|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: December 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.
Commonwealth of Independent States Celebrates 30th Anniversary
Main Event: December 8, 2021 marked the 30th anniversary of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Event Details: “Today, the CIS is a fully-fledged organization and a platform required for a dialogue on a wide range of issues – politics, economics, security, education and culture,” the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said. According to the Spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, the expansion of friendly ties with partners within the CIS remains a priority of Russia’s foreign policy.
The CIS is a regional intergovernmental union established by the Soviet Republics of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus under an agreement signed in Minsk on December 8, 1991. Except for the Baltic States, all post-Soviet republics participated in the union in different formats at different times. Georgia left the organization after the August 2008 war.
Signing of the Agreement on the Establishment of the CIS, Minsk. Source: Wikipedia
Why the Event is Important: In recent years, the CIS has become an increasingly formal organization – an opportunity for leaders of member states to hold another meeting and take a common photo. Although, Russia is showing increasing interest in developing the Eurasian Economic Union, the CIS remains an instrument of Russia’s foreign policy.
Moscow Hosts the First Session of the 3+3 Format
Main event: On December 10, 2021, the first meeting of the 3+3 regional consulting platform was held in Moscow.
Event in Details: According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the meeting was attended by the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrey Rudenko (responsible for relations with post-Soviet countries and overseeing the direction of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region in the ministry), the Deputy Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey (Khalaf Khalafov, Vahe Gevorgyan, Sedat Onal, respectively) and the Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Alireza Haghighian. According to the Ministry, representatives of Georgia, despite the invitation, refrained from participating in the meeting.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the meeting discussed prospects for the development of multipolar regional cooperation. The participants agreed to focus on practical issues of interest to all parties: restore trust, cooperate in the fields of trade-economy, transport and cultural-humanitarian issues, and combat common challenges and threats.
The parties also expressed interest in Georgia’s participation in the work of the platform for which the “doors are open.”
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. Georgian Foreign Ministry said the country rejects participation in the format as it is unacceptable for Georgia.
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.
Russia Wants to Curb NATO Expansion
Main Event: After talks between the US and Russian presidents on December 7, 2021, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement which deems that NATO enlargement to include Ukraine and Georgia is inadmissible.
Event in Details: According to the Ministry, the disavowal of the 2008 Bucharest Summit Declaration, in which NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s aspiration for membership, is the core interest of European security which contradicts the commitment of leaders of all OSCE member states (not to strengthen its own security at the expense of others).
Russia seeks legal guarantees precluding any further NATO and US expansion and deployment of their offensive weapons near its borders, both on the territory of NATO and non-NATO member states.
Russia presented the US Assistant Secretary of State, Karen Donfried, a set of proposals for binding Western security guarantees (which means NATO will not expand) during a meeting in Moscow, on December 15.
Why the Event is Important: Russia sees NATO enlargement to include post-Soviet countries and/or the expansion of military-political cooperation of the Western military alliance with post-Soviet countries as a threat. Ukraine/Georgia’s possible membership in NATO is tantamount to crossing Russia’s “red line” which Moscow views as a declaration of war. In the face of the global pandemic and ensuing instability, the Kremlin is trying to prevent the West from expanding its influence in the post-Soviet pro-Western countries and strengthening its positions.
Putin Reminds Ukraine of Its Pledge to Return Soviet Property
Main Event: In the film Russia. Recent History, which was aired on the Russian state channel Russia-1, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, reminded Ukraine of its promise to return property which it inherited from the Soviet Union.
Event in Details: According to Mr. Putin, Ukraine has not yet transferred the property which it inherited from the Soviet Union back to Russia even though Moscow paid all of the external debts of the Soviet Union. According to Vladimir Putin, Russia could not solve the then socio-economic problems without foreign financial assistance and accumulated a lot of debt in the 1990s. In 1993, Russia pledged to pay off Soviet debts in the hope that the former Soviet republics would return all of the foreign assets which they acquired from the Soviet Union. The Russian president said that Moscow paid off their debts, however, it did not receive foreign assets from any of the former Soviet country, including Ukraine.
Why the Event is Important: Russia is fighting against Ukraine in all directions. There are the Kremlin’s hybrid war tactics waged against Kyiv aimed at exerting political pressure on Ukraine and Moscow’s attempts to portray Ukraine as a failed state.
Vladimir Putin to Provide Cheap Gas to Moldova in Exchange for Joining the Eurasian Economic Union
Main Event: At a summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, spoke about possible benefits if Moldova joins the organization.
Vladimir Putin Addresses the Summit. Source: Web-page of the Russian President
Event in Details: The EAEU summit was held online on December 10, 2021. According to Mr. Putin, the issue of gas supply would have been easily resolved if Moldova had maintained its interests in Eurasian integration. “Countries which have an observer status in the union, such as Cuba, Uzbekistan, (by the way, Moldova also expressed interest) are more actively involved in the activities of the EAEU,” the Russian president said.
Moldova was granted an observer status in the EAEU during the presidency of the pro-Russian Igor Dodon (2016-2020) but during the tenure of the pro-Western Maya Sandu, the Russian foreign policy vector weakened. In the fall, Moscow and Chisinau failed to agree on a gas price which was followed by an energy crisis in Moldova. Vladimir Putin points to this issue and tries to demonstrate the superiority of Moldova’s rapprochement with Russia.
The EAEU is a union of pro-Russian countries with the participation of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. Russia’s next targets are Uzbekistan and Moldova which are abstaining from full membership and Moldova’s new leaders are even trying to strengthen a more European vector.
