|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: November 16-30, 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.
President of Russia Hosted the Leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Sochi
Main Event: On November 26, 2021, the President of Russia hosted the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Sochi. The parties positively assessed the meeting.
Event in Details: The meeting between the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, and the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, mediated by the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, lasted three hours. This was the second such meeting this year. The first was held in Moscow in January.
Meeting in Sochi. Source: kremlin.ru
Issues Agreed On
At the end of the meeting, the parties issued a joint statement. The main topic of discussion was the implementation of the November 9, 2020 and January 11, 2021 tripartite agreements on the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh and the restoration of all economic and transport links in the region.
The parties agreed to promote stability and security on the border between the two countries and to work on the delimitation and demarcation of the borders. Russia will assist in this process. The parties also agreed to strengthen joint work on the restoration of economic and transport links, road, and rail, and stressed that the rapid implementation of specific projects was of high importance for the development of the economic potential of the region.
The parties expressed special gratitude to the Russian peacekeepers who have been stationed in the region since November 10, 2020. Russia, for its part, pledged to provide all necessary assistance to establish normal relations and an atmosphere of trust between the longtime enemies. A meeting of the country’s vice-premiers should soon follow the leaders’ meeting.
The meeting in Sochi was preceded by the escalation of the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border which resulted in the highest numbers of casualties on both sides since the end of the 44-day war. Azerbaijan seeks to establish the Soviet-era borders which is often expressed in military confrontations and increased tensions in the region. At the same time, Azerbaijan is trying to accelerate the implementation of the January 11 agreement which envisages the resumption of land ties between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan and Turkey. Yerevan, for its part, is in a more defensive position and sees the Azerbaijani attempt as the violation of the sovereignty of Armenia.
Why the Event is Important: This is the second such meeting between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijani this year which underscores the importance of Russia in a post-conflict environment. Although border incidents occur periodically and economic and transport ties have not yet been restored, Russia seems to be the only country that can influence the decisions of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
President of Belarus Recognizes Crimea as Russia’s Territory
Main Event: On November 30, 2021, in an interview with Dmitry Kiselyov, the Director General of the international news agency, Rossiya Segodnya, the President of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, said that Crimea became Russia’s territory both de facto and de jure after the 2014 referendum.
Event in Details: During the interview, Mr. Lukashenko also said that he agreed with the Russian president to pay a joint visit to Crimea. As the Belarusian president said, the visit to Crimea means recognizing the peninsula as Russian territory. Aleksander Lukashenko has never made a statement on the recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, although he said that in fact the peninsula is Russia’s territory.
Previously, a similar statement was made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Vladimir McKay, on November 19. “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.
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.
Russia to Provide Humanitarian Assistance to the Separatist Region of Donbass
Main Event: On November 6, 2021, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, signed a decree on the provision of humanitarian assistance to the population of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.
Event in Details: By the decree, goods produced in the separatist Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, on a par with Russian goods, will be admitted to state purchases. In addition, restrictions on exports and imports of the breakaway republics will be lifted. The decision is aimed at “protecting human and civil rights and freedoms.”
Within a month, the Russian government must ensure the recognition of certificates of origin of goods issued by the separatist regions of Ukraine. The government is to establish a list of special checkpoints for the movement of goods produced in the separatist regions across the border (the Russian-Ukrainian state border which is not controlled by the Ukrainian central government) into Russia. No restrictions will be imposed on the export and the import of goods.
According to Dmitry Peskov, the Press Secretary for the Russian President: “Russia has done and will continue to do everything possible for the provision of humanitarian aid, especially in the face of COVID-19.”
Russia his supported the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine since 2004. Although Moscow denies the provision of aid to the separatists, its involvement in the conflict is not disputed by Ukraine and the West. Russia at least formally stepped back from economic ties with the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in order to avoid additional sanctions. It should be noted that the Tskhinvali region also plays a mediating role in economic relations between Russia and the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The International Settlement Bank, as well as various companies which are only trading with the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, are registered in the Tskhinvali region. According to this criminal financial scheme, money passes through Tskhinvali which receives income in the form of taxes.
