Russia’s Influence in Europe

:

to what goals?

Ewen Fondrillon
Kateryna Bakulina
Piret Kuusik
Thomas Grandjouan

PARIS - 2016

Authors:
Ewen Fondrillion
Master's Candidate, International Security,
Paris School of International Affairs,
Sciences Po Paris.
Kateryna Bakulina
Analyst, HybridStrategies.eu
Master's Candidate,
International Public Management,
Paris School of International Affairs,
Sciences Po Paris.

Piret Kuusik
Master's Candidate, International Security,
Paris School of International Affairs,
Sciences Po Paris
Thomas Grandjouan

.

Master's Candidate, International Security,
Paris School of International Affairs,
Sciences Po Paris

Resume (in French)
Depuis le début du 21e siècle, et plus particulièrement depuis les conflits en Géorgie (2008)
et en Ukraine (2014), la Russie est redevenue un partenaire, ou un adversaire important pour
l'Europe. Dans les deux cas, comprendre l'influence que la Russie peut exercer au sein de
l'Union Europénne, à la fois sur les institutions de l'UE et sur les états-membres, est crucial
pour bâtir une politique européenne solide et cohérente. Ce rapport rassemble les résultats
de notre recherche sur l'influence et les objectifs de la Russie en Europe, et vise à apporter
une vue d'ensemble des initiatives russes en collaboration et à l'encontre des états membres
de l'UE. Il offre un panorama et une analyse des politiques russes dans le but de servir de
base à l'élaboration de politiques tant au niveau européen qu'au niveau national.
Nos recherches aspire à répondre à deux questions. D'une part, nous avons tenté de mesurer
l'influence Russe en Europe, et d'autre part, essayé d'identifier quelles objectifs la Russie
cherchait à atteindre en étendant et en exerçant son influence. Cette recherche est cependant
limitée par plusieurs facteurs. Nous n'avons considéré l'influence Russe que sur les états
membres de l'Union Européenne, les autres pays européens jouant un rôle marginal dans
l'établissement de politiques européennes. Par ailleurs, nous avons limité notre recherche aux

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trois dernières années, depuis l'annexation de la Crimée en Mars 2014, que nous avons
identifié comme un changement essentiel dans la relation entre la Russie et l'UE.
Notre analyse se base sur des éléments obtenus à travers nos recherches personnelles de
sources académiques afin de construire une perspective plus objective, mais également de
sources médiatiques permettant de suivre en détails les évolutions stratégiques. Par ailleurs,
afin d'approfondir nos recherches, nous avons mené une série d'interviews auprès de
chercheurs spécialistes des relations russo-européennes, et d'expert impliqués dans ce
domaine, incluant d'anciens collaborateurs du gouvernement russe. Cependant, nos sources
ont demandé à rester anonymes. Ces interviews nous ont permis, notamment, de réaliser une
cartographie offrant une meilleure idée de l'influence russe dans différents secteurs. Cette
approche sectorielle sert par ailleurs de structure au rapport tout entier.
Les résultats de nos recherches offrent deux éléments de réponse à la question de l'influence
Russe. D'une part, l'influence économique et son pouvoir de contrainte (hard power) en
matière de sécurité diminuent, malgré d'importants investissements dans les deux domaines.
D'autre part, l'influence de la Russie dans les domaines de la culture, des médias, et surtout
de la politique est en pleine croissance. Cela s'explique par plusieurs facteurs. Après
l'annexation de la Crimée, les sanctions économiques imposées par l'UE envers la Russie ont
considérablement réduit sa marge de manoeuvre en matière économique et financière. La
crise des prix de l'énergie, le pétrole en particulier, a ajouté à ce handicap déjà lourd, à tel
point que l'influence économique russe est presque complètement paralysée, et recule même
dans le domaine de l'énergie, pourtant un vecteur traditionnel d'influence. En matière de
sécurité, l'opposition de plus en plus vive des pays Baltes et de la Pologne, ajoutée à une
implication plus importante de l'OTAN en Europe orientale, a limité les tactiques d'intimidation
russe depuis 2014, d'autant que les forces armées russe sont également impliquées en Syrie
depuis quelques mois. Par contraste, devant l'inefficacité et les difficultés à employer ces
vecteurs traditionnel de l'influence russe, le Kremlin a investi de plus en plus lourdement dans
un appareil médiatique visant à destabiliser et décrédibiliser le leadership actuel des états
membres de l'UE, tout en se construisant une image de défenseur des valeurs européennes,
consolidant ainsi une stratégie hybride déjà mise à l'épreuve avec succès en Ukraine.

