Review period: May 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.
Russian Passports for Ukrainian Citizens
Main Event: On May 2, 2021, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that over 527 thousand people living in eastern Ukraine were granted Russian citizenship in the last two years.
Event in Details: On April 24, 2019, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, signed a decree on granting expedited citizenship to residents of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. The first passports were issued on July 14, 2019. Russian passports can be obtained in the Rostov region which borders Ukraine.
On April 24, Viktor Vodolatsky, the Deputy Chairman of the Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots of the Russian State Duma, stated that the number of people wishing to obtain Russian citizenship through a simplified procedure may increase to one million in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics by the end of 2021.
Amid the ongoing events in eastern Ukraine since 2014, Russian officials overtly speak in defense of the interests of the separatist regions. On April 8, Dmitry Kozak, the Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration, the influential official who oversees the direction of Ukraine, openly said that Russia may be forced to defend its citizens in Donbass.
Granting Russian citizenship is a Kremlin practice which Russia once used in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. Shortly before the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, Moscow began issuing passports to residents of the breakaway regions of Georgia. Today, the majority of the people in these regions are Russian citizens. Russia has also used the argument of protecting its citizens in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region to legitimize the war against Georgia.
Why the Event is Important for Ukraine: Granting Russian citizenship to Ukrainian citizens is a part of the Kremlin’s hybrid war tactics that undermine the country’s sovereignty in eastern Ukraine and set the stage for Russian annexation of parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Why the Event is Important for Russia: Granting Russian citizenship to residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions will allow Moscow to integrate with these regions and legitimize its military intervention in eastern Ukraine, if necessary.
Putin's Ally in Exchange for Ukrainian Captives
Main Event: Oleksiy Danilov, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, said on May 14, 2021 that Kyiv would “gladly” hand over a pro-Russian lawmaker, Viktor Medvedchuk, who is accused of high treason, to Moscow in exchange for Ukrainians held in Russian prisons if the opportunity arises. However, he said that such a decision can only be made by the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Event in Details: On May 11, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) searched the headquarters of Medvedchuk’s political party as well as his offices and two residential houses. Later, a Kyiv court placed Medvedchuk under house arrest until July 9.
Viktor Medvedchuk is a close ally of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. According to reports, Putin is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter, Darya. Viktor Medvedchuk is the Chairman of the Opposition Platform — For Life, a pro-Russian political party, and a member of the Verkhovna Rada. He often visits Russia and meets with Russian officials as well as with Putin personally.
According to the Prosecutor General, Irina Venediktova, there are three major allegations against Medvedchuk: first, a Ukrainian company, New Projects, which is involved in the development of a gas field near the occupied Kerch and is linked to Medvedchuk, made a deal with senior officials of the Russian government; second, in 2020, Medvedchuk passed information about the deployment of a covert unit of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to Taras Kozak, a Ukrainian lawmaker, who was in Russia by that time and third, Medvedchuk allegedly drew up plans to create an appropriate infrastructure in favor of Russia and involved Ukrainian labor migrants to Russia in this anti-Ukrainian activity.
The case against Medvedchuk is called “political revenge.” Interestingly, media outlets linked to Medvedchuk were also stripped of their licenses in February.
At a meeting of the Security Council, Putin noted that Ukraine is “becoming the antipode of Russia, a certain anti-Russia,” given that Kyiv is “shutting down federal media outlets and cleansing the country’s political space.” “Given the current trend, Russia will constantly receive news from the territory of Ukraine requiring Russia’s special attention from a security point of view,” said Putin.
Why the Event is Important: The arrest of the Russian President’s close friend and the most pro-Russian politician in Ukraine testifies to a deep crisis in Russian-Ukrainian relations when the parties can make no progress in resolving problems in bilateral relations and military maneuvers and similar arrests remain as the only way out.