Why the Event is Important: For Russia, the expansion of the EAEU is a tool to increase its influence in the post-Soviet/Eurasian space which Moscow uses primarily against post-Soviet countries. Moldova, despite having a pro-Western government at the helm of the country, is Russia’s number one target since the country is actually entirely dependent on Russian gas. That is why the Kremlin is trying to use the dependence on Russian energy resources and return Moldova to the Russian orbit.
Russia Condemns Latvian Vandalism
Main Event: On December 3, 2021, the Spokesperson of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, condemned “another act of vandalism” in Latvia.
Event in Details: According to Ms. Zakharova, unidentified individuals desecrated the Monument to the Liberators in Riga, the capital of Latvia, on December 1. Moscow views the memorial as “a symbol of the victory over the Fascist-Nazi Germany occupiers in Latvia.” According to Moscow, such an event is systemic in modern Latvia which is not unexpected in the face of the official policy of the Latvian government and which aims at falsifying history and glorifying fascism. The Russian Embassy in Latvia sent a note to the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting to find the culprits and repair the damaged monument.
Why the Event is Important: In Russia, negative statements or actions against symbols of the victory in World War II, especially in post-Soviet and former socialist countries, are seen as an attempt to interpret history in a different way and an expression of hysteria of anti-Russian, pro-Western and nationalist forces. That is why Moscow reacts sharply to such actions which, in Russia’s opinion, offer historical facts that differ from the Russian interpretation.
Latvia – Suspect on Trial for Espionage for Russia
Main Event: On December 9, 2021, a total of 60 members of the Saeima (Parliament of the Republic of Latvia) supported a request of the Prosecutor General’s Office to initiate criminal proceedings against a member of the Saeima, Janis Adamsons. He is suspected of spying for Russia.
Janis Adamsons. Source: delfi.lv
Event in Details: On June 10, 2021, the Saeima authorized the Office of the Prosecutor General to arrest Janis Adamsons and search his home. Janis Adamsons was arrested on June 11. A Russian citizen also involved in the same case was arrested on June 16.
Mr. Adamsons graduated from the Kyiv Higher Naval Political School. From 1979 to 1991, he served in the Soviet Border Guard Forces in the Far East of Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Janis Adamsons served as the Commander of the Latvian Border Guard Service and the Minister of Internal Affairs. At the time of his arrest, he was a member of the Parliamentary Committee for Defense, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention. After the arrest, he left the Harmony opposition Social Democratic Party which defends the rights of the Russian-speaking population in Latvia; however, he retained his parliamentary mandate.
Allegations against Janis Adamsons
Janis Adamsons is accused of transmitting information to Russia for the past four years. The Security Service provided evidence of 43 cases of espionage. He used his own computer to pass information. The information covered various issues, including changes in the law, army supplies and budget, results of a visit to the eastern border of Latvia and the position of the Baltic Assembly on the Nord Stream 2 project.
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 Ukraine and the Baltic states.
Russia Exposes Ukrainian “Spies”
Main Event: On December 2, 2021, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) announced an arrest of three ethnic Ukrainians on charges of spying for Ukraine.
Event in Details: According to the FSB, two of the detainees, a father and son, were collecting secret information for the Ukrainian Intelligence Services. According to the Russian side, the third detainee admitted that he was spying for the Ukrainian Military Intelligence and plotting a “terrorist act” on Russian territory using explosives.
“Such statements by the FSB should be viewed through the prism of hybrid war when information propaganda and dissemination of false information play an important role,” the Ukrainian side said.
In 2020-2021, the relevant services of Ukraine and Russia arrested a number of people on charges of espionage:
Why the Event is Important: After the 2014 events when Russia annexed Crimea and openly supported separatists in eastern Ukraine, the “spy war” between Russia and Ukraine intensified. There have been frequent reports of “spies” on both sides indicating a high degree of military-political confrontation between Moscow and Kyiv. In recent months, Russia’s activation in this direction can be viewed as the sharp military-political confrontation between Russia and Ukraine.
Backup Power Transmission Line was Launched Operation in the Tskhinvali Region
Main Event: On December 1, 2021, the Russian Foreign Ministry assessed the launch of a backup power transmission line in the Tskhinvali region.
Event in Details: On November 26, the backup power transmission line was put into operation in the Tskhinvali region. The ceremony was attended by Anatoly Bibilov, the de facto leader of the Tskhinvali region; Rashid Nurgaliyev, the Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council; Igor Maslov, the Head of the Directorate for Interregional and Cultural Contacts with Foreign Countries of the Russian Presidential Administration, and other members of a Russian delegation. Rashid Nurgaliyev and Igor Maslov supervise the directions of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the launch of the new energy artery connecting the Tskhinvali region with Russia is strategically important for the region. The commissioning of the line will ensure uninterrupted supply of electricity to the occupied region, especially in winter. Russia is the only supplier of electricity to the Tskhinvali region. The existing power transmission line was running in difficult terrain and was often damaged, leaving the Tskhinvali region without electricity for several days.
Backup Power Transmission Line
The length of the 110 kV single-circuit line is 4.5 km. The cost of the project amounted to RUB 1.7 billion. All financial expenses were reimbursed by the Russian Federation. In particular, the project had two sources of funding – the state budget of the Russian Federation and the investment program promoting the socio-economic development of the Tskhinvali region which is also funded by Russia.
Why the Event is Important: The construction of the backup transmission line connecting the Tskhinvali region and Russia will further increase the region’s reliance on Russia. In return, the reliability of the power system in the occupied region will be improved.