|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst
Review period: January 16-31, 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.
Sergey Lavrov “Rules Out War” with Ukraine
Main Event: On January 28, 2022, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, gave an interview to Russian media outlets (Sputnik, Echo of Moscow, Govorit Moskva and Komsomolskaya Pravda) where he also spoke about the prospects of war with Ukraine.
Event in Details: Sergey Lavrov stated:
On January 27, Alexey Zaitsev, the Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also spoke about the inadmissibility of war. “Moscow has repeatedly stated that our country is not going to attack anyone and we consider it unacceptable to even think about war between our peoples.”
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 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. There were several rounds of unsuccessful talks between Russia and the West. The first round of failed talks was held between Russia and the United States in Geneva on January 10. The NATO-Russia Council meeting was held in Brussels on January 12 and the third round took place in Vienna within the framework of the OSCE on January 13. On January 21, Sergey Lavrov also met with the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, in Geneva.
In parallel with the talks, the development of Russian military forces along the Ukrainian border is still high. The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine is in daily receipt of combat weapons from Western countries, especially from the US and the UK. The West assumes that Russia is preparing for war; however, it does not plan to send troops to fight in Ukraine in the event of a war.
Why the Event is Important: In the wake of heightened military rhetoric from the Kremlin and an unprecedented buildup of troops along the Ukrainian border, Lavrov-like statements are more part of Russian propaganda which seeks to cite the actions of the Ukrainian authorities as the root cause of the problem.
Moscow Hosts an Exhibition on “Human Rights Violations” in Ukraine
Main Event: On January 18, 2022, the Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergey Naryshkin, compared “state terror in Ukraine to the occupation regime of the Hitler period.”
Event in Details: Sergey Naryshkin, the Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, is also the Chairman of the Russian Historical Society. He took part in an exhibition, entitled Human Rights Violations in Ukraine (2017-2020), which was held at the House of the Russian Historical Society. The event was organized by the NGO Foundation for the Study of Democracy Problems. The project was implemented with the support of the History of the Fatherland Foundation.
Sergey Naryshkin at the Exhibition. Source: historyrussia.org
The project used the information and facts from a book by Maxim Grigoriev and Dmitry Sublin – Ordinary Fascism: War Crimes and Human Rights Violations in Ukraine. According to Mr. Grigoriev, “the continuation of this project will be a textbook on the objective history of Ukraine,” which is being prepared in cooperation with the Russian State University for the Humanities.
According to Sergey Naryshkin, “after the coup d’état of 2014, a real civil war was unleashed by the Ukrainian elite and nationalists. At the same time, they are inspired by the image of Ukraine as anti-Russia. The face of this anti-Russia is truly horrible, inhumane, corrupt-oligarchic and deeply anti-Ukrainian in its essence. A real dictatorship.”
Earlier, Mr. Naryshkin said that Russia is most interested in good-neighborly relations with Ukraine. He also spoke of US efforts to rekindle the conflict in Donbass with renewed vigor.
Why the Event is Important: Talking about human rights abuses in Ukraine is part of Russia’s information war waged by Moscow against Ukraine. Against the background of a possible military confrontation with Ukraine, such exhibitions are gaining even more urgency. For Russia, the dissemination of anti-Ukrainian materials in the media space is a step forward to legitimize its anti-Ukrainian actions both in the political or military fields.
Ukraine Accuses Russia of a Cyber-Attack
Main Event: On January 16, 2022, Ukraine accused Russia of a cyber-attack on its government web-pages.
Event in Details: On January 14, the cyber-attack knocked out key government web-pages including those of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Energy. According to the Ministry of Digital Development of Ukraine, all the evidence points to Russia (which is waging a hybrid war against Ukraine) being behind the cyber-attack. A message appeared on web-pages warning Ukrainians to “prepare for the worst.” The Kremlin, for its part, denied the allegations.
On January 16, the US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, agreed with Ukraine’s stance and warned that the cyber-attacks might have been a prelude to a large-scale Russian operation aimed at destabilizing Ukraine.
The Ukrainian side also named a hacker group related to the Belarusian Intelligence Service as a possible suspect in the cyber-attack.
Why the Event is Important: Amid the buildup of Russian military forces along Ukraine’s borders, cyber-attacks are part of a hybrid war that Russia has been actively using against its opponents in recent years. The cyber-attack is also aimed at demoralizing the Ukrainian government and weakening the country’s head agencies in the event of a military confrontation.
Military Exercises in Belarus
Main Event: According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, military units of Russia’s Eastern Military District, which are participating in the inspection of the Rapid Reaction Forces of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, are deploying field posts and organizing a joint troop management system in Belarus.
Event in Details: Joint exercises of the military forces of the Union State in Belarus are taking place against the background of the development of Russian military forces on the border with Ukraine. The inspection of the Rapid Reaction Forces of the Union State is planned in two stages. Troops will be deployed and military units will be formed in Belarus by February 9. The second stage envisages organizing the Union Strength – 2022 joint exercises on February 10-20.
