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 3 covers Russian geostrategy for the month of March 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’
- Russia’s new Foreign Policy Concept adopted on 31 March 2023 is largely dedicated to Moscow’s interpretation of the multipolarity concept. Referring to Russia as “one of the sovereign centers of world development,” the Concept attributes to it a “historically established unique mission to uphold the global balance of power and build a multipolar international system.” Among Russia’s strategic goals it lists the strengthening of Russia’s positions as “one of the responsible, influential, and self-sufficient centers of the modern world.” Bringing about a multipolar international system is listed among the “prioritized directions” of the Russian foreign policy. In order to “help adaptation of the world order to realities of the multipolar world” the document says Moscow intends to dedicate “prioritized attention” to the “removal of rudiments of the domination of the USA and other unfriendly states” in world affairs.
- In an article published on 24 March, Russian foreign minister Lavrov re-affirmed Moscow’s pledge to work for the “formation of a renewed multipolar world order.”
Outcome 2: Russia’s re-emergence as a major geopolitical center possessing a territorial sphere of domination
- Russia’s new Foreign Policy Concept adopted on 31 March 2023 declares the Russian Federation to be the “core of the civilizational community of the Russian world.” It also prioritizes “unification of potentials in various spheres with the member states of the CIS [most of the former Soviet possessions] and other neighboring states tied to Russia with multi-century traditions of the joint statehood.” The Concept pledges Russia will act against “the ‘color revolutions’ and other attempts to meddle in the internal affairs of Russia’s allies and partners.” In the long term, the document sets the goal of formation of the “integrated economic and political space in Eurasia.”
Goal 1: Decreased ability and will of the Western states to act in defense of the existing international order and oppose Russia’s foreign strategy
- Accusing most European states of aggressive policy toward Russia, Moscow’s new Foreign Policy Concept adopted on 31 March 2023 says Russia is to seek “creating conditions for the cessation of unfriendly actions of the European states,” and the end of their “anti-Russian course.”
Goal 6: Russia’s developed partnership with non-Western regional powers
- In his 24 March article, Lavrov declared that the world was not all about the US and EU, and that Russian diplomacy was increasing its activity in various “geographic directions.” Besides China in Iran, Lavrov mentioned among the examples of this activity and “multipolar diplomacy” India, Brazil, UAE, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, as well as Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS, and Putin’s concept of the Greater Eurasian Partnership including some kind of merge of Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
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 and Objective 3: Enhancing internal political instability and polarization within Western states
- Italian defense minister Guido Crosetto said on 13 March that “the exponential increase“ in the number of migrants from Africa landing in Italy that had been noted in 2023 as compared to 2022 was “to a not insignificant extent, part of a clear strategy of hybrid warfare” implemented by the Russian Wagner Group “using its considerable weight in some African countries.” Italy’s foreign affairs minister Antonio Tajani said that many migrants came from areas “controlled by the Wagner Group.”
Objective 5: Thwarting US Policies in Syria
- General Erik Kurilla, head of US Central Command, said on 16 March that there had been “a significant spike in unprofessional behavior by Russia’s air force in Syria since March 1” including “flights by armed Russian warplanes over US bases.”
Objective 8: Undermining US Foreign Policy in the Western Hemisphere
- Russia’s new Foreign Policy Concept adopted on 31 March 2023 pledges “support for the interested Latin American states facing the pressure from the USA and its allies in maintaining their sovereignty and independence, including through developing and widening cooperation in the spheres of security, military and military-technological collaboration.”
Objective 9: Achieving de-sovereignization of Ukraine
- In the Russo-Ukrainian War, most intense fighting in the month of March 2023 took place in the Bakhmut area where Russians slowly advanced on Bakhmut’s northern flank as well as within the city itself.
- The RUSI think tank published a report on 29 March 2023 dedicated to Russia’s “covert and clandestine operations, psychological operations, subversion, sabotage, special operations and intelligence and counterintelligence activities” employed against Ukraine during the full-scale Russo-Ukrainian War that had been launched by Russia on 24 February 2022. The purpose of these activities was “Ukraine’s internal destabilisation and disorganisation, which was supposed to disable the system of government and military command and control, undermine public trust in government institutions, reduce national stability and minimise aid to Ukraine from international partners.” The intended result of the sum of these activities was for the invading Russian military to encounter “little sustained or organised resistance” in Ukraine.
