Russian Politics in the Post-Soviet Space

Review of Russia’s Policy in the Post-Soviet Space, Publication 26

Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst

Publication:  N26

Review period:  February 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.


  • Russia’s new National Security Concept will focus on the idea of the “Russian world” and the relations with compatriots living abroad.
  • Most entrants wishing to study for free in Russian universities are from post-Soviet countries.
  • Russia restores transport links with post-Soviet countries.
  • Armenia will use the Sputnik V Russian vaccine in the fight against the coronavirus.
  • The Russian President pledges his support for separatists in Donbas.
  • Ukraine fights against Russian aggression on social network.
  • Russia imposes economic sanctions on Ukrainian companies.
  • Uzbekistan will complete the transition from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet in two years.
  • Turkmenistan wants to build new export gas pipelines.



Russia Drafts a New Version of Its National Security Concept

Main Event:  As instructed by the President of the Russian Federation, the Russian Security Council prepared a new version of the country's National Security Concept, said Sergey Vakhrukov, the Deputy Secretary of the Security Council.

Event in Details:  At the Security Council Permanent Members’ summit on February 5, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, discussed the issue of adopting a new National Security Concept. Putin highlighted the importance of working with compatriots living abroad. According to Dmitry Peskov, the Spokesman of the President of Russia, “the Russian world was, is and will always be the priority for the Russian state.” Speaking on the subject, Peskov said that Ukraine is also part of the “Russian world” since many Russians and the Russian-speaking population live in Ukraine.

As Peskov stated, Moscow plans to popularize the idea of the “Russian world” in Ukraine through its “soft power” which implies the use of methods that do not contradict international law.

Why the Event is Important:  Russia has repeatedly used the protection of Russians and the Russian-speaking population in the post-Soviet space to achieve its foreign policy goals. It seems that Russia's priorities and methods will not change in the short run.


Studying in Russia is Still Attractive for Youth from Post-Soviet Countries

Main Event:  An online campaign for admission to Russian higher education institutions was launched on January 20, 2021. The campaign will end on February 20, 2021.

Event in Details:  According to the Federal Agency for the CIS, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Affairs, the admission campaign for foreign students to Russian universities will be held online for the first time. Russian universities offer free tuition to foreign students every year based on quotas allocated by the government.

As a result of the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, applicants are to register through a special educational super service. The super service is an online platform where foreign students enroll at the desired Russian educational institution. A total of 20,000 applications were received in the first two weeks of the admission campaign, 40% of which was from the near abroad. Among the post-Soviet countries, the Central Asian states were leading in the number of registered applications:  1,644 registered applications from Tajikistan, more than 1,000 - from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The lowest number of applications is from the Baltic states, Georgia and Armenia.

Why the Event is Important:  Education is an important tool of “soft power” of Russian foreign policy. In a highly competitive environment, Russia seeks to attract young people from around the world, especially from post-Soviet countries, by creating free education opportunities and thus gain the opportunity to influence the future elites of these countries.


Russia Restores Transport Links with Some Post-Soviet Countries

Main Event:  On February 3, 2021, the Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, signed a decree on lifting restrictions over air and rail connections with four post-Soviet countries. The restrictions were imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Event in Details:  According to the decree, passenger trains will resume service between Moscow and Minsk as well as between Moscow, St. Petersburg and the Kaliningrad exclave via Belarus. Flights from several Russian cities to Minsk will also resume.

During the month, flights to Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Armenia will be restored. Due to the pandemic, movement between these countries was restricted for months. Last year, thousands of migrants were stranded in Russia along the border, even sparking a migrant crisis.

Why the Event is Important:  With the decline in the number of co-infected people and the start of the vaccination, Russia started to open its closed borders with countries which the Kremlin considers to be its allies and partners.


Armenia Will Receive the Russian Vaccine

Main Event:  On February 1, 2021, the Ministry of Health of Armenia officially registered the Sputnik V Russian vaccine.

Event in Details:  According to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the vaccine phase III clinical trial was completed and its registration in Armenia did not require additional studies. In November 2020, Moscow handed over several samples of the Sputnik V to Armenia. The Russian Health Minister, Mikhail Murashko, personally delivered the samples to Yerevan. A total of 15 people, including the then Minister of Health, Arsen Torosyan, were vaccinated.

Sputnik V vaccine. Source:  Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation.

In post-Soviet countries, the Russian vaccine is already registered in Belarus, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. As of February 2021, vaccination with the Sputnik V is underway or will start in the following countries: Bolivia, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, Paraguay, Hungary, Armenia, Venezuela and Iran. The vaccination will also start in Palestine and Serbia. Hungary is the first EU member state to start vaccination with the Russian Sputnik V on February 12.

Unlike these countries, Ukraine is refusing the Russian vaccine. The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine banned the registration of the Russian vaccine. Georgia will also not use the Russian vaccine.

Russian vaccine

On August 11, 2020, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, announced the registration of the “first vaccine in the world” against the coronavirus. The Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, was financed by the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The vaccine was developed at the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology and one of the largest biopharmaceutical companies in Russia - Binnopharm. Production of the vaccine began on August 15.

Why the Event is Important:  The widespread use of the Russian vaccine and its effectiveness will make Russia an internationally advanced scientific country and allow using the vaccine as a tool of “soft power” of its foreign policy.


Putin Pledges Support to Donbas

Main Event:  On February 13, 2021, at a meeting with editors-in-chief of leading Russian publications, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said that “Russia will not leave Donbas.”

