Russian Politics in the Post-Soviet Space

Review of Russia’s Policy in the Post-Soviet Space Publication: N56

Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst

Publication:  N56

Review period:  August 1-31, 2022

Author:  Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst

 

In 2022, we should consider the developments in the post-Soviet countries in the light of the ongoing Russian military aggression in Ukraine. The decisions of these countries are also dictated by Russia's military aggression. The 56th publication reviews important and/or interesting events in post-Soviet countries which are directly related to Russia’s war against Ukraine.

 

See also the 50th publication which reviews the developments from February 21 to March 3, the 51st publication  which recounts Moldova’s response, the 52nd publication which covers the response of the Central Asian countries, the 53rd publication – about the response of Azerbaijan and Armenia to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the 54th publication about the key messages of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the Russian military aggression and the 55th publication about the response of Belarus to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

 

Kazakhstan Tries Two Individuals on Charges of “Russian Separatism”

Main Event:  On August 3, 2022, a Petropavlovsk court (a city in Kazakhstan which is located in the north of the country near the border with Russia) sentenced a man and a woman to five years in prison for their separatist statements on the accession of northern Kazakhstan to Russia.

Event in Details:  According to the court, the couple published a call for the accession of northern Kazakhstan to Russia using an online dating website (Chatroulette) in December 2021. A day before the court's decision, a post appeared on the VKontakte social network page of the former President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, which read that Kazakhstan is an artificially created state and Georgia, as a state, never existed. The authenticity of Medvedev's post was soon denied; however, the post incited a harsh reaction in Kazakhstan.

In Kazakhstan, people are especially afraid of Russian separatism and react sharply to any manifestation of it. Following the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, several people have been arrested in Kazakhstan on charges of inciting separatism and ethnic strife. Kazakhstan is particularly skeptical of Russian-related separatism and has taken various steps to prevent ethnic separatism since the 1990s:

  • The 1995 constitutional amendment prohibited the creation of autonomous districts on the territory of the country. The purpose of the amendment was to prevent the creation of autonomies in Russian-populated regions.

  • In 1997, the capital was moved from Almaty to Astana (now Nur Sultan), mostly populated by Russians. Following the move of the capital, the number of ethnic Kazakhs in Astana increased.

  • In Kazakhstan, regions with a majority of ethnic Russians were united with regions where Kazakhs comprised the majority, thus regions with ethnic Russians have disappeared.

In the recent period, Russian political leaders have made especially frequent statements where they express territorial claims against Kazakhstan in various forms.

Why the Event is Important: After the annexation of Crimea by Russia and Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, there were fears that Russia might take a similar step in post-Soviet countries with a majority of ethnic Russians should the case of an appropriate political environment arise. Kazakhstan is closely monitoring statements made in Russia which reflect Moscow’s attitude towards the northern regions of Kazakhstan, considering this part of the country as the Russian-speaking world. Accordingly with such arrests, the Kazakh authorities are trying to prevent any manifestation of pro-Russian separatism and avoid the rise of separatist movements.

President of Kazakhstan Meets with Vladimir Putin in Sochi

Main Event:  On August 19, 2022, the Kazakh President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, met with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in Sochi, Russia.

Meeting Between the Presidents of Kazakhstan and Russia. Source:  akorda.kz

 

Event in Details: At the meeting, special attention was paid to the issues of trade-economic and investment cooperation. According to Vladimir Putin, trade turnover increased by 34.4% in 2022, investments from both sides are increasing, Russian investments totaled USD 17 billion and Kazakh investments – reached USD 4.5 billion. Russia is Kazakhstan's number one trade and economic partner.

Why the Event is Important for Russia:  Amid the economic sanctions imposed after Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, it is important for Moscow to maintain and develop trade and economic relations with a neighboring country of the scale of Kazakhstan. Such a meeting is also an opportunity for Vladimir Putin to get consent from Kazakhstan for greater cooperation, especially as Kazakhstan is a country which does not show open political support for the Kremlin on the Ukrainian issue.

Why the Event is Important for Kazakhstan:  Kazakhstan restrains from supporting the Russian military aggression, however, at the same time seeks to maintain economic relations with Russia and thus avoid additional economic challenges.

 

Shelters to Be Restored in Kazakhstan

Main Event:  On August 26, 2022, during a meeting with local residents, Yerbolat Dosayev, Akim (mayor) of Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, announced that shelters and other assets of historical importance will be restored within the next three years.

Event Details:  According to Akim, a recovery program is under development. A resident of the Almaly district asked Akim whether it was possible to restore shelters in the light of the given geopolitical events. According to him, there are historical buildings in the Almaly district where shelters were once built.

