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 Russian Geostrategy Interactive Map.
Issue 1 covers Russian geostrategy for the month of January 2023. The numbering and contents of the Outcomes, Goals and Objectives follows on The Structure of Modern Russia’s Foreign Strategy framework.
Outcome 1: Replacement of the United States’ international preeminence with a ‘multipolar’ or ‘polycentric’ system, with Russia in the position of one of the principal ‘poles’ and Outcome 2: Russia’s re-emergence as a major geopolitical center possessing a territorial sphere of domination
- On 23 January 2023, the Kremlin published Putin’s address to the heads of the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Putin proclaimed that the EAEU “has all the opportunities for becoming one of the powerful, independent, self-sustaining poles of the emerging multipolar world, and being the center of gravity for all independent states that share our values and seek cooperation with the EAEU.” Putin also suggested, addressing the EAEU member states, that “for more than a thousand years our peoples have been living together and jointly exploring their geographic space,” and praised these peoples’ supposed “common understanding of historical destiny, awareness of the centuries-old economic connection, keeping and strengthening cultural and social community of the peoples of the Union member countries.”
Objective 4: Disrupting Western international alliances
- The public burning of Quran in Stockholm on 21 January that caused the Turkish government to withhold its agreement for Sweden’s NATO membership was funded by Chang Frick, former contributor to the Russian propaganda outlet, RT. While it is unclear whether the Russians were directly connected to the incident, it certainly played in their favor by helping to delay Sweden joining NATO.
Objective 8: Undermining US Foreign Policy in the Western Hemisphere
- Russia continued its support of the Maduro regime in Venezuela with a 10 January statement by its foreign ministry that attacked, with extremely aggressive wording, the “Venezuelan radical opposition.”
Objective 9: Achieving de-sovereignization of Ukraine
- Main frontline developments in the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine were concentrated in the area of Bakhmut during the month of January 2023. Russian forces could not advance within the city during the month, but managed to do so on its northern and southern flanks, capturing the town of Soledar and a number of villages in the area.
Objective 10: Achieving decisive influence over Georgia
- Russian foreign minister Lavrov expressed support for the government of Georgia on 18 January, saying it “is under pressure from the West, which openly and shamelessly demands to join the sanctions against Russia,” and adding that “this small country and its government have the courage to say that they will be guided by their own interests, economic interests, this deserves praise.” Lavrov also said that the recent growth of the Georgian GDP was “largely due to tourism and trade relations with Russia.”
Objective 11: Achieving decisive influence over Moldova
- President of Moldova, Maia Sandu, stated that “Russia did try to mobilise corrupt groups in Moldova and pro-Russian parties with the objective to take down the government, parliament and presidency” and that its failure so far to succeed did not “mean it has given up.”
- Pro-Russian Shor Party continued holding protest rallies in Moldova that had started in September 2022, demanding Maia Sandu’s resignation.
Objective 12: Absorbing Belarus
- Belarusian officials stated on 11 January that new air defense missile units had been activated in Belarus as part of the joint Russia-Belarus air defense forces.
Objective 13: Institutional consolidation of the Russian sphere of influence
- In the 23 January address to the heads of the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Putin called for the continuation of closer integration between the member states in the years ahead, proposing some more specific measures to move in this direction in the spheres of trade, laws, common energy markets, finance, taxes and customs regulations, transportation, and education. For these tasks, Putin said “improvement of the supranational institutions we have created” was in order, in particular of the Eurasian Economic Commission. Putin suggested that powers of the Commission should be strengthened.
Objective 14: Entrenching Russian influence in the MENA region
- Russia and the Assad regime announced on 23 January they had restored the Jirah (al-Jarrah) air base in northern Syria for the joint use by their militaries, in another expansion of the Russian military presence in Syria.
Objective 15: Entrenching Russian influence in the Western Balkans
- Serbian lawyer Cedomir Stojkovic filed a criminal complaint against Aleksandar Vulin, head of Serbia’s Security and Information Agency, accusing him of giving “orders, directives and guidelines that the activities of the Wagner Group in Serbia should not be prevented.”
Objective 16: Entrenching Russian influence in sub-Saharan Africa
- Russia, having established close relations with the ruling regime in Burkina Faso, achieved decisive results in eliminating the remaining French influence in the country. First, street rallies were held demanding closer relations with Russia, expulsion of the French troops and the French ambassador, and carrying “giant posters of President Vladimir Putin.” They were followed by the regime’s statement on 23 January that it indeed was demanding removal of the French troops within a month. On 25 January, France stated it would withdraw its troops, and on 26 January Paris said it was recalling its ambassador for consultations.
- On 19 January, Mali received an arms delivery from Moscow including one Su-25 attack aircraft, five L-39 trainer aircraft, and two Mi-8 helicopters.
- Eritrea restated its consistent diplomatic support for Russia over the Russo-Ukrainian War on 26 January, during the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to the country.
- The M23 rebel group in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo claimed on 11 January that the Wagner Group forces were present in the country and operating in support of the government forces fighting against the M23. Veracity of the report was unclear as of the time of writing.
Objective 21: Alignment with Iran
- Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission member Shahriar Heidari said that Iran would get Russian Su-35 fighters in the spring of 2023. The jets previously had been designated for a sale to Egypt.
- On 29 January, Russia and Iran agreed to connect “their interbank communication and transfer systems to help boost trade and financial transactions.” The move is an attempt to alleviate the effect of the Western sanctions on both countries.
Objective 24: Developing partnerships with Middle Eastern regional powers
- On 31 January, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov held talks with his Egyptian colleague, Sameh Shoukry. According to the Russian foreign ministry statement, among the issues discussed by the two was “the importance” of maintaining the level of bilateral trade despite the Western sanctions on Russia, as well as “certain practical aspects” of joint large-scale projects, such as construction of a nuclear power plant in Egypt, and creation of a Russian industrial district in the Suez Canal economic zone.
Objective 25: Developing partnerships with regional powers in the Southern Hemisphere
- South Africa announced it would hold joint naval exercises with China and Russia in February 2023. The country’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor defended this decision during her joint press conference with the visiting Sergei Lavrov, calling it “just a natural set of exercises that occur between countries.” The dates of the announced exercise coincided with the anniversary of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Lavrov praised South Africa’s “well balanced” and “considerate” approach to the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Objective 26: Developing cooperation platforms with non-Western powers
- In his address to the heads of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) member states, Putin once again pushed forward his concept of the Greater Eurasian Partnership, saying the EAEU could play the role of “one of the key centers” in its formation. Putin also called for the “widening of geography of international ties and contacts” of the EAEU with “the states of the Asia-Pacific region, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.”
- Russia and Turkey accepted Iran as another party in the negotiations format on Syria that had previously included these two countries and the Assad regime.