Russia has already deployed a total of 12 combat vehicles of the Pantsir anti-aircraft missile system in Belarus. Each can carry 12 anti-aircraft missiles. The Su-35C Russian fighter jets also flew to Belarus from Khabarovsk Krai. They will be involved in the second stage of the exercise.
The inspection is being carried out near the Polish-Lithuanian and Ukrainian borders. According to the Russian Deputy Defense Minister, Alexander Fomin, the purpose of the exercise is to develop tasks of deterring and repelling foreign aggression during the defense operation, fight terrorism and protect the interests of the Union State.
Why the Event is Important: In the face of the unprecedented development of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border, the exercises in Belarus with the participation of Russian troops are part of an opportunity for Moscow to demonstrate force and prepare for possible military aggression.
Sergey Lavrov met with Ambassadors of CIS member States in Russia
Main Event: On January 19, 2022, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, met with ambassadors of CIS member states in Russia.
Sergey Lavrov’s Meeting with Ambassadors. Source: mid.ru
Event in Details: Moscow hosted the meeting which is held traditionally. It was also attended by the CIS Executive Secretary and Chairman of the Executive Committee, Sergey Lebedev. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the meeting summed up the results of multilateral cooperation within the CIS in 2021 and discussed strengthening of coordination in the foreign policy field. Current topical international and regional issues were also discussed.
A similar meeting was held in January last year.
Earlier, on December 28, 2021, a traditional informal meeting of leaders of CIS member states was held in St. Petersburg. Informal meetings of CIS leaders in St. Petersburg ahead of the New Year have been held before the pandemic and have become 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 group photo. Although, Russia is showing increasing interest in developing the Eurasian Economic Union, such traditional meetings are an additional platform for Russia to share its political views.
Russia Protests a Rally in Front of the Former Russian Embassy in Tbilisi
Main Event: On January 26, 2022, the Russian Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic note to the Georgian Foreign Ministry over a rally in front of the former Russian Embassy in Tbilisi.
Event in Details: The rally in support of Ukraine took place in front of the former building of the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi. It was organized on the initiative of the European Georgia opposition political party. During the rally, a video supporting Ukraine was projected on the embassy building. Russia did not miss the “anti-Russian” event and the Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alexey Zaitsev, commented on the issue.
Rally in Front of the Former Russian Embassy Building. Source: netgazeti.ge
“I am concerned about what happened. On January 26, the Georgian opposition held an anti-Russian political action in the immediate vicinity of the building of the Section of Interests of the Russian Federation at the Embassy of the Swiss Confederation in Georgia. Shortly before the start, the Section experienced a power outage of the main and backup power supplies.” In the diplomatic note, the Russian Foreign Ministry reminds Georgia of the need to strictly comply with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of April 18, 1961. “At present, the power supply to the Section is fully restored. We hope that the Georgian authorities will take all possible measures to prevent such incidents,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Why the Event is Important: The rally in Tbilisi was small, but it seems that considering the urgency of the Ukrainian issue, Russia considers such events as part of an information war and, therefore, tries not to leave any anti-Russian and at the same time pro-Ukrainian events unanswered.
There is Still a Gas Crisis in Moldova
Main Event: On January 20, 2022, the Moldovan parliament approved a 60-day state of emergency over the energy sector due to non-payment of Russian gas bills. Only MPs of the pro-Russian Bloc of Communists and Socialists opposed the decision.
Event in Details: 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. Gazprom refused the request and the Moldovan Prime Minister, Natalia Gavrilita, pushed for the introduction of a state of emergency. At the end of the day on January 20, Moldovagas made an advance payment to Gazprom for January gas supply. The state of emergency will allow the government to distribute gas to the country as needed and use budget funds for paying for gas.
Paying for Russian gas is becoming an increasingly problematic issue for Moldova. Under a new agreement with Gazprom, the January fee is USD 647 per 1,000 cubic meters instead of USD 550 as it was in December. Under the agreement, Moldova must pay part of the fee in advance which is not an easy task for a country facing severe economic challenges.
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 and results in monthly crises. 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. This will also allow the pro-Russian opposition to strengthen its shaky political positions.
CSTO Forces Leave Kazakhstan
Main Event: On January 19, 2022, the Commander of Collective peacekeeping forces of the CSTO in Kazakhstan, General Andrey Serdyukov, and the Russian Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Alexey Borodavkin, announced the completion of the CSTO peacekeeping mission.
Event in Details: The “peacekeeping operation” ended on January 19 and CSTO peacekeepers left the country. 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. After that, the Collective Security Treaty Organization decided to send Collective peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan on January 6, 2022. The president’s appeal preceded by the January 2 event when a peaceful protest over the fuel price increase in the Mangystau region of western Kazakhstan escalated into unprecedented unrest across the country.
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; however, in fact, they have not provided any evidence to prove this. 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. The most recent case was reported last week when the CSTO once again refused to intervene in the renewed Tajik-Kyrgyz border conflict. On January 27, the Secretary-General of the CSTO, Stanislav Zas, called on the parties to cease fire immediately.
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.