Review period: November 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.
- Russia and Belarus sign a Union State decree.
- Belarusian Foreign Minister recognizes Crimea as Russia’s territory.
- Washington warns Kyiv about the Russian threat.
- A representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that Georgia’s statements about the 3+3 format are mutually exclusive.
- Estonia strengthens its border with Russia amid the migrant crisis.
- Latvia bans the Ribbon of St. George.
- Lithuania convicts two of its citizens of spying for Russia.
- Russian military instructors will train Tajik youth.
- An opening ceremony of IntelRussia, a new program of scientific research internship for young scientists from the post-Soviet space, was held in Russia.
Russia and Belarus Sign a Union State Decree
Main Event: On November 4, 2021, at an online meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, the parties signed a decree on the Main Directions for the Implementation of the Terms of the Treaty on the Creation of the Union State for 2021-2023.
Event in Details: The decree of the Union State covers 28 sectoral programs. A military doctrine and a concept of the migration policy of the Union State were also signed on the same day. The purpose of the documents is to develop and deepen integration in the fields of the economy, politics and the armed forces. The decree is designed to promote the unification of the economic and political structures of the two countries. “Together, we will resist any attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of our sovereign states and Russia will continue to provide assistance to the brotherly Belarusian people,” the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, vowed during the meeting.
Video Conference of the Supreme State Council of the Union State. Source: president.gov.by
The Treaty on the Creation of the Union State between Russia and Belarus was signed in 1999. Negotiations on the format of integration have been going on between the parties for a long time. The President of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, has been criticizing Moscow for many years which he said was seeking to turn Belarus into one of Russia’s constituencies. Prior to the August 2020 presidential elections, Lukashenko even accused Moscow of pressure and said he would not allow integration in the way Russia wanted. In the run-up to the elections, Lukashenko emerged as the main defender of Belarusian sovereignty.
Lukashenko’s attitude towards the scale and pace of the integration process changed radically after the presidential elections. The anti-government speeches were followed by a domestic political crisis and Western sanctions which changed Lukashenko’s tone and forced him to accelerate the pace of integration.
Why the Event is Important: The signing of the decree is a big step towards economic and political integration between Russia and Belarus. With this move, Russia will increase its political and military influence in the NATO-bordering region while the Belarusian leader Lukashenko will gain economic support and maintain power in the wake of Western sanctions in the short run.
Belarus Recognizes Crimea as Russia’s Territory
Main Event: On November 10, 2021, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Vladimir McKay, stated that “Crimea is now Russia’s territory.”
Event in Details: “The Belarusian position towards Crimea remains the same. We understand that Crimea is now Russia’s territory. Let’s proceed from this understanding,” Mr. McKay said. The President of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, has never made a statement on the recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, although he said that in fact Russians are on the peninsula.
A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said that a change in the approach of Belarus to the de jure recognition of the temporary occupation of Crimea by Russia would lead to irreparable consequences for Ukrainian-Belarusian relations.
Why the Event is Important: After the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, the position of Belarus on the de jure recognition of Crimea as a part of Russia was not unequivocal and always contained ambiguous messages. In the face of increased pressure from Russia, it seems that Minsk has to de jure recognize the annexation.
Why the Event is Important for Georgia: In the case of the recognition of Crimea’s annexation, there is a high probability that Minsk will no longer withstand Russia’s pressure and recognize the independence of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region as well.
Washington Warns Kyiv about the Russian Threat
Main Event: On November 10, 2021, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, made a statement about the Russian threat in Ukraine.
Event in Details: “Russia may make the serious mistake of attempting to rehash what it undertook in Ukraine in 2014,” Mr. Blinken said during a meeting with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmitry Kuleba.
According to the US Secretary of State, suspicious Russian military activity is observed on the border with Ukraine. Reportedly, a build-up of Russian troops occurred 260 kilometers from the Ukrainian border near the border of Belarus. According to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, up to 100 thousand Russian soldiers were viewed in these areas even after the end of military exercises.
The US and Kyiv signed a strategic partnership agreement which demonstrates Washington’s full support to Ukraine.