“A separate program will be developed for the restoration of all historical assets which have survived from the Soviet Union period. Work has begun. This is not only related to geopolitical processes but we are also in an active seismic zone and the city must be ready for such a situation,” Akim said. According to him, the restoration of shelters is also a request of the president of Kazakhstan.

Currently, 100 of the 300 shelters in Almaty which were built in the Soviet period can be used while the rest are used by private businesses.

Why the Event is Important:  After Russia's military aggression in Ukraine, Kazakhstan fears that Moscow can take aggressive steps against Kazakhstan since the latter has not openly supported either Russia or Ukraine. In Kazakhstan, they think that better preparation will be needed, including the restoration of shelters, in the case of a possible Russian military aggression; however, without implementing other measures, shelters alone cannot be a real deterrent and protection mechanism against military aggression. That is why such statements from Akim are given a more symbolic meaning and are an indicator of internal sentiments regarding Russia's possible aggression in Kazakhstan.

 

Military Exercises Were Held in Tajikistan with the Support of the USA

Main Event:  On August 10-20, 2022, the Regional Cooperation 22 military exercises were held in Tajikistan with the support of the USA. Central Asian countries participated in the exercises.

Event Details:  The exercise took place in Dushanbe and involved US National Guard troops from several states and participants from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Mongolia. The exercises were aimed at strengthening regional security and stability, and enhancing national capacity to counter the proliferation of prohibited weapons of mass destruction, terrorist elements and drugs. The goal of the exercise was also to help develop regional defense forces in international peace operations and information sharing. The US Ambassador to Tajikistan, John Mark Pommersheim, participated in the ceremonial opening of the exercises.

Opening of the Military Exercise. Source:  centcom.mil

Such exercises with the participation of Central and South Asian countries have been held annually since 2004. Tajikistan hosted the exercises for the sixth time.

Why the Event is Important:  With Russia's military aggression in Ukraine, security risks are increasing for Central Asian countries as well and such exercises are an opportunity to obtain additional security guarantees and improve their own security environment.

 

Dismantling of Soviet Monuments in the Baltic States

Main Event:  On August 25, 2022, a Soviet-era obelisk was demolished in Riga, Latvia.

Event in Details:  The 80-meter obelisk was erected to commemorate the liberation of Latvia and its capital, Riga, from Nazi Germany by the Red Army in 1985 during the Soviet era. The dismantling of the obelisk was broadcast live by the Latvian media. This year, it is not the first time when a decision was made to dismantle monuments related to the Soviet past. In May, the country's parliament approved dismantling a monument in Riga’s Victory Park.

According to the Latvian Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkēvičs, Latvia has closed another painful chapter in its history.

Latvia shares a 214-kilometer border with Russia and 25% of its population is ethnically Russian and periodically protest cases of revision of Latvia’s historical Soviet past.

Developments Abroad

After the start of the Russian military aggression in Ukraine, several Eastern European countries accelerated the adoption of decisions against symbols of the Soviet era. For example, a monument to soldiers of the Soviet Red Army was dismantled in Poland. At least 20 such monuments have already been demolished and several dozen are waiting for their “turn.” A monument to the Soviet Tank (T-34) was also dismantled in Estonia, in the city of Narva, bordering Russia, inhabited mainly by Russians. The tank was moved to the War Museum near Tallinn. A total of seven more similar monuments will be relocated in Narva.

Dismantling/relocation of Soviet monuments does not always happen smoothly. In 2007, the removal of a bronze statue of a Red Army soldier in Tallinn, Estonia caused nationwide uproar during which one person was killed and more than 1,000 were arrested. The unrest was also followed by a cyber-attack against Estonia which was attributed to Russian hackers.

Russia’s Reaction

Due to the dismantling of the Soviet monument in Riga, the official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Maria Zakharova, accused the Latvian government of Russophobia and neo-Nazism. In another statement, the Ministry blamed the Baltic states for an unprecedented campaign of “standing close to fascism.”

Why the Event is Important:  Since the start of the Russian military aggression in Ukraine, Moscow’s aggressive attitude toward its neighbors, which the Kremlin considers its sphere of influence, has become even more evident. Soviet history is a tool of the Kremlin's foreign policy which Moscow uses to promote social tension in these countries. The new wave of dismantling monuments shows the stance of these countries towards Soviet monuments/history which the Baltic countries consider as a symbol of repression and Soviet occupation as well as the struggle against Russia.

 

Representative of Azerbaijan also Participated in a Meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union

Main Event:  On August 25-26, 2022 at a meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan, heads of governments of the EAEU member states discussed nine issues. A representative of Azerbaijan, which is not a member of the organization, also participated in the meeting.