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Introduction
Due to recent developments in global politics, from the Ukrainian crisis to the emergence of
ISIS, research on Russia is becoming increasingly relevant, especially from the European
perspective. However, current academic debate largely dates back to pre-Ukrainian crisis, and
therefore does not take into consideration the impact that the crisis had on Russian influence
in Europe, which is the focus of this paper.
It is an attempt at evaluating and studying Russian influence in Europe, through three
perspectives on influence as defined by James Sherr - economical, security, and
political/cultural, which are interwoven and cannot be considered independently from each
other. It is this wide perspective, including both sectors, that further sets this outlook apart from
other academic studies of Russian influence, as they tend to be quite narrowly focused on one
sector, or even one issue, while our aim is to provide a broad overview of Russia’s influence
in Europe.
The core argument of this paper is that the aim of Russia’s influence in Europe is to re-establish
itself as a power among equals in global politics, using Europe as a stepping stone. Through
each of our three perspectives, we will examine the tools Russia is using to extend its influence,
and aim at answer two questions: whether or not Russia has a comprehensive strategy, and
whether or not this strategy, or lack thereof, is furthering Russia's goal of stepping back into
the international community as a power to reckon with.
First, we will consider Russia's economic relations with Europe, with a particular attention to
the effects of European sanctions implemented because of the Ukrainian crisis. In our second
chapter, we examine Russian influence in the domain of “hard power”, which is an improper
term but the closest at hand to evoke its military power. Finally, we turn our attention to Russian
cultural and political influence throughout Europe.

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Methodology
Considering the difficulty to access reliable sources and our own resources, we had to tailor
our methodology accordingly. Therefore, this paper is the fruit of a qualitative study. It is based
on interviews of academics experts on Russia and Europe, as well as practitioners in the field,
which helps bring perspective and depth to our own literature and press research. Most of the
interviewee's asked not to be quoted, meaning direct quotes are not prominent in this paper,
but the interviews still brought invaluable insights on the issues at hand.
Moreover, we also used these interviews to establish a cartography of Russian influence in
Europe, helping us illustrate our points. These maps are intended as support material, and
are exclusively based on our interviews, they are not comprehensive representation of
Russian influence, which, given the very nature of influence, would prove challenging to
represent, if possible at all.
Finally, clarifying our definition of influence is a crucial point before moving on to the core of
this report. When we refer to Russian influence, we understand it as the capacity Russia has
to change or alter the decisions taken by other countries or transnational institutions such as
the European Union (EU).

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Section I: Russia’s economic relationship with Europe
As Russia’s neighbour and largest trading partner, the EU forms the linchpin of Russia’s
external economic strategy. Expressed in terms of partnership, the importance of preserving
Russia’s economic security on its western frontier has been a consistent theme for President
Putin and has been evoked repeatedly in official Russian positions since the 2007 Munich
conference. While a trend of growing cooperation developed through multi-lateral agreements
struck with the EU in the early 2000s, current tensions over Russia’s alleged intimidation
tactics have substantially slowed economic ties. By examining these economic ties we can
determine where and how Russia is attempting to exert its influence in Europe, ties that can
be identified through the balance of trade between the two countries, financial exchanges on
world trading markets or inter company business deals. How deeply are Russian economic
interests embedded into the economies of EU member states, and how are these economic
relations converted into political capital for the Russian government? How has the Crimean
crisis, the oil price shock and sanctions regime, affected Russian business interests in
Europe? These are all questions this section will seek to answer.
To establish how the Russian government’s involvement in the economic sphere has evolved
in the face of sanctions, we will first examine its overall impact on EU-Russia trade giving us
an idea of the macroeconomic context in which Russia is operating in. By then turning to a
country-by-country approach, we will examine Russia’s trade relations with individual Member
States in order to identify where Russia’s economic influence is strongest. Finally, we will look
at the EU-Russian energy sector, Russia’s principal tool for leveraging its influence in the EU,
giving us a cross-sectional view of its European activity in order to determine whether there
is a cohesive strategy at hand, piloted from the Kremlin to not only secure its interests in the
region, but maximise its political influence on Member State’s decision-makers. As we will see,
these three vantage points (regional, national and sectoral) will constitute the key instruments
for the Kremlin to directly and indirectly assert its influence and priorities in the heart of the
European Union’s member states.