Event in Details:  The meeting, which was held in a closed format, focused on various issues, including the issue of Donbas. “I see injured and mutilated people, especially children from Donbas. We (government and media) have a huge responsibility to Russia. First, before we make any decision, we must think about the consequences of any of our steps. We will not leave Donbas, no matter what,” said Putin.

Why the Event is Important:  The statement is a message that in the Donbas case, Vladimir Putin will defend Russia's interests to the end and that Ukraine should not expect Moscow to backtrack on the issue.


Ukraine Fights Against Russian Aggression on Twitter

Main Event:  On February 8, 2021, the Ukrainian Ambassador to the US, Volodymyr Yelchenko, sent a letter to Twitter calling on it to deactivate an account of the Russian Foreign Ministry office in Crimea.

Event in Details:  According to the ambassador, the account of the Russian occupation regime in Crimea cannot be described as official and legitimate. The account belongs to the office of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Simferopol. As of February 15, the account has 12 thousand followers.

Twitter account of the Russian Foreign Ministry office in Crimea:  Source:  Twitter

The Russian “embassy” in Abkhazia also created a Twitter account. As of February 15, both accounts are active and the latter has more than 300 followers.

Twitter account of the Russian “embassy” in Abkhazia:  Source:  Twitter

Why the Event is Important:  Similar accounts on social networks are a Russian propaganda tool aimed at legitimizing Russian aggression and misinforming the international community.


Russia Imposes Economic Sanctions on Ukrainian Companies

Main Event: On February 12, 2021, Russia imposed economic sanctions on nine Ukrainian companies.

Event in Details:  A vessel builder, towing and cargo operator, and metal producer companies were also subject to “special economic measures.” The exact reason for imposing the sanctions on these companies is unknown. To date, the number of Ukrainian companies sanctioned by Russia totals 84.

Relations between Ukraine and Russia have strained since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and backed a separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine. In addition to political and economic controversy, there have been frequent disclosures of spies on both sides.

In Ukraine, sanctions against Taras Kozak, a comrade in arms of a pro-Russian MP, Viktor Medvedev (Vladimir Putin is his daughter’s godfather), were put into practice on February 2. The sanctions envisage the closure of three TV channels (112 Ukraine, NewsOne and Zik) whose legal owner is Kozak; however, Medvedev is considered as the de facto ruler.

Kyiv’s decision was approved by Washington and criticized by Moscow and Brussels. The EU did not approve the harassment of free media.

Why the Event is Important:  The confrontation between Russia and Ukraine is escalating. Ukraine seeks to free itself from Russian influence while Russia seeks to maintain its influence over Ukraine through political and economic leverage.


Uzbekistan Will Complete the Transition to the Latin Alphabet in Two Years

Main Event:  On February 11, 2021, the Ministry of Justice of Uzbekistan announced the approval of a roadmap for the transition to the Latin alphabet.

Event in Details:  According to the roadmap, all organizations must use the Uzbek alphabet based on the Latin alphabet in their proceedings and activities in general from January 1, 2023. The roadmap envisages the preparation of a new draft of normative-legal acts and spelling rules.

A final draft of the updated Latin-based Uzbek alphabet was prepared in May 2019.

The Latin alphabet had been used in Uzbekistan since 1926. It was replaced by Cyrillic in 1940. Latin has been the official script since 1992 and has been taught in schools since 2005. Despite the popularization of the Uzbek language, the Russian language is still relevant for everyday life and conversation between ethnic groups.

In Central Asia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have decided to switch from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet. Cyrillic is still used in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.


Why the Event is Important:  Uzbekistan’s decision is aimed at strengthening its national identity and distancing itself from the Russian and Soviet imperial past. The rejection of Cyrillic by the former colonies is a sign to Russia that these post-Soviet countries are trying to escape Russia’s cultural influence and is ultimately aimed at limiting the Kremlin’s political influence.


The Taliban is Lobbying for the Construction of a Gas Pipeline in Turkmenistan

Main Event:  On February 6, 2021, a Taliban delegation appealed to Turkmenistan to speed up the construction of a gas pipeline, in return offering to ensure the security of the pipeline.

Event in Details:  In Turkmenistan, a Taliban delegation met with the country's Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rashid Meredov. The purpose of the visit was to assure the hosts that the Taliban would ensure the security of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. A Taliban spokesman said that the construction of similar projects (a gas pipeline and a railway connecting Turkmenistan and Afghanistan) would help to bring peace and economic development to Afghanistan.

The 1814-km pipeline will connect Turkmenistan to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan. The construction of the Turkmen section of the pipeline began in 2015 and was completed in 2019. The construction of the pipeline in Afghanistan is expected to begin this year. The main challenge to the project is the security risk associated with the Taliban activities.

The route of the TAPI gas pipeline. Source:  insightsonindia.com

Agreement between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan

On January 21, 2021, the presidents of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan signed a memorandum on the joint exploration and development of a disputed gas field in the Caspian Sea. The gas field has so far been the subject of controversy between the two countries. The memorandum will facilitate the development of the disputed field and, in the future, the transportation of Turkmen gas to Europe via the Southern Gas Corridor.

Why the Event is Important:  For energy-rich Turkmenistan, the main challenge is to ensure gas exports to key markets. Currently, it can export gas to Russia, China and Iran. Finding new routes, including risky ones, is part of its energy policy which will ensure access to new key markets.

Why the Event is Important for Russia:  The construction of new export pipelines by Central Asian countries (Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan) will reduce Russia’s influence over these countries’ energy exports which in the long run will weaken the Kremlin’s economic and political leverage.

Back to full list
© 2024 Georgian Foundation For Strategic and International Studies. All Rights Reserved.