|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: January 1-15, 2022
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 Peacekeepers in Kazakhstan
Main Event: On January 6, 2022, the Collective Security Treaty Organization decided to send Collective peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan.
Event in Details: The Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, who is also the Chairman of the Collective Security Council Organization (CSTO), announced the decision. Earlier, on January 5, the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, appealed to the CSTO to assist Kazakhstan in overcoming the threat to its national security and sovereignty, including foreign interference. The CSTO enacted Article 4 of its Charter and Collective peacekeeping forces were sent to Kazakhstan for a limited period of time to stabilize and normalize the situation. On January 2, a peaceful protest over the fuel price increase in the Mangystau region of western Kazakhstan escalated into unprecedented unrest across the country. The incumbent president, who ousted the government, invited the CSTO and, first of all, the Russian Armed Forces, to resolve the internal political crisis (“overcome the terrorist threat”).
The Secretary-General of the CSTO, Stanislav Zas, also spoke about foreign intervention, saying that foreign nationals were also in terrorist groups in Kazakhstan, although they were not the main participants.
CSTO Online Meeting on January 10. Source: odkb-csto.org
CSTO Peacekeeper Forces
All member states of the CSTO (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) sent their representatives to Kazakhstan, although Russian troops were the main forces present in the country (including the 45th Guards Special Purpose Brigade – one of the most elite units of the Russian Airborne Troops which was deployed in the conflict zone during the 2008 Russian-Georgian war). The first Russian troops arrived in Kazakhstan on January 6. As a result of the stabilization of the situation, the CSTO started the withdrawal of its forces from the territory of Kazakhstan on January 13.
CSTO member states have a mutual obligation in the case of foreign intervention. Although, the leader of Kazakhstan and representatives of Russia emphasize that the situation in Kazakhstan was facilitated by external forces; in fact, the problem was of a domestic political nature. Most likely, such statements were to legitimize the invitation of the CSTO and/or the Russian military forces. In other similar cases, the CSTO explained its non-interference due to the internal political nature of the conflicts. For example, the CSTO did not intervene in domestic political processes in Kyrgyzstan (during the 2005, 2010 and 2020 revolutions), the Organization refrained from intervention in the 2020 Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and the 2021 border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Why the Event is Important: The involvement of the CSTO forces in domestic political unrest is an interesting precedent which, in the future, the leaders of post-Soviet countries/CSTO member states may use for internal political purposes/retention of power.
Main Event: On January 7, 2022, the Russian Patriarch Kirill spoke about the ongoing events in Kazakhstan in his speech after the evening liturgy.
Event in Details: “We all know that grave events are taking place on the territory which once was our vast united country. People clash in the worst bloodshed of civil conflict. All this is happening here, on the territory of historic Russia, and, therefore, we cannot be indifferent to this bloodshed, the clashes and the human disorder,” said Patriarch Kirill.
Why the Event is Important: Russian political circles consider the northern regions of modern-day Kazakhstan as a historic part of the Russian Empire which was given to Kazakhstan as a “gift” during the Soviet era. In recent years, several references have been made that this territory belongs to Russia. A similar statement by the Russian Patriarch indicates that the Russian Church is not indifferent to the ongoing processes in Kazakhstan due of its historical ties with Russia.
Yevgeny Primakov Refuses to Cooperate with Kazakhstan’s New Minister
Main Event: Yevgeny Primakov, the Head of the Federal Agency for the CIS, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Affairs, refused to cooperate with a new minister of the government of Kazakhstan.
Event in Details: According to Mr. Primakov, the Agency will not cooperate with the Ministry of Information and Public Development of Kazakhstan and its new head, Askar Umarov, due to the latter’s critical remarks on Russians and the history of Russia. Yevgeny Primakov called the Kazakh Minister “Russophobic trash” and published several quotes attributed to Askar Umarov.
According to the available information, the aforementioned quotes were uploaded on the Russians in Kazakhstan portal in 2012. The publication’s author claimed that Askar Umarov, who was then the Vice President of the Turkish Academy, posted the aforementioned in a Facebook group under the pseudonym – TurkMedia.
Askar Umarov’s Answer
Askar Umarov, who has been the Minister of Information and Public Development in the new government of Kazakhstan since January 11, 2022, said that the publications are aimed at demonizing his personality and he is not the kind of person they try to portray. “I have tried to do fruitful work with Russian and other partners in all my previous positions,” he said.