Objective 10: Achieving decisive influence over Georgia
- In March 2023, Ivanishvili regime in Georgia attempted to adopt a “foreign agents” law aiming to suppress civil society organizations independent from the government, similarly to what the Putin regime had successfully accomplished in Russia through the same kind of a law. On 7 March, the ruling Georgian Dream party adopted the draft law in the first reading. That was followed by large-scale protests and clashes with police in the streets of Tbilisi. The regime decided to retreat and abandoned the attempt to adopt the law, officially rejecting it in Parliament on 10 March. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov defended Ivanishvili regime’s draft law on 10 March, notably using the same arguments as did the regime leaders in Georgia. Lavrov also said that there was “video evidence of violence” by Georgian protesters calling it “a violation of all democratic norms deserving prosecution.” Speaker of the Russian State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, said that same day that the draft law “aimed to limit the influence of Washington on the domestic political life” of Georgia, and that by removing it from consideration in the Parliament, Georgia “lost the chance of sovereignty.”
Objective 11: Achieving decisive influence over Moldova
- On 1 March, Deep State’s Ukrainian blog exposed details regarding the Scutul Poporului organization in Moldova. Its members took part in the pro-Russian protests, claiming their task to be protecting the protesters from the Moldovan government, and reportedly wearing body armor and possessing special communication equipment. Members of the organization come from the military, security and police backgrounds.
- On 10 March, the US National Security Council speaker John Kirby shared the US information that “Russia is pursuing options to weaken the Moldovan government,” with “Russian actors, some with current ties to Russian intelligence… seeking to stage and use protests in Moldova as a basis to foment a manufactured insurrection against the Moldovan Government.“ Kirby said that the US expects “another set of Russian actors to provide training and help manufacture demonstrations in Moldova.”
- On 12 March, pro-Russian Shor Party held another street protest in Chișinău with the Moldovan security service saying that Russian intelligence was “directly involved” in its organization, and that it had detained dozens of individuals planning to cause chaos and violence during the rally. This plan reportedly was to be implemented by ten groups of these individuals coordinated by a Russian intelligence agent.
Objective 12: Absorbing Belarus
- On 25 March, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would station its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus while adding that control over the weapons would not be transferred to Minsk. The move further entrenches Russian military presence in Belarus.
- On 1 March, Russian foreign ministry announced that on 22 February, the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Russia and Belarus had adopted the Union State’s joint information security concept.
Objective 13: Institutional consolidation of the Russian sphere of influence
- Russia’s new Foreign Policy Concept adopted on 31 March 2023 set the goal of “deepening integration processes that are in Russia’s interests,” including “strategic cooperation with Belarus,” and “combining the potentials of the CIS and EAEU.” The general goal in this regard is the “formation of a wider integration contour in Eurasia.”
Objective 14: Entrenching Russian influence in the MENA region
- Russia’s new Foreign Policy Concept adopted on 31 March 2023 pledges Moscow’s “comprehensive support” to the Assad regime in Syria.
- In his 15 March meeting with Putin, the head of the regime in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad, expressed his support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. The next day he said he would welcome more Russian military bases in Syria, greater number of Russian troops in the country, and the Russian military presence there becoming permanent.
Objective 16: Entrenching Russian influence in sub-Saharan Africa
- A pro-Russian rally was held in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in early March. Participants carried Russian flags and accused France of seeking the DRC’s demise.
- The Russian embassy in Kenya was noted trying to exploit a local anti-LGBT campaign following the Kenyan Supreme Court’s ruling to allow the LGBT community registration of lobby groups. The Russians used the occasion to push anti-Western and pro-Putin messages in Kenya.
- A group of activists marched from the capital of Mali, Bamako, to the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, calling for the two countries to create a federation. In February 2023, prime ministers in the ruling regimes of the two countries had said they would “examine” such an idea. By a peculiar coincidence, both countries in question are recent additions to Russia’s, and in particular the Wagner Group’s, sphere of influence in Africa.
Objective 19: Gaining strategic superiority in the Arctic region
- Moscow’s new Foreign Policy Concept adopted on 31 March 2023 says Russia is to neutralize “the course of unfriendly states towards militarization of the [Arctic] region and limitation of Russia’s opportunities for the exercise of her sovereign rights in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation.”
Objective 20: Alignment with China
- Russia’s new Foreign Policy Concept adopted on 31 March 2023 stresses Moscow’s intention to further strengthen “all-encompassing partnership and strategic cooperation” with China.
