders of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. He specifically voiced concern about a buildup of NATO troops, the deployment of missile defense facilities and the modernization of tactical nuclear weapons.
According to Minister Shoigu, the number of NATO reconnaissance and tactical aviation flights to Russia’s border regions has tripled recently. Over 30 military drills are held annually along the western borders of the Union State which rehearse scenarios of military confrontation with Russia. Countries that are not members of the Union are increasingly participating in these drills: Georgia, Ukraine, Sweden and Finland.
Mr. Shoigu said that given the current developments Moscow and Minsk are forced to take retaliatory steps, including the introduction of a new military doctrine of the Union State. The Supreme State Council of the Union State will approve the doctrine at the next meeting.
Why the Event is Important: Domestic and foreign challenges are pushing the Belarusian President, Aleksander Lukashenko, to deeper integration and enhanced military cooperation with Russia. It is a good time for Russia to use Mr. Lukashenko’s political problems in the face of fierce confrontation with the West to increase its influence over Belarus as well as strengthen the western border of the Union State.
Moscow Discusses the Restoration of Transport Links in the South Caucasus
Main Event: On October 20, 2021, within the framework of the Tripartite Working Group, Alexei Overchuk, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, and his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, Mher Grigoryan and Shahin Mustafayev, discussed the prospects of the restoration of links in the South Caucasus.
Event in Details: On January 11, 2021 after the end of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, the leaders of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed in Moscow to set up a tripartite working group for the restoration of all kinds of transport and economic ties in the region. On October 20, the tripartite working group held its 8th meeting. The next meeting was also planned.
Little is known about the meeting details. Armenia suspects that Azerbaijan’s offer poses new geopolitical risks to Armenia rather than economic benefits. According to reports, the parties fail to agree on important aspects of the restoration of transport communications. The Armenian side is concerned about the legal issues which will arise after the restoration of transport connections. According to the Deputy Prime Minister, Mher Grigoryan, the restoration of communications should take place within the legal framework of the CIS countries.
Armenia fears that Baku’s proposed restoration of railway or road links between Azerbaijan and Turkey would be detrimental to Armenia and lead to country’s transport isolation.
Return of the Captives
On the eve of the trilateral meeting, October 19, Russia mediated the return of five captives from Azerbaijan to Armenia. Since December 2020, Russia has mediated the return of 105 prisoners to Armenia and 17 to Azerbaijan.
Why the Event is Important: The restoration of transport and economic links that were severed after the 1990s is one of the most important points of an agreement reached after the end of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. The ongoing Russian-brokered negotiations are aimed at the timely implementation of this paragraph of the agreement which Armenia seems to be hindering because it sees new geopolitical risks for the country.
President of Kazakhstan Calls on Schoolchildren to Study the Russian Language
Main Event: On October 21, 2021 at an extended session of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan, the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, called on the public to learn various languages, including Russian.
Event in Details: According to Mr. Tokayev, Kazakh schoolchildren should be integrated into Kazakh society and be competitive. For this purpose, they must know the state language, their native language and preferably Russian.
A state language reform is underway in Kazakhstan. According to the 2017 decision of the previous president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Kazakh language should have switched from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet by 2025. By that time, all publications, documents and street signs must be in the Latin script; however, despite the popularization of the Kazakh language and legislative incentives, the influence of the Russian language in the political or public life of the country is still high.
Why the Event is Important: Promoting the use of the Kazakh language is aimed at strengthening Kazakhstan’s national identity and distancing itself from the Russian and Soviet imperial pasts. Although efforts are being made to reduce the influence of the Russian language in the life of the country, the degree of integration with Russia is so high that the use of the Russian language will remain relevant in the coming years.
Russian Language Week
Main Event: On October 25, 2021, the Russian Language Week project was launched remotely.
Event in Details: On October 28, Maria Zakharova, a representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, spoke about the project. In addition to different countries, Tajikistan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Moldova also participated in the project. The project was completed on October 29.
The project program included lectures, seminars and round tables on the study of the Russian language abroad and the promotion of Russian culture. The project is aimed at supporting and promoting the spread of the Russian language abroad.
Why the Event is Important: The popularization of the Russian language in post-Soviet countries is a tool of Russia’s “soft power” which Moscow has been intensively using recently. The quality of the use of the Russian language in the countries selected for the project is high and similar measures are aimed at maintaining Russian cultural influence there.
Main Event: According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, a monument to the soldiers of the Romanian army who fought for Nazi Germany was unveiled in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau on October 26.
Event in Details: As the Russian Foreign Ministry stated, the monument to immortalize the memory of Romanian soldiers fighting on the Nazi side was unveiled with military glory in the center of Chisinau. The event was attended by senior officials of the Moldovan government. A plaque on the monument reads: “To the 80th anniversary of the liberation of Bessarabia (historical name of the Moldovan state) and Northern Bukovina by the Romanian army.” According to Russia, it refers to “the invasion of the Soviet territory by the Romanian and fascist invaders in 1941.”
Why the Event is Important: For Russia, any action which undermines the Soviet victory in World War II is an attempt to falsify history. The Kremlin believes that anti-Russian forces are trying to rewrite history and reject the common Soviet past through similar actions.
Moldova and Gazprom Agreed to Extend the Contract
Main Event: On October 29, 2021, the Moldovan Ministry of Infrastructure announced that the Moldovan government and the Russian energy giant Gazprom agreed to extend a contract for Russian natural gas supply for a five-year period. Negotiations between the parties took place in St. Petersburg.
Event in Details: The parties agreed to use the price formula to audit Moldovagaz’s debt and continue negotiations on a payment schedule. Under the new agreement, prices will be set on a quarterly basis considering the price of oil and gas for the last nine months. Under the new contract, Moldova will receive gas by November 1. According to Gazprom, the agreement was reached on “mutually beneficial terms.”
In early October, Moldovgaz said that the gas consumption exceeded the volume of gas received from Russia. Accordingly, called the population to use gas sparingly. Shortly, the country’s parliament declared a state of emergency over the energy crisis. On October 1, Gazprom extended its one-month contract, which increased the price of gas for Moldova from USD 550 to USD 790 per 1,000 cubic meters.
Reportedly, Moscow asked Moldova to suspend free trade with the European Union and energy deals in exchange for a favorable price. In a force majeure situation, Moldova purchased gas from Polish, Swiss and Dutch companies.
The energy crisis in Moldova coincided with the gas crisis in Europe where gas prices rose unprecedentedly. Russia was blamed for artificially creating a crisis by putting pressure on Europe in order to launch the Nord Stream 2 in a timely manner.
Why the Event is Important: The gas crisis in Moldova showed that energy remains Russia’s foreign policy tool which Moscow periodically uses to put pressure on governments and countries, especially in post-Soviet countries, in order to change their foreign policy.