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 2 covers Russian geostrategy for the month of February 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’
- In an article published on 20 February, a high-level official in the Russian foreign ministry, Alexey Drobinin, offered another conceptual justification of the multipolarity Russian-style. In this case, the variation on Moscow’s traditional theme of multipolarity was based on the concept of “civilizations,” although Drobinin failed to credit or mention Samuel Huntington in his musings. Drobinin proclaimed that “crystallization of civilizations (let’s call them civilizational platforms), each with a unique structure, and development of ties between them, is what sets the path toward the formation of a principally new [multipolar] system.” Such “civilizations,” according to Dobrinin, are supposed to “be the gathering point of neighboring geographic spaces, and play a leading role in the integration projects.” Naturally, Russia is the first in Dobrinin’s list of these “state-civilizations and civilizational communities.” And, he continues, these “players of the highest level prepare to take most serious part in defining the face of the multipolar world.” Each civilization is supposed to have “a core (country-civilization or several regional leader states)” which is surrounded by the “second and third peripheral belts.” Drobinin insists that “before our eyes the Western world is losing its 500-year dominance,” and concludes by rejoicing at the “multipolar world that is being born today.”
Objective 1: Gaining and exercising influence over the Western elites and Objective 4: Disrupting Western international alliances
- A material published on 3 February and based on leaked emails revealed activities of a Russian organization “with a direct link to the Kremlin” seeking to “promote pro-Moscow policies inside EU countries.” The group “paid politicians thousands of euros to put forward pro-Russian resolutions in European legislatures.” It arranged “for political figures from countries including Germany, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic and Poland to be flown on expensive junkets to pro-Russia events in occupied Crimea,” paying them honoraria for their presence. It also tried pushing pro-Russian resolutions in legislatures of EU member states. The organization’s ties with local officials and politicians appeared to be closest in Italy and Cyprus. Other European countries targeted by the group included Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania. Among activities of the group also was “organizing anti-NATO street protests.”
Objective 7: Achieving instability in the Western Balkans
- Pro-Russian activists took part in rallies in Belgrade, “threatening riots if Serbia accepts a Western-backed plan aimed at mending ties with Kosovo.” The People’s Patrol group, that had a leading role in the rallies, supports Russia in its war against Ukraine.
Objective 9: Achieving de-sovereignization of Ukraine
- On 21 February, in his address to Russia’s Federal Assembly, Putin referred to Ukraine as Russia’s “historical territories that today are called Ukraine.”
- The heaviest fighting during the month of February 2023 continued to occur in the area of Bakhmut. Russians advanced north of this city, and began to advance amid heavy street fighting within the eastern and southern parts of Bakhmut itself. On the southern front, Russians suffered a heavy defeat with numerous casualties in their attempt to attack toward the town of Vuhledar.
Objective 11: Achieving decisive influence over Moldova
- On 13 February, Moldovan president Maia Sandu stated that Russia had plans to stage a coup d’état in Moldova. She said Russia had already unsuccessfully attempted to destabilize Moldova in September 2022. Now, according to Sandu, Moscow planned to use groups of individuals with military training, including those coming from Russia, Belarus, Serbia, and Montenegro, to attack state buildings in Moldova. Their purpose would be to overthrow the Moldovan government, and to bring a pro-Russian one in its place. On 21 February, Moldovan prime minister Dorin Recean confirmed that one of the potential scenarios of a Russian coup attempt could involve taking over the airport of Moldovan capital Chisinau. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said on 9 February that he had warned Sandu about Ukrainian intelligence regarding a Russian plan to “break the democratic order of this country and establish their control over it.”
- Pro-Russian rallies organized by the Shor Party continued in Moldova in February 2023, with the protesters demanding resignation of the government.
- On 2 February, Russian foreign minister Lavrov declared that Moldova was “one of the countries that the West wants to turn into another anti-Russia [after Ukraine],” and that Moldovan president Maia Sandu had gained her post with methods “far from being freely democratic.”
Objective 12: Absorbing Belarus
- A document from Putin’s presidential office became available detailing a Russian government plan from 2021 to complete the absorption of Belarus under Moscow’s control by 2030. The plan included reshaping Belarusian laws including the constitution in accordance with the Russian interests, growth of the Russian military presence in Belarus, domination of the Russian language in the country over the Belarusian one, giving Russian citizenship to Belarusian residents, and general control over key aspects of life in Belarus from politics, military, and trade to education, science, and culture. By 2030, the plan envisioned “completing formation of the Union State of Russia and Belarus,” creation of a “unified command and control system of the armed forces,” “unified border and defense policy,” “control over the information space of Belarus,” creation of “a single cultural space,” “a single approach to the interpretation of history,” “a single customs and tax space,” and a single currency.
Objective 16: Entrenching Russian influence in sub-Saharan Africa
- BBC’s Global Disinformation Team tracked a large Russian propaganda and disinformation network called Russosphère pushing pro-Russian, anti-French, wider anti-Western, and anti-Ukrainian messages among African audiences.
- A WSJ report from 23 February said that the US had information that the Wagner Group was “working with Chadian rebels to destabilize the government and potentially kill the president” of Chad. Prigozhin reportedly had “offered Chadian rebels material and operational support to execute a plot, which may include plans to eliminate Chadian Transition President Mahamat Idriss Déby, in order to seize control of the government of Chad.”
- On 8 February, the regime in Mali replaced several of its top military leaders with pro-Russian figures, further entrenching Russian influence in the country.
- Russia reportedly started a soft power push in Kenya “launching an increasing number of cultural and educational programmes” in the country.
Objective 17: Entrenching Russian influence in the Western hemisphere
- On 15 February, Russia gave Cuba an aid donation of 25,000 tons of wheat to help it against the existing shortages.
Objective 18: Gaining strategic presence on the waterways connecting the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean basins
- During Lavrov’s visit to Sudan on 9 February, the Russians and the Sudanese military concluded a review of their deal that envisions Russia gaining a naval station in Port Sudan. Both Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s military government, and Mohamed Dagalo, the leader of the Rapid Support Forces, were involved in talks with Lavrov.
- Rumors appeared in Russian sources that Moscow might be preparing a deal with Eritrea to gain basing rights for the Russian navy. While Russia’s relations with Eritrea have been close lately, it was unclear at the time of writing whether these rumors had any substance to them.
Objective 21: Alignment with Iran
- Russian-Iranian military-technological cooperation continued to develop. Reports emerged of the two sides’ plans to build a drone factory in Yelabuga, Russia in order to produce there a new advanced model of the Iranian Shahed drones used by Russia to attack Ukrainian cities and infrastructure.
Objective 22: Developing partnerships with South Asian regional powers
- Russian state media reported on 12 February that “Russia supplied India with around $13 billion of arms in the past five years, and New Delhi has placed orders with Moscow for weapons and military equipment exceeding $10 billion.”
Objective 25: Developing partnerships with regional powers in the Southern Hemisphere and Objective 20: Alignment with China
- Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov conducted a joint exercise with the navies of South Africa and China on 17-27 February. The drills were held in the Indian Ocean, off the South African coast. The event was useful for Russia as a show of the Western failure to isolate it diplomatically, and coincided with the anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022.