- During Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, on 21 March, Russia and China signed a number of new documents including a joint statement on strategic cooperation. While noting that the two powers’ partnership did not constitute a military alliance, the joint statement vowed that the two sides will “give decisive mutual support on the issues of protecting one another’s core interests.” The Russian side stressed in the statement that it stands against Taiwan’s independence “in any form,” and “firmly supports actions of the Chinese side for the defense of its state sovereignty and territorial integrity.” China and Russia also said they would coordinate one another’s geopolitical projects – China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union – in order to “strengthen interconnectedness in the space of the Eurasian region.”
- In an article published in the Chinese press, Vladimir Putin claimed that both Russia and China supported formation of a “more just multipolar world order,” and praised Beijing’s Global Security Initiative.
Objective 21: Alignment with Iran
- Russia’s new Foreign Policy Concept adopted on 31 March 2023 sets among Moscow’s objectives “development of comprehensive and trusting cooperation” with Iran.
- Iranian state media said on 11 March that Iran had reached a deal to buy Su-35 fighters from Russia.
- Reports emerged in March concerning Iran’s supply of arms to Russia for the war against Ukraine running through the Caspian Sea. In January 2023, two ships reportedly delivered to Russia “approximately 100 million bullets and around 300,000 shells” as well as “ammunition for rocket launchers, mortars and machine guns”.
Objective 20: Alignment with China and Objective 21: Alignment with Iran
- On 15-19 March, the Russian navy conducted a joint exercise with the navies of China and Iran. The drill took place in the Gulf of Oman.
Objective 22: Developing partnerships with South Asian regional powers
- Russia’s new Foreign Policy Concept adopted on 31 March 2023 says Russia will keep developing “highly privileged strategic partnership” with India.
- A SIPRI report published in March 2023 said that Russia remained India’s largest arms supplier as of 2022. However, its share in the Indian defense imports fell from 62 to 45 percent during the period of 2017-2022.
- A report published by the Indian parliament on 21 March revealed that the Indian Air Force had told a parliamentary committee that Russia was unable to honor its arms delivery commitments to India as a consequence of its ongoing war against Ukraine. The development is significant since India’s dependence on the Russian arms deliveries is Moscow’s key lever in its relations with this power.
Objective 23: Developing partnership with Turkey and Objective 24: Developing partnerships with Middle Eastern regional powers
- Russia’s new Foreign Policy Concept adopted on 31 March 2023 sets among Moscow’s priorities the “deepening of multi-plane mutually beneficial partnership” with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
Objective 24: Developing partnerships with Middle Eastern regional powers
- On 19 March, president of Egypt al-Sisi discussed with Russian officials the two countries’ joint major projects including the Russian-built nuclear plant under construction in Egypt, and the establishment of a Russian industrial area in the Suez Canal’s Economic Zone.
Objective 25: Developing partnerships with regional powers in the Southern Hemisphere
- Russia’s new Foreign Policy Concept adopted on 31 March 2023 named four Latin American countries with which Moscow prioritizes developing partnership, Brazil listed in the same sentence as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
- In late March, secretary general of Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party, Fontana, and the party’s international affairs secretary, Pereira, visited Moscow to take part in the inaugural meeting of the organizational committee of the “forum of supporters of fight against the modern practices of neocolonialism.”
Objective 26: Developing cooperation platforms with non-Western powers
- Russia’s new Foreign Policy Concept adopted on 31 March 2023 sets the objective of strengthening Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS, as well as RIC (Russia-India-China format). The document also sets the greater goal of “forming wide integration contour – Greater Eurasian Partnership” on the basis of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as well as ASEAN, combining “development plans of the EAEU and the Chinese One Belt One Road initiative,” with the ultimate goal of creating “a network of partner organizations in Eurasia.”
- In their joint statement on strategic cooperation signed on 21 May 2023, during Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia, Moscow and Beijing re-affirmed their objective of “parallel and coordinated formation of the Greater Eurasian Partnership [Putin’s pet concept] and construction of the One Belt, One Road in the interests of development of bilateral and multilateral integration processes for the good of the peoples of the Eurasian continent.” The two sides also vowed work for further development of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS, Russia-India-China (RIC) and Russia-China-Mongolia formats.
Russia set up a regional forum to discuss the future of Afghanistan together with China, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan on 7 March in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.