Author: David Batashvili, Research Fellow at the Rondeli Foundation
The Rondeli Foundation’s Russian Geostrategy Monitor is a monthly brief that tracks Russian geostrategy worldwide employing the framework set in The Structure of Modern Russia’s Foreign Strategy. Russian geostrategic activities are also tracked on the regularly updated interactive Russian Geostrategy Map.
Issue 4 covers Russian geostrategy for the month of April 2023. The numbering and contents of the Outcomes, Goals and Objectives follows on The Structure of Modern Russia’s Foreign Strategy framework.
Objective 1: Gaining and exercising influence over the Western elites
- During the talks on 11 April, Russia and Hungary reportedly reached a preliminary agreement “on modifying the contracts to expand the Paks Nuclear Power Plant“ which Russia’s Rosatom is to build in Hungary. The two sides also reportedly agreed that Hungary would be able to buy even more natural gas from Russia than had been agreed by a contract from 2021. The agreements indicate that Hungarian leadership is willing to further deepen Hungary’s energy dependence on Russia.
Objective 2: Strengthening the Western political forces considered by Moscow to be inimical to the Western-led international order, and the Kremlin’s relationships with such forces
- A Washington Post material from 21 April revealed that in 2022 Moscow had developed plans to help creation of a political coalition of the German far-left and far-right political forces, including elements from Die Linke and the AfD, which then would vie for an electoral success. Sergei Kiriyenko, a leading figure in Putin’s staff, was involved in the effort, directing Kremlin’s political strategists to focus on it.
Objective 5: Thwarting US Policies in Syria
- In April, the Russian air force continued its provocations against the US military in Syria that it had started in March 2023. US officials said Russian aircraft were harassing American forces in Syria “with increasing frequency,” flying dangerously close to the US aircraft and other forces including those at the Al Tanf in southern Syria.
Objective 9: Achieving de-sovereignization of Ukraine
- The heaviest battles of the Russo-Ukrainian War in April 2023 were in the city of Bakhmut. During the month, the Russians gradually advanced within the city amid very intense street battles. By the end of April, the Russians controlled a larger part of Bakhmut.
Objective 11: Achieving decisive influence over Moldova
- In April 2023, reports emerged that in February Russia’s Wagner Group had taken part in preparing riots to be caused in Moldova, along with another Russian mercenary organization, Vegacy Strategic Services.
- Pro-Russian Shor Party continued holding protest rallies in Moldova in April 2023.
- On 27 April, Moldovan president Maia Sandu stated that Russia was meddling in the local vote in Moldova’s region of Gagauzia.
Objective 16: Entrenching Russian influence in sub-Saharan Africa
- An internal war in Sudan started on 15 April 2023, pitting the ruling military regime against militias of a warlord Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Previously Russia had developed ties with both sides, but was especially close to Dagalo. The Wagner Group played a key role in the Kremlin’s activities in Sudan. With the start of the war in the country, Moscow and the Wagner Group both professed complete neutrality. On 20 April, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, even offered to become a mediator between the two sides, writing that “the UN and many others want blood of the Sudanese, while I want peace for the Sudanese.” However, that same day, reports emerged that Dagalo had been in constant contact with Prigozhin since the start of the armed confrontation in Sudan, and that Dagalo’s RSF were getting aid from the Al Jufra air base in Libya on Prigozhin’s orders. Another report from 28 April said “the US and French intelligence services believe” that the Wagner Group “has sent light weapons and anti-aircraft guns from the Central African Republic to Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces.”
- A WP report from 23 April revealed that Russia’s Wagner Group had been engaged in “direct support for a coup plot in Chad by setting up a cross-border training compound for rebels.” The government of Chad is also concerned “that Russia’s Wagner Group private military contractors in neighbouring Central African Republic… could back Chadian rebels threatening N’djamena’s government.”
Objective 21: Alignment with Iran
- A WSJ report from 24 April revealed new information regarding “large quantities of Iranian artillery shells and other ammunition” being delivered from Iran to Russia through the Caspian Sea for the Russian troops fighting against Ukraine. In an update on the previously reported such shipments from January 2023, the latest shipment known at the time of the WSJ article’s publication had been delivered in March.
Objective 23: Developing partnership with Turkey
- On 27 April, Russia and Turkey marked “the placement of nuclear fuel in the first reactor of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant” in Turkey. The plant is being built by Russia’s Rosatom and is set to have four reactors functioning by 2026. Both Putin and Erdogan took part in the ceremony by video.
Objective 25: Developing partnerships with regional powers in the Southern Hemisphere
- Brazilian president Lula voiced pro-Kremlin messages regarding Russia’s aggression against Ukraine saying that “nations that are supplying weapons should be convinced to stop doing so.” The statement is particularly notable given that ceasing Western arms deliveries to Ukraine would likely result in the Russian occupation of large parts of the country and catastrophic widening of the Russian forces’ genocidal actions against Ukrainian civilians. Lula also falsely stated that the decision to start the war was “made by two countries,” in attempt to divide the blame between Russia and Ukraine.
- During a visit to Brazil, in talks with the Brazilian foreign minister Vieira on 17 April, Russian foreign minister Lavrov stressed the importance of “multupolarity and countries that wish to be accepted as independent players on the basis of their national interests.” In his statement following the talks, Lavrov said Russia and Brazil were united in their “common wish to help formation of a more fair truly democratic polycentric world order.”
Objective 26: Developing cooperation platforms with non-Western powers
- Russia continued to develop the regional diplomatic platform on Syria it had established together with Iran, Turkey and the Assad regime, holding deputy foreign ministers’ consultations between the four participants on 4 April, and between defense ministers and intelligence chiefs on 25 April. In both cases, the talks were held in Moscow.