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Part I: EU-Russia trade and the impact of sanctions
Overview of EU-Russian trade relations
After almost fifteen years of strong growth, Russia’s trading relationship with European Union
suffered deeply in 2013 from the twin effect of the oil price shock and EU sanctions.
Since 2004, the EU-Russia trade grew healthily: turnover in goods doubled, reaching 285.5bn
euros by 2014, Russian exports also doubled and imports from the EU rose from 46.1 billon
euros to 103bn. The continued growth during the Great Recession halted in 2013, where, for
the first time since 2009, European trade in Russian goods began to falls (figure 1). This fall
deepened with the conjunction of the large drop in oil prices of the second half of 2014 (see
figure 2) and the introduction of an EU sanctions regime in July 2014.

Figure 1: Russian balance of trade (globally), 2013-20161

Figure 2: Russian GDP Growth and Oil Price Growth2

1
2

Trading Economics (2016)
Tim MacMahon (2015)

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The result has diluted Russia’s economic influence in Europe, diminished the presence of
large Russian state and private energy companies in Central Europe, and undermined the
Russian government’s ability to assert its influence through financial and economic channels.
While EU action in the wake of the Ukraine crisis did contribute to a reduction in Russian trade
figures, the negative impact of these sanctions is often over-estimated compared to the impact
that the drop in oil prices had on the Russian economy.

Impact of EU Sanction
The sanctions have only been partially effective, what accounts the most for a fall in Russian
trade is the 50% fall in oil prices3. The combination of the Ukrainian crisis, long-standing
sector-specific barriers, sanctions, Russian counter-sanctions, and the recession brought
about by the oil price drop has led Russia into a new phase of economic turbulence. A phase
that truly began in November 2015, when the Russian government reported its first GDP
contraction in five years, a 60% devaluation of the ruble since 2014, the halving of foreign
reserves to $370 in 2016 from $650 in 2007, inflation fluctuating between 12% and 16%, rising
outflows of domestic and foreign direct investment, and an increase in social tensions across
the country.
However, as several studies have shown, the EU share in Russian imports has been fairly
stable during the sanctions period beginning in July 2014 (slightly above 40% of overall
Russian goods imported), declining only to 37% in May 20154. Meanwhile, when the statistics
concerning the US and Japan are disentangled from the EU’s export statistics, we see that
Japanese exports remain stable while Americans actually increase their share of total exports
during the sanctions period.
While Russia has undoubtedly suffered from the sanctions, the cost is often exaggerated. As
several studies have shown, the EU share in Russian imports has been fairly stable during
the sanctions period beginning in July 2014 (slightly above 40% of overall Russian goods
imported), declining only to 37% in May 2015. Meanwhile, when the statistics concerning the
US and Japan are disentangled from the EU’s export statistics, we see that Japanese exports
remain stable while Americans actually increase their share of total exports during the
sanctions period. It is therefore, to consider sanctions as a political tool rather than as an
economic weapon.

3
4

European Council on Foreign Relations (2014)
Dreger, C. (2015),

8

Figure 3 : Russian imports, share of the United States, Japan and the EU during the sanctions
period5

With the reduced economic effectiveness of the sanctions in mind, its is helpful to consider
the punitive measures undertaken by the elected heads of Member States in the European
Council as a political tool rather than as an economic weapon, as a symbolic show of
resistance to President Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, rather than a measure that is truly
coercive that could dramatically change the economic balance of power between Russian and
its European neighbours. But nevertheless, once combined with the external macroeconomic
factors causing domestic turmoil in Russia, the result is an important amount of political
pressure in the context of a constraining economic climate that is limiting the Russia’s
government ability to assert its influence in the European Union. To see how this influence
translates throughout the region and where it is located, we must now proceed to a countryby-country approach.

