|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: December 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.
Russia Sums up the Main Activities of Its Foreign Policy in 2021
Main Event: On December 28, 2021, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summarized the activities of its main foreign policy in 2021, including in the direction of the post-Soviet space.
Informal Meeting of Leaders of CIS Member States Was Held in St. Petersburg
Main Event: On December 28, 2021, a traditional informal meeting of leaders of CIS member states was held in St. Petersburg.
Informal Meeting of the Leaders of the CIS Member States. kremlin.ru
Event in Details: The informal meeting was attended by all leaders of the member states, except for the Moldovan President, Maia Sandu, who is a pro-Western politician with a European foreign policy course. The meeting was also attended by the first President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and the president of Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan is an associate member of the CIS.
The meeting was not attended by Georgia which withdrew from the CIS after the August 2008 war. Ukraine also did not attend. Ukraine is a founding member of the organization; however, it formally never joined.
The participants of the meeting summed up 2021 and talked about future cooperation. Anna Popova, the Chief Sanitary Doctor of Russia, was specially invited to the meeting. She briefed participants about the epidemiological situation and cooperation in the field of medicine.
Informal meetings of CIS leaders in St. Petersburg ahead of the New Year have been held before the pandemic and became a kind of tradition.
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.
Interview with Andrey Rudenko, Overseeing the Direction of Post-Soviet Countries
Main Event: In an interview with the Russian propaganda news agency Sputnik, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrey Rudenko, spoke about the 30th anniversary of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Event in Details: In the Russian Foreign Ministry, Andrey Rudenko oversees the direction of post-Soviet countries, including the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. Mr. Rudenko’s key messages are:
Putin Once Again Calls Ukraine’s Statehood into Question
Main Event: On December 23, 2021, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, held an annual press conference where he once again raised the question of Ukraine’s statehood.
Event in Details: The Russian president’s end-of-year press conference covered a number of issues. Vladimir Putin spoke a lot about Ukraine. He reminded journalists how Ukraine was developed: “Who created Ukraine? It was Lenin when he established the Soviet Union: the 1922 Union Treaty and the 1924 Constitution. It happened after his death, although according to his principles.”
The year 2021 was remarkable in terms of attacking Ukrainian statehood. On July 12, 2021, the Kremlin’s web-page published an article entitled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” written by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. The article contained some interesting phrases such as: “Russians and Ukrainians are in fact one and the same people who were artificially separated in recent historical periods. The Velikorusians, Malorusians and Belarusians are part of one Russian people. Later, under the influence of external factors, in which the Bolsheviks also contributed, a united Russian people began to disintegrate.”
Why the Event is Important: Russia’s current ruling elite questions the legitimacy of the Ukrainian state and accuses the Bolsheviks of artificially creating the country. Mr. Putin’s interpretations of Ukrainian history are part of Russia’s hybrid war waged against Ukraine.
Russian Ambassador Attends the Inauguration of the Transnistrian Illegitimate President – Moldova is Unhappy
Main Event: On December 17, 2021, the Russian Ambassador to Moldova, Oleg Vasnetsov, attended the inauguration of the “President” of the Transnistrian separatist republic, Vadim Krasnoselsky.
Event in Details: Vadim Krasnoselsky won the December 12 presidential elections in the separatist republic. His inauguration was attended by the Russian Ambassador to Moldova. The Ambassador was criticized by the Moldovan authorities for his visit to Transnistria. “The so-called presidential election in the Transnistrian region is illegitimate and contradicts the constitution of the country,” the Moldovan Foreign Ministry stated on December 18.
Representatives of Russia (Natalya Narochnitskaya, a political expert; Vladimir Zhuravlyov, a member of the Russian Civic Chamber, and others) were going to observe the elections but were refused entry to the region. According to a representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, such actions will not go unanswered from Russia.
Transnistria is a separatist republic which has not been under the jurisdiction of the Moldovan government since 1992. The pro-Western Moldovan government is seeking to replace Russian troops stationed in the region with international peacekeepers.
Why the Event is Important: Russia is the main supporter of the Transnistrian separatist republic. The ambassador’s visit to the inauguration of the illegitimate president is a demonstration of Moscow’s support for the separatists against the background of the demands of Moldovan authorities for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the region.
Former President of Kazakhstan Invites Azerbaijan to the Eurasian Economic Union
Main Event: The former President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is the Honorary Chairman of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, proposed inviting Azerbaijan to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) as an observer.
Event in Details: On December 10, a Council meeting was held online. Mr. Nazarbayev, who is considered as one of the ideologues of Eurasian integration, cited the successful example of Uzbekistan which joined the EAEU as an observer and, in his view, benefited from it.
A spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, commented on the issue. According to her, the development of a dialogue between Azerbaijan and the EAEU in any format would facilitate bilateral trade, the opening of a transport network in the region and the implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects.
The EAEU is a union of pro-Russian countries with the participation of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.
From post-Soviet countries, Moldova (was granted the status during the tenure of the pro-Russian President, Igor Dodon) and Uzbekistan have an observer status. The consent of all member states, including Armenia, is required for Azerbaijan to join the EAEU as an observer.
Why the Event is Important: Mr. Nazarbayev’s idea is in line with Russia’s interests as Moscow is offering post-Soviet countries an alternative economic model of cooperation with the European Union in the form of the EAEU. Nursultan Nazarbayev’s proposal to invite Azerbaijan to the organization can be considered as part of the Kremlin’s policy. This is a kind of hint from Moscow that it welcomes the transition to another stage of cooperation between the organization and Azerbaijan.
Russian Lawmakers Support Starting an Integrated Russian-Tajik Air Defense System
Main Event: On December 16, 2021, the Russian State Duma ratified an agreement sent by the Russian president on the set-up of a joint regional air defense system between Russia and Tajikistan. On December 30, the Russian president signed a law on the ratification of the agreement.
Event in Details: The Defense ministers of the two countries signed the agreement in Dushanbe, on April 27 and the Russian government approved it in November.
According to the agreement, the integrated regional system is part of the CIS joint air defense system. The parties agreed to jointly protect their territory from air strikes and ensure the security of CIS airspace in a strategic southern direction. The agreement was signed for five years with the possibility of a further extension for subsequent five-year periods. Given the weakness of Tajikistan’s armed forces, the Russian armed forces, including the anti-aircraft missile systems stationed at the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan, will be the only party that will implement the terms of the agreement. Russia has already established similar air defense regional systems with Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Why the Event is Important: Tajikistan is one of the weakest states in the post-Soviet space which is unable to adequately protect its own security. Military cooperation between Russia and Tajikistan has intensified since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. Tajikistan fears that the Afghan threat could spill over into its territory; therefore, the co-operation with Russia could be a good deterrent.
Russia Doubles Gas Imports from Turkmenistan
Main Event: On December 24, 2021, the Russian Ambassador to Turkmenistan, Alexander Blokhin, stated that Russia doubled gas imports from Turkmenistan in 2021.
Event in Details: According to the ambassador, Russia received ten billion cubic meters of gas in 2021 which is twice as much as in 2020. Imports of a similar scale were recorded before 2016 when Russia suspended imports from Turkmenistan due to a dispute over gas prices. Imports, under a five-year contract, resumed in 2019.
Turkmenistan is a gas-rich country. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country exported gas only through Russian territory as it had a limited export infrastructure. Consequently, Moscow was profiting from selling Turkmen gas to Europe at high international gas prices while paying Turkmenistan much lower prices. The economy of Turkmenistan was hit hard when Russia halted imports in 2016.
In the post-Soviet period, Turkmenistan has gradually arranged alternative routes to Iran and China. China buys 40 billion cubic meters of gas annually while Iran is not a reliable partner nor a good payer. The Turkman section of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project has already been constructed.
Why the Event is Important for Turkmenistan: Turkmenistan is no longer dependent only on the Russian route, although exporting additional volumes of gas through Russia is a source of extra income for the country.
Why the Event is Important for Russia: Turkmen gas imports are relatively cheap for Russia which will also help Moscow to meet its obligations to European countries.
Sergey Lavrov Responds to the De Facto Foreign Ministers of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali Region
Main Event: On December 20, 2021 in Sochi, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, met with the de facto Ministers of the Tskhinvali region and Abkhazia, Dmitry Medoev and Inal Ardzinba.
Event in Details: The parties discussed the main aspects of cooperation, foreign policy directions and regional security. The joint meeting was preceded by Mr. Lavrov’s personal meetings with Dmitry Medoev and then with Inal Ardzinba. This was Mr. Ardzinba’s first meeting with the Russian foreign minister in his new post.
Foreign policy coordination between Russia and the breakaway regions of Georgia has been going on since the August 2008 war. Representatives of the de facto foreign ministries of the breakaway region periodically meet with representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Why the Event is Important: Similar meetings are aimed at coordinating activities between Russia and the breakaway regions of Georgia and are an opportunity for de facto leaders of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region to personally meet with Sergey Lavrov and hear from him about problems in relations with Russia.