Event in Details:  The Eurasian Economic Union unites Russia's allied states. In addition to Russia, the organization's members include Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It is interesting that the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan also attended the meeting as an invited guest.

The heads of governments discussed the issue of expanding the use of national currencies in bilateral trade relations as well as talked about priority integration infrastructure projects in the field of transport.

The next meeting of the Council will be held in Armenia on October 20-21, 2022.

Why the Event is Important:  With ever-increasing sanctions imposed on Russia for its military aggression in Ukraine, it is important for Moscow to develop economic relations which will help it to break the isolation imposed by the West. In this regard, one of the first targets are the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union with which Russia has the closest political and economic ties.

What Should be Considered:   The Prime Minister of Azerbaijan also participated in the meeting which may indicate that the country is interested in using the economic opportunities within the Eurasian Economic Union in the current global political crisis.

 

First Visit of the President of Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan

Main Event:  On August 24, 2022, the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, paid his first official visit to Azerbaijan.

Meeting Between the Presidents of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Source: astanatimes.com

 

Event in Details:  The President of Kazakhstan was hosted by his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev. Mr. Tokaev said that the visit is of special importance to him. More than 20 agreements were signed during the visit, including the Declaration on Strengthening Strategic Relations and Deepening of Allied Interaction between the two countries. The title of the Declaration itself indicates that the countries consider each other not only as strategic partners but also as allies. The presidents also signed an agreement on the cooperation development program for 2022-2026.

Why the Event is Important:  After the start of the Russian military aggression in Ukraine, Kazakhstan faced challenges in terms of developing economic relations with the West. It became more difficult to transport Kazakh oil and cargo through the territory of Russia in the western direction. The most profitable and reliable route for the transportation of Kazakh oil and other cargo to the West passes through Azerbaijan which, together with Georgia, has been providing Azerbaijan's Caspian energy resources access to the world markets for many years. The main purpose of the visit of the President of Kazakhstan is to utilize Azerbaijan’s transit potential.

 

Belarus Conducts Military Exercises

Main Event:  In August 2022, the Belarusian Air Force conducted military exercises in Belarus and Russia.

Event in Details:  On August 9-11, the Belarusian Air Force conducted military exercises on the territory of Belarus. The second phase of the exercises was held on August 22-25 at the Russian Ashuluk military base which is located near the border with Kazakhstan.

At the same time, on August 26 the Belarusian President, Aleksander Lukashenko, announced that military aircraft (Su-24) available in the country's arsenal has been modified so that it will be able to transport nuclear weapons. According to Mr. Lukashenko, this action was agreed with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. The Belarusian President also threatened the West that neither helicopters nor planes will save them if they try to escalate the tension. At this stage, there is no evidence proving Lukashenko's statement about the aircraft modification.

Belarus is not directly involved in the ongoing Russian military aggression against Ukraine, although an attack on Ukraine took place from its territory on February 24 and even now the territory of Belarus is used by the Russian military for logistic purposes.

Why the Event is Important:  Throughout the period of the Russian military aggression in Ukraine, Aleksander Lukashenko avoids the recognition of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and the involvement of the Belarusian military in the war. However, with such military exercises and the modernization of his military equipment, Mr. Lukashenko is trying to demonstrate his support for Russia without getting involved in the war.

 

President of Moldova Criticizes Russia on the Independence Day

Main Event:  On August 27, 2022, during a speech at a solemn event dedicated to the 31st anniversary of Moldova's independence, the country's President, Maia Sandu, condemned Russia's military aggression in Ukraine.

Event in Details:  From the first day of the Russian military aggression in Ukraine, Moldova faced serious political and economic challenges. Although Moldova and its pro-Western government have openly supported Ukraine, Moldova has not joined the sanctions imposed on Russia, citing the country's neutrality status and its economic/energy dependence on Russia. Despite this attitude towards Russia, Moldova does not spare critical statements about Russia.

According to Maia Sandu, Russia's unjust war against Ukraine showed everyone the price of freedom.

On July 28, a state of emergency in Moldova was extended for another 60 days. Despite the fact that hostilities are not taking place near the borders of Moldova and the risks of military conflict spreading into the territory of Moldova have decreased, the probability of the deterioration of the security environment is still high due to the existence of the separatist regime in Transnistria and the deployment of Russian military on its territory.

Why the Event is Important:   Despite refusing to impose sanctions on Russia, Moldova has not shied away from openly criticizing Russia, underscoring its unequivocal stance of supporting Ukraine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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