Part II: Individual Member States and Russia’s influence in
the wake of sanctions
The reach of Russia’s economic influence across the European Union can be identified by the
exposure of individual country markets to Russian investment activity, notably the dependence
on Russian energy and other trading activities leading to the establishment of an economic
interest to be defended by the Russian government. Overall, Russian trade accounts for a
fraction of European GDP, accounting for only 8.4% of the EU’s total trade, or a total trade
value of €285 billion of the EU’s €18.5 trillion GDP.6 It may not be much overall, but the visibility
of Russia’s economic interest becomes more apparent when broken down by individual
country, revealing clusters of receptiveness and bastions of resistance to the presence of
Russian interests.

5
6

CEPS (2015)
European Commission, DG Trade (2016)

9

Figure 4 Share of Russian gas in consumption, EU-28 (%), 2012 data7

The difficulty of the European Commission in negotiating a common, unitary position for all
Member States shows just how divergent different European countries are in their relationship
with Russia. The states negotiating sanctions in 2014 can be split into two groups. On the one
hand, those pushing hard for sanctions included Poland, Romania, Sweden, the Netherlands,
the United Kingdom and the Baltic states, and on the other hand, Slovakia, Hungary, Italy and
Spain reluctant to sign on sanctions, while France occupies a position between the two, who
initially warned against sanctions but also took the important step of halting the sale of Mistral
warships.
The consensus secured to pass EU sanctions against Russia is an important example of
European unity vis-à-vis their Eastern neighbour and a glaring example of Russia’s loss of
influence in the chancelleries of Europe’s capitals. Despite tensions and growing criticism of
the measures, including France’s parliamentarians voting a non-binding motion to lift the
sanctions in April 2016, the renewal of the measures at the European Council meeting of 2829 June 2016, is expected to pass unanimously, meaning even the Kremlin’s most loyal allies,
like Viktor Orban, have confirmed they will not, as “good Europeans”, block the proposal.
What specifically prevented EU Member States from quickly rallying behind a common
position on sanctions? Using the five categories of EU member states developed in the PowerAudit of EU-Russia relations undertaken by the European Council of Foreign Relations in
2007, we can identify the size of Russia’s economic footprint in each country. By examining
the weight of their economic ties with Russia we will be able to see how it translates into
economic influence if at all. The five groups identified in 2007 have not evolved out their
categories since the initial audit was carried out, apart from the addition of Croatia to the
friendly pragmatists, the countries in order of the the most supportive of Russian interests in
Europe are:

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The Trojan Horses (Cyprus and Greece) who often defend Russian interests through
their willingness to veto common EU positions

The Strategic Partners (France, Germany, Italy, and Spain) who entertain a ‘special
relationship’ with Russia based on long-standing economic relations and political ties

Gazprom and BP Statistical Review (2013)

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The Friendly pragmatists (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg,
Malta, Portugal, Slovakia and Slovenia) have a close relationship with Russia, tending
to put business interests above political goals

The Frosty pragmatists (Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, the
Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom), also focus on business
interests but are less intimated to criticise Russia on human rights and other issues

The New Cold Warriors (Lithuania and Poland), hold an overtly hostile relationship with
Moscow, and willing to use their veto to block EU negotiations with Russia.

Let’s start with countries most opposed to sanctions. A month before the first sanctions regime
was decided in 2014, Vladimir Putin on a visit in Austria called out on Russia’s ‘friends’ in
Europe to avert further sanctions. The central and south European countries he had in mind
are clearly linked to Russia through their dependence on its supply of oil and gas, as well as
investment brought by tourism. 8