In addition to Washington, the European Union and France did not approve of Russia’s military actions. Similar warnings were voiced during a meeting of the Ministers for Europe and Foreign Affairs and for the Armed Forces of France and their Russian counterparts, in Paris, on November 12.
On November 7, the Russian Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, called the presence of American warships in the Black Sea a provocative act. The Russian Defense Ministry views the US and NATO activities in the Black Sea as the “study of the military performance in the case if Kyiv settles the conflict in southeastern Ukraine by force.” Later, on November 13, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, called the US and NATO activities in the Black Sea a “serious challenge” for Russia.
Actions of the West
On November 14, Ukraine received over 80 tons of ammunition from the United States. This is the fourth delivery of US security aid in the amount of USD 60 million. Ukraine received the first three batches of aid in October. An agreement on US military assistance was reached during a visit of the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, to Washington, in August.
American Military Cargo Delivery to Kyiv. Source: Twitter Page of the US Embassy in Ukraine
Why the Event is Important: Ukraine has been one of the main sources of controversy between Russia and the West in recent years. The West seeks to prevent Russian aggression against Ukraine while Russia tries to limit the West’s growing influence in Ukraine and the Black Sea. Therefore, any move, especially in the military direction, is perceived as provocative by the parties and contributes to the escalation of tensions.
Maria Zakharova About the 3+3 Format
Main Event: On November 10, 2021, at a traditional weekly briefing, the spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, spoke about the 3+3 format.
Event in Details: Ms. Zakharova was asked about Georgia’s participation in the 3+3 format.
Question: As the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, stated earlier, there are no positive steps on the part of Georgia at this stage. At what stage are the negotiations with this country?
Answer: We have repeatedly commented on this issue at recent briefings. Russia supported this initiative. We believe that the time has come to launch this format in a practical track. As for Georgia, we hear contradictory statements from Tbilisi about participation in this consultation mechanism. This is the position of a sovereign country. We assume that this format suits the interests of all states in the region.
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 Turkey, Iran, Russia and the three South Caucasus countries (Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia) in order 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 (the US and the EU) in the South Caucasus and, at the same time, increase the degree of influence of regional countries (Turkey and Iran) and especially of Russia over the current political or economic processes in the region.
Estonia Strengthens Its Border with Russia
Main Event: On November 11, 2021, the Estonian Interior Minister, Kristian Jaani, announced that Estonia would strengthen its border with Russia due to a state of emergency on the Belarusian border with Poland and Lithuania.
Event in Details: Due to a large number of migrants gathered at the Belarusian border with Poland and Lithuania, there is a state of emergency in these countries. Lithuania extended the state of emergency until February and involved the army to guard its border. According to the Estonian Minister, the required arrangements for the construction of the border infrastructure will be held earlier than planned. The procurement of technical equipment for border surveillance will be accelerated. Until then, temporary fortifications will be set up in “critical areas” along the Estonian-Russian border.
As planned, a 115-kilometer section of the border where there is a high risk of the illegal entry of migrants will be reinforced. The border infrastructure has been completed for a 23.5-kilometer section and work is currently underway on a 39-kilometer section.
The West accuses Aleksander Lukashenko, the Belarusian leader, of exacerbating the migration crisis by helping migrants from the Middle East (especially from Iraq) and Africa cross the border illegally. The migrants are trying to reach Germany or other Western European countries via Poland or Lithuania.
Why the Event is Important: The exacerbation of illegal migration at the state level is part of the Belarusian leader’s deliberate policy in response to Western sanctions. By strengthening the borders, the Baltic states want to prevent the illegal border crossing by migrants.
Latvia Bans the Ribbon of St. George
Main Event: On November 11, 2021, the Saeima (Parliament of the Republic of Latvia) approved a bill that bans the use of the Ribbon of St. George at public events.
Event in Details: In the third viewing, members of the Saiema passed an amendment to the law which provides for banning the use of the Ribbon of St. George at ceremonial events, demonstrations, rallies and strikes. For Latvia, November 11 is a symbolic date when it commemorates the heroes who died for the liberation of the country. The aforementioned amendment was initiated by Artuss Kaimins, a member of the National Alliance of the Saeima faction. In his view, given Russia’s expansion into Ukraine and the spread of totalitarian ideologies in former Soviet republics, Latvia has a reason to consider the threat to democratic order and security as sufficient. Latvia also bans the use of Soviet and Nazi symbols.