Why the Event is Important: Amid extremely strained relations with the West and Ukraine, Russia’s open support to the separatist regions of eastern Ukraine is a message from the Kremlin that it remains a major supporter of the breakaway regions and their protection is a priority of Russian policy.
Tensions Rise on the Russian-Ukrainian Border
Main Event: On November 26, 2021, the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, warned Russia that aggression in Ukraine would trigger “serious consequences.”
Event in Details: Russian-Ukrainian relations were once again strained when a buildup of 90,000 Russian soldiers near the Ukrainian border was reported. The West described the event as a precondition for possible aggression against Ukraine. This year, this is the second case when Russia masses its vast troops near Ukraine.
On November 26, the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, announced that his country was ready for any escalation with Russia. He also said that unidentified Russian and Ukrainian individuals were attempting a coup on December 1.
On November 29, amid the Western warnings, the Belarusian Defense Minister, Viktor Khrenin, announced that a joint Russian-Belarusian military exercise will be held along the Ukrainian border. The minister did not name an exact date but said it was a response to the buildup of military forces in neighboring countries. In response to the Russian-Belarusian military activity, the Latvian Defense Minister, Artis Pabriks, spoke about the need for a permanent US military presence in the Baltic states.
Why the Event is Important: Russian-Ukrainian relations are extremely tense. The West views Russia’s military activities as a precondition for launching military operations against Ukraine. That is why the West is trying to deter new Russian aggression through similar statements and military and political assistance from allied countries.
President of Russia Hosted the Leader of Uzbekistan
Main Event: On November 19, 2021, in Moscow, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, hosted his Uzbek counterpart, Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
Meeting of Presidents. Source: kremlin.ru
Event in Details: The parties discussed the issues of strategic partnership and the development of alliance relations, including in the fields of trade-investment and humanitarian issues. International challenges were also discussed as well as the situation in Uzbekistan’s neighboring Afghanistan. The meeting signed a list of bilateral documents. The leaders of the two countries also issued a joint statement on cooperation in the field of international information security.
This is Mr. Mirziyoyev’s first visit to Moscow since being elected for a second term in the presidential election (held on October 24, 2021). The Uzbek President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, unlike his predecessor, Islam Karimov, is eager to develop relations with Russia. During his first term in office, relations with Moscow improved significantly. Uzbekistan became an observer state in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU); however, the president is in no hurry to join the pro-Russian organization.
Why the Event is Important: The Uzbek president’s visit to Moscow after the presidential elections indicates Tashkent’s foreign policy priorities which are aimed at developing a partnership with Russia. Russia, for its part, sees Uzbekistan as a valuable partner which plays an important role in the political, economic or security environment of Central Asia.
Russia and Tajikistan Agreed to Build New Schools
Main Event: On November 30, 2021, Russia and Tajikistan signed an agreement on the operation of five new Russian-language schools in five major cities of Tajikistan.
Event in Details: The agreement defines conditions for the establishment and operation of five new schools. Schools will be opened in Dushanbe, Kulob, Khojend, Bokhtar and Tursunzade. Schoolchildren will be educated in the Russian language in accordance with the Russian state standard. Teachers will also be from Russia. Salaries and trainings for the teachers will be funded by Russia.
The agreement on the construction of Russian schools was signed in Moscow in April 2019 following talks between the presidents of the two countries. Previously, schools in Tajikistan were built mainly under the World Bank funding; however, international aid was discontinued in 2019. Russia has been providing various types of assistance to Tajikistan in the field of education for more than ten years.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian-speaking population in Tajikistan sharply decreased (from 395,000 in 1979 to 35,000 in 2010), although the demand for Russian-language schools is growing in cities and villages.