Why the Event is Important: A similar statement by a senior Russian official about a minister of a neighboring country indicates that Russia acutely perceives anti-Russian sentiments and a political rise of “Russophobic” politicians in post-Soviet countries.
Russia and the West Fail to Agree on “Security Guarantees”
Main Event: On January 12, 2022, negotiations of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels ended without reaching sufficient results. The West views that the Russian military build-up along the Ukrainian border sets the stage for a Russian military invasion of Ukraine.
Event in Details: The NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, says that NATO will not accept Moscow’s demands for a new security architecture in Europe; however, he wants to continue diplomatic talks. Mr. Stoltenberg reiterated that Ukraine has the right to address its own future security issues and that Russia has no right to veto the admission of new members to NATO.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander Grushko, repeated that NATO enlargement poses a threat to Russia’s security and called on NATO to end its “open door policy.”
The first round of similar talks was held between Russia and the United States in Geneva on January 10. The third round took place in Vienna within the framework of the OSCE on January 13. All three rounds were unsuccessful.
On January 14, after a series of failed talks, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, stated during a news conference that the Kremlin would not wait for a response from the West for an indefinite period of time. “Our patience is running out,” Mr. Lavrov said. He requested the West to provide written guarantees which meet Russia’s demands in a week. It is noteworthy that a massive cyber-attack on Ukrainian government websites preceded the Russian minister’s statement.
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. 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. That is why the Kremlin is trying to use the global pandemic and ensuing instability to restore its lost positions. Blackmailing the West with the military threat against Ukraine and the danger of a new European war is the best way for Moscow to obtain the West’s consent vis-à-vis its demands.
Kyiv Marks the Birthday of Its Nationalist Leader
Main Event: On January 1, 2022, Kyiv celebrated the birthday of Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist leader, with a march. Small-scale marches were also held in other Ukrainian cities.
Event in Details: In Kyiv, up to 3.5 thousand people with torchlights and flags took part in the event. The march ended near the Palace of the President of Ukraine. The participants of the march demanded giving Stepan Bandera the title of “hero.”
Stepan Bandera was the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists which operated in western Ukraine and fought against the Soviet Union before and during World War II. The Organization is considered as extremist and is banned in Russia. Stepan Bandera is a heterogeneous historical figure and has recently received special respect in nationalist circles. In addition to Russia, Bandera’s heroism is unacceptable in Poland and Israel which accuse him of collaborating with the Nazis and killing Poles and Jews in western Ukraine.
The Israeli embassy in Kyiv also issued a statement in which it described similar rallies as an act tantamount to justifying the Holocaust.
The Speaker of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, spoke about the need for imposing sanctions on Ukraine for promoting nationalism. “Nationalist ideology is directed against all mankind. Ukraine is sliding towards a tragic past, against which not only the Soviet Union fought but also the United States and England,” the speaker stated. In such a situation, he said it was monstrous that NATO countries are supplying weapons to Kyiv. Mr. Volodin also called on the West to impose sanctions on Ukraine for glorifying Bandera.
Why the Event is Important: In recent decades, Russia has seen the glorification of some historical figures in post-Soviet countries as an attempt to rewrite history and a part of anti-Russian policies. Russia’s goal is to prevent the heroism of anti-Soviet/anti-Russian historical events and figures and to promote its vision of major historical events.
Moldova Demands Deferring Payment for Russian Gas
Main Event: On January 13, 2021, Moldovagaz said that it paid Gazprom for natural gas supplied in December 2021 and requested deferring the payment of the January gas bill.
Event in Details: Paying for Russian gas is becoming an increasingly problematic issue for Moldova. Under a new agreement with Gazprom, the January fee will be USD 647 per 1,000 cubic meters instead of USD 550 as it was in December. Under the agreement, Moldova will have to pay part of the fee in advance which is not an easy task for a country facing severe economic challenges. Accordingly, the Moldovan government asked the head of Gazprom to defer the date of the advance payment.
Moldova declared a state of emergency due to the energy crisis in autumn last year. Due to a 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.
Why the Event is Important: The issue of gas supplies remains a key concern in Moldovan-Russian relations. Paying increased prices for gas places a heavy burden on the Moldovan budget. Russia will retain its leverage over Moldova and the pro-Western Moldovan government will also have limited room for political maneuver if Moldova fails to reduce its dependence on Russian gas in the short run.