Anton Shekhovtsov

Senior Fellow, Free Russia Foundation

Mar 24, 2021
The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol.3

The third issue of The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly focuses on the malign influence of Putin’s regime in the areas of politics, media, as well as history and culture.

Anton Shekhovtsov’s opening essay examines reasons and agendas behind the attacks of the head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov on France and President Emmanuel Macron. The author argues that Kadyrov’s anti-French rhetoric, which included an element of apology towards Islamist terrorism in France, was shaped by political, personal, and tactical concerns. The Kremlin benefitted from Kadyrov’s attacks. By empowering Islamists in France, Kadyrov contributed to religious polarization in France. Moreover, Kadyrov helped Moscow covertly fight another political war, with Istanbul, consolidating its positions in the region and competing with Moscow in different areas.

Alexandra Yatsyk looks at how Russia tried to influence parliamentary elections that took place in Georgia in October 2020. The author observes that, with Russian structures participating in election campaigns of particular Georgian parties, the Kremlin’s overall task was to bring discord into the ranks of Georgian patriots and nationalists and derail the country from its “Western track” of European democracy. However, Yatsyk believes that Georgia has already reached a national consensus with regard to its general direction of development, while the Kremlin’s and its agents’ efforts to generate anti-NATO sentiment in Georgia have predominantly been fruitless.

In his chapter on Belarus, Georgy Chizhov provides an overview of Russian malign influence in Belarus before and after the 2020 presidential election that resulted in the largest anti-government protests in the country’s history. Chizhov shows that, despite the affinity of the two authoritarian regimes, Russia was until recently limited in its ability to influence Belarus, but now it can actively impact the situation in the country. According to the author, the Kremlin pursues two main objectives in Belarus. The first objective is to prevent Belarus from reorienting towards Europe and democratic values. The second objective is to gain control over the Belarusian economy, or at least its key enterprises.

Răzvan-Ovidiu Ceuca analyses various instruments that Putin’s Russia uses to exert malign influence in Romania. He argues that Russia employs sharp power, mimetic power and dark power in Romania. Relating to sharp power, the Kremlin aims to penetrate the Romanian political, social, and information environment by undermining NATO’s role in Romania, seeding fractures between NATO and the EU, and instrumentalizing the “links” between local organized crime and the presence of NATO bases in Romania. Through mimetic power, Putin’s Russia tries to brand itself as a better alternative for Romania, while also blaming NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe. Last but not least, when exerting its dark power techniques, Putin’s Russia promotes rhetoric meant to demonize NATO.

Kyrylo Tkachenko’s essay discusses peculiar perceptions of Ukraine in Germany, which make the latter vulnerable to influence of Putin’s Russia. Tkachenko asserts that one of the reasons for the West’s ambivalent response to the events in Ukraine is the persistence of cultural and historic stereotypes connected with a lack of understanding of Ukraine’s history and of the nature of relations between Ukraine and Russia. In his essay, the author shows how Ukraine’s insufficient presence on the mental map of modern German society affected the perception of “the Ukrainian crisis” in Germany and led to the (relative) success of the Kremlin narrative.

Ivan Preobrazhensky gives an overview of Russian malign influence in the Czech Republic that occupies a special place on the list of targets for Russian political warfare. Preobrazhensky writes that, unlike many other countries, which are the ultimate targets of malign Russian influence, the Czech Republic functions as a “hub” that Russian actors use to organize influence operations or subversive activities in other EU countries. Still, however, the Czech Republic itself experiences malign influence of Putin’s Russia. Thus, this small European country has a dual role. The first is as the target of Russian propaganda, “soft power,” and direct subversive actions. The second is as a “hub,” a base within the EU for exerting this influence on other countries and for legitimizing the key tenets of Russian foreign policy.

The concluding chapter by Grigorij Mesežnikov maps the sociocultural and political factors of Russia’s influence in Slovakia, disclosing the ecosystem of local actors that constitute the pro-Kremlin’s lobby, describing their background and motivation. As Mesežnikov argues, Putin’s Russia does not possess attractive social alternatives it could offer to people in Central Europe, hence it focuses on weakening the population’s adherence to values of a liberal democratic regime, lowering the level of trust in the EU and NATO, strengthening positions of illiberal Eurosceptic, nationalist and populist political forces, and attempts to improve its own image damaged by geopolitical excesses.

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