Tajikistan is one of the poorest states in the post-Soviet space with a high level of unemployment and low incomes. Hundreds of thousands of Tajik migrants live in Russia. Their remittances amount to USD 2.5 billion – the key factor for Tajikistan’s socio-economic stability. Tajiks consider Russian-language schools as a possibility for them to get a better education, the chance to study in the Russian universities and ultimately find decent work.
Why the Event is Important for Tajikistan: Tajikistan’s support of Russian-language education is due to the strategic partnership development with Russia as Moscow is the guarantor of Tajikistan’s socio-economic-political stability and security.
Why the Event is Important for Russia: For Russia, the Russian language is a tool of soft power which is considered an important lever for maintaining influence in the post-Soviet space. In recent decades, the Russian language has slowly been losing popularity in other countries of Central Asia and so for Russia it is a positive signal that the Russian language and culture is still attractive in Tajikistan.
Russia Awards World War II Veterans
Main Event: Employees of the Russian Embassy to Kazakhstan provided material assistance to World War II veterans.
Event in Details: In the fall, with the support of local organizations and the government, the Russian Embassy provided assistance to war veterans in the form of money, medicines, office equipment and food. More than 200 of the aid recipients were World War II veterans. Veterans’ organizations also received material assistance. Actions were held in Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, and other big cities.
Why the Event is Important: The victory in World War II has a special place in Russian propaganda. Celebrating the victory in the war has become an instrument of the Kremlin’s soft power which Moscow has used in post-Soviet countries during Vladimir Putin’s rule. Assistance to veterans is also part of this policy which aims at maintaining public sentiments in favor of Russia.
Moldovan-Russian Gas Dispute Continues
Main Event: On November 22, 2021, the Russian energy giant Gazprom threatened to cut off gas supplies to Moldova if the latter does not pay for deliveries within 48 hours.
Event in Details: Moldova declared a state of emergency due to the energy crisis in the autumn. Due to disagreement over the new price for gas and the existing debt, the parties could not agree on the contract extension. Finally, on October 29 in St. Petersburg, the Moldovan government and Gazprom agreed to extend the gas supply contract for a five-year period. Moscow has reportedly asked Moldova to suspend free trade with the EU and halt energy deals in exchange for a favorable price. In a force majeure situation, Moldova bought gas from Polish, Swiss and Dutch companies.
Under the new contract, Gazprom demanded immediate repayment of Moldova’s current debt (USD 73.5 million). The harsh situation forced the Moldovan parliament to approve changes in the budget as a result of which the state energy company paid off the debt of Gazprom. “Moldova paid off its debt. Gazprom showed goodwill and postponed the date of the payment, although it had every reason to cut off gas supplies,” said a spokesperson for the Russian company.
Why the Event is Important: The issue of gas supplies remains a key concern in Moldovan-Russian relations. Moldova will not be able to reduce its dependence on Russian gas in the short run; therefore, Russia will retain its leverage over Moldova.
New Sanctions on the Nord Stream 2
Main Event: On November 22, 2021, the United States imposed new sanctions on companies involved in the Nord Stream 2 project.
Event in Details: The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said that the new sanctions are in line with the 2019 European Energy Security Act which opposes the construction of a Russian gas pipeline. The new sanctions will affect eight people and 17 related vessels.
At the same time on November 16, Germany suspended the procedure to certify the Swiss-based company Nord Stream 2 AG, a subsidiary of Gazprom, as an independent transmission operator. The German energy regulator concluded that it would only be possible to certify an operator of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if that operator was organized in a legal form under German law.
Is the Construction Completed?
The pipeline operator announced the completion of the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline on September 6 and the start of filling its first pipeline with gas – on October 4.
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 Event is Important: Despite new sanctions and the suspension of the certification process, it is unlikely that the commissioning of an already completed pipeline will be delayed for long. The decisions of the US and Germany are a reaction to Russia’s anti-Ukrainian policy which will have a short-term effect.