The Trojan Horses: Russia’s trading partners in the Mediterranean
Greece and Cyprus are a hub for Russian economic influence within the EU. For Greece,
Russia is a major energy provider, supplying 62% of Greece’s gas, and is also an important
arms supplier to Greece. Russian influence in Greece may well be boosted in 2016 by the
recent deal signed between Greece’s Hellenic Petroleum and Rosneft to increase cooperation
the refining of oil products in Greek plants.9 The perceived rise of Russia’s influence in Greece
has reached a point that American foreign policy analysts feared the Kremlin would be able to
profit from Greece’s sovereign debt crisis, leading to former national security advisors calling
on President Obama and Chancellor Merkel to do all that it takes to keep Greece in the eurozone.10 Meanwhile, Cyprus, while being one of the few Member States not dependent on
Russian gas, and is one of the most important offshore hubs for Russian companies and
remains the biggest foreign investor in Russia, providing a third of total foreign investments in
Russia (33%) ahead of the Netherlands (14%), Germany (4.3%), and the United Kingdom
(3%).11 The economic influence and political support translates as influence in the two
countries taking the lead to defend Russia in EU negotiations at the European Council, but
according to reports by some EU officials, the influence of the countries is limited by their size,
leading them to block tactically, and seeking alliances with larger countries, rather than
substantially undoing an European common position.12

Strategic partners: Russia’s big country trading partners
The group of countries characterised as Russia’s ‘strategic partners’ in the EU: Germany,
France, Italy and Spain represent long-standing diplomatic relationships that almost all have
a solid economic foundation. The political ties are characterised by a sense of mutual respect
between great powers that regularly meet at G8 or G20 meetings, and are underpinned by a
desire for multi-polarity or regional security. The economic ties are particularly strong in all
8

Euractiv (2014)
TASS (2016)
Washington Times (July 2015)
11
ECFR (2007)
12
ECFR, (2007)
9

10

11

countries except France, with whom Russian trade accounts only for 0.9% of external trade,
and whose ties with Russia are founded more on cooperating on global issues (Iran, Iraq,
Syria) and a shared conception of multi-polarity.
The largest Russian economic footprint is in Germany, Russia’s biggest trading partner and
most important market for Russian gas, the fifth biggest investor in Russia in 2006 ($5 bn),
and an important destination for Russian holidaymakers and business interests, (342,575
Russian visitors to Germany in 2006). These close economic ties translates into an awareness
among German policy-makers of the need to coordinate and cooperate with Russia, even
leading to Merkel’s government to pursue a Russia-first policy on the Eastern neighbourhood,
and advocate integration with Russia before the economic and political crisis shifted the terms
of the debate.13
Italy, like Germany, has maintained a strong diplomatic relationship with Russia built on firm
economic foundations. Italy is Russia’s third biggest trading partner after Germany and China,
and its third biggest gas market, accounting for 11% of all of Russia’s natural gas exports in
2014.14 Italy’s energy giant ENI is Gazprom’s key partner in the Blue Stream II pipeline project
and several other energy companies have joint ventures for refineries in Italy. It is no
coincidence that Russia’s substantial economic stake in the Italian economy has led Matteo
Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, to advocate a more balanced approach to Russia.15
Spain’s economic relationship is less intensive than other large countries (accounting for only
1% of each other’s trade) but Russia does supply 13% of Spain’s oil, while the Spanish
government has long promoted a policy of economic cooperation with Russia. The tourism
industry is important, Spain being the most attractive destination for Russian holidaymakers
after Turkey. As the ECFR points out, Spain avoids raising sensitive political issues with
Russia at the European level and is wary of engagement in the Eastern neighbourhood.

Friendly pragmatists: Russia’s central European partners
The largest group of EU Member States are the friendly pragmatists, small and mid-sized
countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia,
Slovenia and Portugal) that place their business interests ahead of a political desire to confront
Moscow. The motives for this diverse group of countries is that they all hope to take advantage
of the opportunities offered by Russian investment. Half of them – Austria, Bulgaria, Belgium,
Luxembourg and Hungary – hope to become gas hubs for Gazprom in the EU, while Finland
plays an important role in maintaining infrastructure links between the two regions (25% of all
Russian imports transit through Finland).16
Belgium, Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal have a limited agenda for cooperation with Russia,
but have been open to any inward investment that Russian energy companies are willing to
bring to their countries. Austria and Finland, have a much stronger cooperation agenda, mostly
due to their strategic position as transit countries for energy supplies from east to west. Austria
especially has deep economic links with Moscow. It has signed long-term deals with Russia
on gas supply (gas storage facilities at Baumgarten), and its largest bank, Raiffeisen Bank,
has a controlling stake in RosUrkEnerego responsible for importing gas into Ukraine.17
13