Why the Event is Important for Ukraine: Supposedly, the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, hopes to reap political benefits from the arrest of Viktor Medvedchuk, the influential pro-Russian politician. The first is to exchange Putin's friend for Ukrainian citizens detained in Russia on political grounds and the second is to raise his fallen approval ratings within the country.
Azerbaijan Receives the First Batch of the Sputnik V Russian Vaccine
Main Event: On May 5, 2021, Azerbaijan received the first batch of 40 thousand doses of the Sputnik V Russian vaccine against the coronavirus.
Event in Details: Representatives of the Ministry of Health and Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan and the Russian Ambassador, Mikhail Bocharnikov, met the consignment at the Baku airport. The Russian Ambassador said that the delivery of the vaccine is a particularly happy event as the cargo arrived in Azerbaijan on Easter, May 2.
The Ministry of Health of Azerbaijan registered the Sputnik V Russian vaccine on March 12, 2021. According to the Ministry of Health, the Russian vaccine “has proven its high effectiveness against the coronavirus infection.” At this stage, Azerbaijan uses a vaccine produced by a Chinese company.
In post-Soviet countries, the Russian vaccine is already registered in Belarus, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. On February 26, Moldova also joined these countries where the registration of the Russian vaccine caused internal political controversy. The former pro-Russian President of Moldova, Igor Dodon, accused the newly-elected pro-Western President, Maia Sandu, of blocking the Russian vaccine. Eventually, the Russian vaccine was registered. On the same day, vaccines produced by other companies were also registered in Moldova.
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 and Armenia
On April 8, 2021, a Russian cargo plane arrived at the Zvartnots International Airport in Yerevan, delivering the first batch of 15 thousand doses of the Sputnik V Russian vaccine against the coronavirus. The Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, asked the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, for an additional one million doses of the vaccine during a meeting in Moscow on April 7. The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, also discussed the issue during his visit to Armenia on May 5-6.
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 in the international arena and allow using the vaccine as a tool of “soft power” of its foreign policy. The success of the vaccine in post-Soviet countries will give Russia a competitive advantage over the West in the region which the Kremlin considers as its traditional sphere of influence.
Armenia Seeks Assistance from the CSTO and Russia
Main Event: On May 14, 2021, Armenia appealed to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) over the situation in the southern Syunik region.
Event in Details: According to the Armenian side, Azerbaijani troops crossed the border into the Syunik region, ostensibly to establish a border, on May 12. Yerevan accused Baku of invading and encroaching three-and-a-half kilometers inside the Armenian-controlled territory. In addition to the appeal to the CSTO, the Acting Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, asked the Russian leader for assistance (including military) under a bilateral agreement. Information on the current situation was also disseminated among the CSTO member states.
Armenia enacted Article 2 of the CSTO Charter which provides for “urgent consultations with other member states” on a collective response to threats posed to one of the members of the organization.
Photo 2: Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Source: asbarez.com
Azerbaijan denied the allegations, saying its troops were taking up positions on the border between the two countries in the highlands and in turn accused the Armenian leadership of trying to use the issue for political reasons in the run-up to the snap parliamentary elections which are planned in Armenia in June.
Armenia Seeks Further Expansion of Military Cooperation with Russia
Armenia's security environment has deteriorated since its defeat in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. Yerevan considers that the further expansion of military cooperation with Russia will improve the situation. According to Pashinyan, Armenia and Russia are discussing the possibility of expanding the 102nd military base of the Russian Federation in Gyumri and opening a base division in the Syunik region. Two new military posts of the 102nd military base were already established in the Syunik region. Syunik is located in the south of Armenia and the region faces new security challenges in the wake of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. After Azerbaijan reclaimed the territories which were lost during the first Nagorno-Karabakh war, Azerbaijani military posts were set up near the settlements of Syunik. Russian border guards are already securing the state border in the Syunik region.
