Anton Shekhovtsov

Senior Fellow, Free Russia Foundation

Oct 14, 2021
The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol.4

This issue of The Kremlins Influence Quarterly focuses on the Kremlin malign influence in the areas of European politics and media.

In her introductory essay, Alisa Volkova reviews the most recent espionage-related scandals between Russia and Bulgaria, and discusses the latter’s responses to them. The author argues that the presence of Russian intelligence agents is undisputable and driven by history of close relations between Russian and Bulgarian secret services during the socialist era. When the overwhelming majority of EU countries expelled Russian diplomats in response to the Skripal poisoning in 2018, Bulgaria refused to show solidarity. However, when Bulgarian authorities had to fight off corruption scandals and saw public support waning, they started disclosing Russian espionage networks and acting upon them. Thus, as Volkova shows, Russian services are not always effective and eventually end up being used for Bulgarian local political games.

Alexandra Yatsyk examines pro-Russian political forces and groups in France ahead of the 2022 presidential elections. As the author writes, while the upcoming elections are a critical event in France deeply affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, they are also crucial for Moscow, which has a very real chance to see a loyal candidate win the presidency. Although Russia did not figure very prominently in France’s domestic discourse over 2020-2021, the far right’s agenda, including criticism of Prime Minister Jean Castex’s new security policy and the promotion of various conspiracies serves the Kremlin without even having to mention Russia itself. Nevertheless, during the pandemic, the Kremlin did hold an active awareness campaign in the context of its “vaccination policy” via French media channels loyal to Russia and by bribing new social influencers.

On the basis of his analysis of statements made by the Russian president, Russia’s program documents and current foreign policy and military activities, Ihor Lossovsky argues that Russia’s aggressive behaviour towards Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries reflects the “new doctrine of limited sovereignty,” or the “Putin doctrine”. According to the author, it is underpinned by five major domestic factors: the consolidation of the authoritarian regime; large-scale corruption at all levels; the use of energy and other natural resources to maintain domestic political and economic stability and as a “weapon” of international influence; a powerful and comprehensive propaganda machine; and the concept of legitimizing the use of Russian military force abroad “to protect Russian speakers.”

In his contribution to this issue, Vitold Jančis argues that Moscow has attempted to dramatically influence Lithuania’s information space to suit its own interests because of Lithuania’s firm stance towards Russia’s policies in the international arena. The Kremlin’s main tools of influence in attempting to transform Lithuania’s information environment include media registered in Russia, as well as a broad range of allegedly independent Russian outlets and experts, bloggers, and influencers who actively disseminate pro-Kremlin narratives on social media. The author warns that, in the near future, not only Lithuania but also the other two Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia, are likely to face a new wave of Putin-incited information warfare with Russia.

In the first part of his chapter, John Færseth analyses the political, economic and geopolitical context of potential malign Russian influence in Norway. As the author observes, Norway enjoys a low level of political polarization; it is a founding member of NATO and the majority of the population is supportive of its membership; Norway is not dependent on Russian energy; there are currently no pro-Russian parties represented in the Norwegian Parliament, and neither are there any signs of cooperation or any kind of Russian support for Norwegian parties. One of the few areas where the Norwegian audience can encounter pro-Kremlin narratives is particular elements of the so-called alternative media, and the second part of Færseth’s chapter focuses on Steigan, Resett, The Herland Report and some other websites that have for several years been publishing content that can, to various degrees, qualify as pro-Kremlin or supportive of a pro-Kremlin discourse.

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