Statista, (2016)
Reuters (2015)
ECFR, (2007)
16
ECFR (2007)
17
International Herald Tribune( 2006)
14
15

12

An important sub-group of central European countries made up of Bulgaria, Hungary, and
Slovakia, continue to constitute an important base of support for Russian financial interests.
Most notably are Hungary and Bulgaria, where Russian financial interests account for large
shares of their economies. Their trading relationship is of course dominated by energy imports,
over 75% of Bulgaria’s energy and 92% of Hungary’s gas is provided by Russia. Bulgaria’s
economies are dominated by large Russian companies like Lukoil, which alone generates 5%
of the country’s GDP and 25% of its tax revenues.

Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia: conflicting loyalties?
Hungary’s political support to Russia was bolstered in 2015 when it signed for a 10 billion euro
from Moscow to finance the expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant, Hungary’s only atomic
power station, powering 40% of the country’s electricity. The nuclear contract, which was
abruptly awarded to Rostom after a call to open tender was quickly retracted, is a good
example of Russian financial interest converting into political influence in the Eurozone. “The
Paks deal is camouflage” says Zoltan Illes, a former state secretary for the environment in the
ruling Fidesz party, who describes the deal as a “financial transaction, and for the Russians
this is buying influence”, allowing Prime Minister Orban to pump money into the Hungarian
economy before his re-election in 2018 while Russia is able to strengthen its commercial ties
with key European Member States. The same goes for deals awarded in July 2015 under
similar circumstances to the Russian company Metrovagonmash to renovate Budapest’s
metro, which in the process excluded Skinest Rail, an Estonian bidder who proposed a
cheaper and more technologically advanced service. Links between the Hungarian political
elites and Russia appeared also in the controversy surrounding the MET gas pipeline affair,
whereby the Hungarian government stood accused of outsourcing monopolistic access to the
Hungarian-Austrian gas pipeline to MET, an offshore energy company controlled by the
Hungarian energy company MOL and a network of Hungarian and Russian oligarchs with
close ties to Prime Minister Orban.18
As David Hegedus points out in a recent study, the pro-Russian stance of Hungary’s two
largest parties Fidesz and Jobbik, is shared neither by the majority of Hungarians nor even by
their own voters. The Russian relationship, one that is penetrated by business interests, can
therefore be characterised as a project led explicitly by an elite seeking to maximise each
other’s economic interests in return for political influence.
Bulgaria remains in a more ambiguous relationship with Russian than almost all other Member
States. Culturally close, a historic ally and long dependent on Russian food exports and
tourism as a source of revenue, Bulgaria’s economic relationship with Russia have been
frozen under due to the support of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s government for sanctions
and because of the cancellation of three major energy projects: an oil pipeline linking its Black
Sea coast with Greece’s Aegean coast, a 2,000-megawatt nuclear power plant, and the South
Stream gas pipeline.19 Caught between its legal obligations as an EU member state, its cultural
affinity with Russia, and Bulgaria’s inability to weigh substantially on the international stage as
a small nation of 7m people and relative new joiner to the EU, Borisov’s government now tries
to establish itself a role as a mediator between the two powers while visits by the country’s
deputy Prime Minister, Ivailo Kalfin, to Moscow has tried to woo Russia into normalising
relations.20

