|Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst|
Review period: January 15-31, 2020
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.
Belarus Will not Cede its Sovereignty
Main Event: On January 24, 2020, the President of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, delivered a speech to the team at the Shklov Newsprint Mill. Much of his speech referred to relations with Russia.
Event in Details: As Lukashenko said, he does not want to be the last president of his country. He suggested that if he would have agreed to the accession of Belarus to Russia, Belarusians would “eat” him within a year after the decision. In his speech, Lukashenko accused Moscow of pressuring Belarus. According to him, Russia’s tax maneuver in the oil sector aimed at blackmailing Minsk. Although he criticized Moscow, he called Russia a fraternal state and a “major ally.” Lukashenko blamed Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s Cabinet, which resigned on January 15, for the problems in relations.
In 1999, Moscow and Minsk signed the Treaty on the Creation of a Union State; however from Moscow’s prospective the desired result has not yet been achieved. In December 2019, on the 20th anniversary of the signing the Treaty, there was a hope to have signed integration roadmaps although the meeting between Aleksandr Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin ended without success. It is noteworthy that a few days earlier, deeper integration with Russia was protested in Minsk. The protest ended without police intervention which is unusual for Belarus where even small-scale protests end in arrests. There is no doubt that the protest was authorized by the government and was aimed at showing that the population considers integration with Russia as a threat to the national sovereignty of Belarus.
Why Integration is Important for Russia: Russia believes that the economic success of Belarus was based on good economic relations with Russia. In return, there were Moscow’s expectations that Russia-Belarus integration would be deepened but this did not happen. In recent years, Moscow has changed its position and considers that cheap gas and oil export to Belarus is permissible only in exchange for deeper political integration. For Moscow, a successful Russia-Belarus integration means a strengthening of its status as a Eurasian Empire. For Putin personally, this is an opportunity for him to be elected as the leader of the union state from 2024 onwards.
Why Belarus Does not Want Deeper Integration: In return for his promises on integration, Lukashenko received cheap energy from Russia, thus ensuring economic stability in the country. In Lukashenko’s view, Russia’s proposed integration project will turn Belarus into a Russian province which is no longer acceptable after 30 years of independence.
Uzbekistan: Russia-US Foreign Policy Target
Main Event: On January 16, 2020, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, visited Tashkent and met with the Uzbek President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and his Uzbek counterpart, Abdulaziz Kamilov.
Event in Details: According to official reports, the parties discussed issues of bilateral cooperation, including the details of Mirziyoyev’s planned visit to Moscow. As planned, a declaration on a comprehensive strategic partnership will be signed during the visit. Moscow is also interested in Uzbekistan joining the Eurasian Economic Union as announced in September last year; however, any final decision on EAEU membership has not yet been made in Uzbekistan.
The visit of the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to Uzbekistan is scheduled after Lavrov’s visit. Pompeo starts his tour of the post-Soviet countries on February 1. He is to visit Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In Tashkent, Pompeo will take part in a ministerial meeting in the C5+1 (Central Asia – USA) format where he will introduce a new US strategy towards Central Asia. As a part of his visit to Uzbekistan, Lavrov was also interested in familiarizing himself with Tashkent’s vision on Washington’s new strategy.
Why the Event is Important for Uzbekistan: In 2016, after the death of Islam Karimov, the isolationist policy of Uzbekistan was changed. The new president became more active in terms of foreign policy. Unlike Karimov, who has refrained from integrating into Russian political projects, his successor is more sympathetic to Russia. However, at the same time, Mirziyoyev is developing relations with the West and tries to reap the maximum benefit through a balanced foreign policy. Pompeo’s planned visit is also proof of this.
Why the Event is Important for Russia: Russia considers Uzbekistan an important country in the Central Asian region and Tashkent’s involvement in the Kremlin’s projects, such as the Eurasian Economic Union, would be a significant economic and political success for Moscow. It is unacceptable to have strengthened US positions in the region which Moscow considers to be its area of influence. Lavrov preceding Pompeo in visiting Tashkent is a kind of preventive measure to persuade Uzbekistan that friendship with Russia has no alternative.
Gazprom Will Complete the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Project on Its Own
Main Event: As the Russian energy giant Gazprom stated on January 28, 2020, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project under the Baltic Sea will be completed with the company’s own resources and without the involvement of any foreign companies.
Event in Details: According to the available data, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is 94% complete. Problems with the project came after the United States imposed sanctions on foreign companies involved in the project. Due to the US sanctions, the timetable of the project’s completion was pushed to 2021. However, the West is skeptical as to how Gazprom will complete the pipeline’s construction with its own resources and without international assistance. Fearing the US sanctions, Western companies working in pipe lay, heavy lifting and sub-sea construction withdrew their specialized ships from the project.
Upon the project’s completion, Nord Stream 1’s productivity will be doubled to 110 billion cubic meters per year which is more than a quarter of the EU’s gas consumption. Nord Stream 2 will stretch across the Baltic Sea and directly connect Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine. Nord Stream 2 will be the longest offshore pipeline (1,230 km) in the world.
Why the Project’s Completion is Important for Russia: The Nord Stream 2 project’s completion will enable Russia to minimize its reliance on Ukraine’s pipeline network for transiting gas to Europe in the nearest future and establish direct ties with Germany – the main consumer of Russian gas.
Why the Project’s Completion is Important for Germany: The Nord Stream 2 project will meet Germany’s increased demand for gas consumption, thus reducing its dependence on unreliable transit countries. Despite pressure from Washington, Germany believes that Russian gas import does not pose a political risk and direct trade with Russia will increase the country’s energy security.
Photo: Nord Stream 2. Source: Gazprom web-page
Five New Schools will be Built in Tajikistan
Main Event: The Supreme Assembly of Tajikistan has backed an agreement to build five new Russian schools within three years under the Russian Federation government’s funding.
Event in Details: 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. At present, in addition to Tajik-Russian bilingual schools, there are only 32 Russian-language schools, ten of which have been established in the past two years.
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.