Ribbon of St. George
For Russia, the Ribbon of St. George is a symbol of victory over Nazi Germany in WWII as well as a symbol of the Russian army. The ribbon is distributed in the streets during ceremonial parades related to the victory in World War II on May 9. This tradition dates back to 2005 and is funded by the Russian state budget. There have also been attempts by pro-Russian organizations to distribute the ribbon in Georgia. Some post-Soviet countries impose fines or administrative penalties for making and using the ribbon.
Why the Event is Important: In recent years, Russia has intensively used the Ribbon of St. George as a symbol of its “soft power” policy in the post-Soviet space which is aimed at increasing Moscow’s influence. Latvia’s decision to ban the use of the Ribbon of St. George is to prevent the spread of Russian cultural influence.
Lithuania Convicts Two of Its Nationals of Spying for Russia
Main Event: On November 12, 2021, a Klaipeda court, in a closed session, found two Lithuanian citizens guilty of spying for Russia and sentenced them to prison.
Event in Details: Aleksejus Greicius, the Managing Director of the Juvenis Baltic Youth Association, was sentenced to four years in prison. The court said Mr. Greicius worked for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), organized various events for almost four years that were partially financed by the unnamed Russian intelligence officer and photographed or filmed the events and people attending them.
Mr. Greicius is the organizer of the Immortal Regiment in Klaipeda and an active supporter of the preservation of Soviet military monuments. He often took part in events in Russia and had connections with Russian diplomats. Aleksejus Greicius links his arrest to his political views and pleads not guilty.
Another Lithuanian citizen, Mindaugas Tunikaitis, was arrested on the same charges. Mr. Tunikaitis was sentenced to 18 months in prison since he pleaded guilty.
On July 27, 2021, a Lithuanian court found a Lithuanian politician, Algirdas Paleckis, guilty of charges of espionage in favor of Russia and sentenced him to six years in prison. In the past, Mr. 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.
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.
Russian Military Servicemen Will Train Tajik Youth
Main Event: On November 5, 2021, a representative of the Central Military District of the Russian Federation announced that instructors of the 201st military base of Russia will train 1,000 young specialists for the Tajik Armed Forces in 2022.
Event in Details: Russian military instructors will train Tajik servicemen in 14 military specialties at two different training centers (Lyaur and Sambuli) for a two-month period. According to Yevgeny Okhrimenko, the Commander of Russia’s 201st military base in Tajikistan, up to 1,000 specialists are trained for the Tajik army every year. In total, over 6,000 military personnel underwent similar training.
Tajikistan is Russia’s ally in Central Asia and Russian troops ensure its security and border protection. Both countries are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization which has recently conducted a number of military exercises in Tajikistan. The intensification of military cooperation is connected with the Taliban movement which took control of Afghanistan. Tajikistan considers this as a threat to its security.
Why the Event is Important: Tajikistan intensifies military cooperation with Russia in order to deter the Afghan threat.
Russia’s New Program for Young Scientists
Main Event: On November 9, 2021, an opening ceremony of IntelRussia, a new internship program of scientific research for young scientists from the post-Soviet space, was held at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.
Event in Details: The MGIMO launched the program in cooperation with the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund and the Federal Agency for CIS States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Affairs for member states of the CIS.
The program is aimed at “strengthening the scientific, social and cultural ties of young specialists in political and academic circles and creating conditions for their constructive dialogue in Russia and abroad.”
During the month, five young scientists from CIS countries will conduct independent research under the guidance of MGIMO leading scholars. Within the framework of the program, the interns will meet with representatives of the academic and political circles, visit educational and socio-political organizations and take part in public diplomacy events.
According to Andrey Baykov, the Vice-Rector of the institute, the program will help to understand international political research in the world as well as provide an opportunity to assess the role of the “Little Eurasia” on the scientific-expert and political agenda.
Why the Event is Important: Similar programs are 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.