18

D. Hegedus ( 2016)
Veselin Zhelev, EUobserver (2016)
20
Y. Boyadjiev and A. Andreev ( 2015)
19

13

Unlike either Hungary or Bulgaria, Slovakia is loosening its economic ties with Russia in favour
of its European partners. Over the past 12 months, Bratislava has transformed its position
towards Russia as one with important business interests to preserve, including most of its gas
deliveries and nuclear fuel for its Russian built power plants, and some core defense
equipment, towards its position today of openly supporting the European Commission’s
compliance demands with Moscow and pushing for the diversification of gas supplies away
from Russia.21 The fears of regional instability caused by the Ukraine crisis and the
identification of a new gas connection to Poland, seem to be the main cause behind Slovakia’s
westward turn thereby rendering Russian influence in the region more difficult.
To the list of countries categorised by Mark Leonard in 2007 as ‘friendly pragmatists’, we must
now add Croatia, a country whose government is divided between obligations to the European
Commission to carry out deep and unpopular structural reforms in order to fully benefit from
the EU’s Single Market, and a cultural affinity with Russia as a fellow Slavic nation. However,
the country having little influence in the European Council’s deliberations due to its small size,
recent arrival, and macroeconomic difficulties like high unemployment, high debt and a high
deficit, Croatia does not seem to be a target for Russian influence in Europe. A fact that is
corroborated by the absence of any major Russian investment projects in 2015.22

Frosty Pragmatists: Russia’s sceptical trading partners in the core and periphery
Russia’s economic relationship in Europe is constrained by another large group of countries
that despite also having pragmatic acceptance of the possible benefits of Russian business
interests, are also ready to challenge Russia about democracy and human rights. This group
comprises countries from the core and periphery and that are both large and small member
states: Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Estonia, Latvia,
Romania and the Czech Republic, who have all had bilateral disputes with Russia, and
repeatedly been willing to challenge Russia openly on the diplomatic stage when it violates
interests and diplomatic norms.
Russia’s economic interests are strongest within the Czech Republic, Latvia and Estonia, who
depend on Russia for the majority, or the totality in Latvia and Estonia’s case, of their gas and
oil supplies. The Czech Republic has cooled its relations with Russia due to disputes over the
installation of a US missile shield and support for a more active EU in the Eastern
neighbourhood. Estonia has engaged in several diplomatic rows with Russia since 2007,
including a dispute originating around the location of a war memorial to Soviet soldiers,
resulting in economic pressures imposed on Estonia by Russia, and travel-ban against proKremlin activists. The tensions have continued to mount with cybersecurity attacks and military
drills carried out in 2015 and 20 16 in Estonian airspace. Meanwhile, Latvia has sought a more
moderate relationship with Russia. The large population of ethnic Russians (25%), the
linguistic prevalence of Russian (spoken at home by 34% of Latvians) and Latvia’s
dependence on Russia for 100% of its country’s gas needs, makes it easy to understand why
Latvia seeks a stable relationship with Russia.23 However, Latvia has not hesitated to turn on
Russia, it was very critical of Russia during the Ukraine crisis, which recalled dark memories
of the countries post-war Soviet occupation, and the Latvian Prime Minister continues to be
among those calling for an extension of sanctions.24

21

J. Kobzova (2015)
Russia.HR, (2014)
Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia (2016)
24
Ukraine Today,( 2016)
22
23

14

The Netherlands and the United Kingdom both have reasonably strong economic and trade
ties with Russia, however, both countries have not hesitated to defend EU policy on a common
EU neighbourhood policy, raising human rights concerns at the European level, and strongly
advocating sanctions. But, according to Mark Leonard from the European Council of Foreign
Relations, the concerns raised by the Netherlands have been never enough to damage its
commercial interests.
Romania, unlike its neighbour Bulgaria, has been an outspoken critic of Russian energy policy
and its involvement in Moldova. And Sweden and Ireland, who have weak economic ties to
Russia, have strongly made the case for sanctions and voiced concerns about violation of
human and civil rights in Russia.
What is common to all these countries is that their willingness to choose European unity over
Russian dialogue is in many ways passive. By default they will uphold their interests and
obligations as European member states, but they have not either attempted to mount a
proactive and sustained effort to circumscribe or soften EU policy towards Russia.

