RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – January 28, 2022

Today in Russia/CIS: Germany’s ‘immoral and hypocritical’ relationship with Russia; On second thought, we don’t want war but if it happens it ain’t our fault; Georgia’s fate is linked to Ukraine’s; Major power blackout in Central Asia; Tokayev takes control of ruling party in Kazakhstan; Russian banks post record profits for 2021; Is France charting its own foreign policy with Russia?

Immoral and hypocritical. These were the choice words Latvia’s Defense Minister Artis Pabriks had for Germany’s relationships with Russia and China. Pabriks said that Germany showed an “immoral inability” to allow howitzer guns to be sent from Estonia to Ukraine to defend against a possible invasion, and said that some German companies are pulling out of Lithuania after Vilnius ended up on China’s naughty list for its pro-Taiwan stance. The unprecedented remarks from Pabriks show how difficult it is for NATO and the EU to remain unified in the face of Russia and China’s strident behavior on the world stage.

It would be a shame if a war broke out. After a Foreign Ministry Spokesman talked down panicking Russian financial markets by categorically denying that Russia had any intention of even thinking about starting a war with neighboring Ukraine, today Sergei Lavrov seemed to re-open the war door. The Russian Foreign Minister declared that, “If it depends on Russia, there will be no war. We don’t want a war…But we won’t allow [the West] to rudely ignore and trample on our interests,”

Surprise! Minsk has your back. Belarus’ strongman Alexander Lukashenko declared that his country would go to war if Russia were attacked. Lukashenko said he would go to war only if Belarus is attacked, and “The second instance that could lead to a war that Belarus would take part in is if our ally Russia is directly attacked.” 

New party boss. In Kazakhstan, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was appointed head of the Nur Otan party in the place of the longtime ruler of the country, Nursultan Nazarbayev. The move comes after Nazarbayev resigned from numerous postings in the wake of severe unrest which broke out in the country earlier this month, and is the latest sign that Tokayev is consolidating his power. EurasiaNet wrote that, “There were changes elsewhere that appeared to attest to the fading influence of ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev and his family. More than half of the 92-person political council was switched out. One notable expulsion was Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter, Dariga, a senator who has sometimes been floated as a potential successor candidate.”

Blackout. Much of Central Asia suffered a major power blackout on the 25th, as Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were affected by the disconnection of a major shared power line. In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, it led to complete chaos. Some 45 people had to be evacuated from elevators in the Kyrgyz capital, skiers were stuck in chair lifts in the country’s ski resorts, and hospitals turned to backup generators to stay operational. The three countries have formed a joint commission to look into the cause of the outage and how it can be avoided in the future.

Russian banks doing alright. Russian banks reported record profits for 2021. The banking sector posted a combined 2.4 trillion rubles (around $33 billion) in profits over the year — up 50% on 2020 — new data showed. The performance was fueled by Russia’s rapid recovery from the financial hit of the coronavirus, as the Kremlin avoided calls for lockdowns or tight restrictions even as cases surged, instead prioritizing keeping businesses open and the economy firing. “It was an extremely successful year for the banking sector, with a significant increase in business and record profits,” said Alexander Danilov, the Central Bank’s head of banking supervision, in a briefing Friday.

Paris going solo? French President Emmanuel Macron had a conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin amid signs that France is not entirely on board with US policy towards Russia and Ukraine. Foreign Policy wrote, “Those looking for signs of cracks between the NATO allies found ample evidence earlier this month, when French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated his long-standing call for greater European military integration, saying it was “vital that Europe has its own dialogue with Russia.” Since then, there have been grumblings from the Élysée Palace about the aggressive stance taken by the United States and its Anglophone partner Britain. One divide is clear: Neither Paris nor Berlin sees the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine with the same urgency as Washington and London. ‘We see the same number of lorries, tanks and people,’ one French official told Le Monde. ‘We observed the same maneuvers, but cannot conclude an offensive is imminent.'”

PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron talks to Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 26, 2020. (Michel Euler/Pool/AFP via Getty Images).