Armenia and Russia are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The organization unites Russia’s ally countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus). Armenia is the only country in the South Caucasus where a military base is deployed under a bilateral agreement (there are illegal Russian military bases in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. A total of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers have been stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh since November 9, 2020). Following the 1995 agreement, the 102nd military base with up to 5,000 military personnel was deployed in Gyumri. In 2010, Russia and Armenia extended the term of the agreement on the deployment of the base from 25 to 49 years (until 2044). On November 30, 2016, Armenia and Russia signed an agreement on creating a joint military group consisting of the Armed Forces of the two countries.
Why the Event is Important: Armenia had to cede part of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven occupied regions to Azerbaijan as a result of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. Amid the strengthening of Azerbaijan's military positions, Armenia's security became vulnerable. For Yerevan, only Russia and a pro-Russian military alliance like the CSTO can be a deterrent to Azerbaijan in the wake of Armenia’s military defeat which incited an internal political crisis.
Russian President Hosted his Tajik Counterpart
Main Event: The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, hosted the Tajik President, Emomali Rahmon, in Moscow, on May 8, 2021.
Event in Details: Security risks increase in Tajikistan amid the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. The meeting of the Tajik leader with Putin is also important in this context. According to Putin, the current situation in Afghanistan is of reasonable concern to the Tajik side. Putin said that Russia supports Tajikistan by all possible means such as strengthening the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan and the development of the Tajik Armed Forces.
Meeting of the Presidents. Source: Web-page of the President of Russia.
Shortly before Rahmon's visit to Moscow, the Russian Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, paid a visit to Tajikistan. As a result of the visit, the parties agreed to establish a unified air defense system. The decision is to increase the reliability of the state border protection in the airspace of Tajikistan.
The Joint CIS Air Defense System was established on February 10, 1995. Currently, Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are members of the system whose main purpose is to protect the air boundaries of the CIS member states, jointly control the CIS airspace and monitor the aerospace posture.
Why the Event is Important: Tajikistan borders Afghanistan from which US troops will soon leave. Amid this background, the Russian Ministry of Defense expects that the situation in the region will deteriorate, something which will also affect Russia’s ally countries in Central Asia. Russia is trying to strengthen military cooperation with its allies and thus prevent a possible destabilization.
Russia Tries to Complete the Construction of the Nord Stream 2
Main Event: On May 8, 2021, in an interview with a German radio, the Russian Ambassador to Germany, Sergey Nechaev, said that the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline may be completed before the 2021 Bundestag elections which will be held in September.
Event in Details: According to the Ambassador, the weather is crucial for the project completion. He said:, “If it’s fine weather, the project will advance faster.” Nechaev said that the cooperation on gas supplies between Russia and Germany has been in place for more than 50 years, including during the Cold War. “And now the question is whether we want to bury EUR 10 billion on the ocean floor,” asked the Ambassador rhetorically.
Germany supported the project but several Western companies withdrew from it due to the US sanctions, making it impossible to complete the project on time. The first sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 were imposed in December 2019 as a result of which the Swiss Allseas company refused to extend the project. Sanctions then expanded on companies and individuals involved in the construction. Fearing the US sanctions, Western companies left from the project. In response to Washington's position, Russia said it would complete the project with its own technical resources which it is now trying to implement. No specific deadline is known yet.
About the Project
The Nord Stream 2 will stretch across the Baltic Sea and directly connect Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine. The Nord Stream 2 will be the longest offshore pipeline (1,230 km) in the world. With the completion of the project, the production of the Nord Stream 1 will be doubled to 110 billion cubic meters per year which is more than a quarter of the EU’s gas consumption. Ukraine and the United States are particularly opposing the project. Reportedly, the Nord Stream 2 project is 94% complete. A 160-kilometer section of the pipeline is under construction.
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 and establish direct ties with Germany, the main consumer of Russian gas, in the nearest future. Russia also believes that the US perceives the Russian gas pipeline as a competitor as it seeks to expand liquefied natural gas exports in Europe.
Why Thwarting the Project is Important for the US: Washington considers the project as a threat to the its national interests, targeted towards eliminating Ukraine from the European gas transit network and increasing Russia's influence in the European energy sector.