Cold warriors, Poland and Lithuania: Russia’s opponents in the EU
Two countries that have actively blocked Russian influence in Europe are Poland and
Lithuania. Despite both being highly dependent on Russian trade relations to maintain a stable
supply of domestic energy (Lithuania receives 100% of all gas and 90% of all oil from Russia,
Poland receives 70% of gas from Gazprom and its proxy RosUkrEnergo) they have both
actively pushed for a more critical EU line towards Russia, using diplomatic back-channels
and public announcements to put pressure on other governments to act. The diplomatic
pressures have spilled over into the countries’ economic relations, including oil supply cuts to
Lithuania, discriminatory railway tariffs for goods transiting the Baltic states, disagreements
over access to Kaliningrad and disputes over phytosanitary norms.
The Ukrainian crisis and Poland’s advocacy for sanctions has frozen relations between the
two countries, and the diplomatic rapprochement that had been in process since the PolishGerman-Russian agreement to open Kalinigrad’s border has halted. However, the euroskeptic
and nationalist orientation of Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s government may well alter
Poland’s close ties to EU economic and neighbourhood as the country turns inwards to focus
on the immediate region.25
Russia’s economic interests in Europe and its ability to influence decisions made at the
European level is a network fragmented across the geography of the European Union. In the
south east and in the Mediterranean basin, Russia benefits from strong economic ties with
countries that either share a cultural or linguistic affinity or that serve a geopolitical support,
sustained by a dependence on Russian oil and gas. Strong economic ties with core Member
States like the Netherlands and large Member States like Italy, give Russia a presence and a
greater stake in the discussion, but there is little evidence that this translates into political
influence. So overall, by examining these five groups of countries, we can suggest that
Russia’s influence has declined in Europe since the Ukrainian crisis of 2013, since traditional
bases of support have not materialised at the political level, with Hungarian, Bulgarian, Greek
or Italian decision-making choosing their obligations towards the European Union instead of
support for Russia’s call for greater cooperation.26

25
26

ECFR, (2007)
J. Dempsey, Carnegie Europe, (October 2015)

15

Part III: The energy market
By Ewen Fondrillon
Russia is one of Europe's main energy supplier, both for oil and gas, as well as an almost
unrivalled nuclear fuel provider, with a long expertise in the nuclear field at its disposal.
Russian influence on the energy markets has given rise to recurring accusation of Russia
using its extensive power on the energy market to pressure its international partners and
competitors into compliance, especially former soviet countries, such as Belarus and Ukraine.
The first major energy crisis between Russia and Europe happened in January 2009, over a
price dispute between Russia and Ukraine, and it made European country realize how much
they were relying on Russian resources. This dependency varies wildly across Europe, but as
of now, Russia is an essential actor of Europe's energy supply security. Our aim in this chapter
is to explain the evolutions of the European and Russian energy sector since the Crimean
incident of 2013 and the subsequent annexation of Crimea, and how it impacts Russia's
influence in Europe.

A cohesive Russian strategy?
In order to gauge the role of energy in the evolution of Russian influence in Europe, we first
have to determine whether Russia has a coherent, comprehensive strategy, as opposed to a
short-term opportunistic behaviour. It has long been the dominant player on the board of the
European energy game, supplying some 33.5% of the EU crude oil, and 39% of natural gas
in 2013. In addition, it is also Europe's 3rd supplier of nuclear fuel, exporting especially towards
the Czech Republic, Poland, Belarus, and the Baltic countries27. Russia is particularly present
in Eastern Europe, as some of the former members of the Soviet Union, the Baltic countries
and Belarus, share with it their energy grid and supply networks, effectively locking their
energy infrastructure together.
In the past three years, Russian companies have been harshly defending their dominant
position in the European energy supply, through price reduction policies in an attempt to
maintain Russia’s energy leverage. Even in Ukraine, despite the civil war and Russia's
intervention in Ukraine's domestic affairs and support to the rebels, business in the energy
sector has not stopped, at least seemingly. However, it is worth noting that Gazprom in
particular has been selling its product to the rebel-controlled areas as well, often at a loss, a
form of passive support. Both these moves would help Russia keep its position as Europe's
main energy supplier, as Russian companies has the potential to drive off competition through
its control (or at the very least, strong influence) over prices in Europe, and gas supply at the
very least is quite dependent on a continuing presence of these companies in Ukraine,
considering the latter status as a transit countries between Russia and western Europe, the
largest energy market of the continent.
27

Eurostat 2015

16

Delimiting the influence of the Kremlin over Russian energy companies from company policies
is problematic. Driving the prices lower and keeping business relations with Ukraine, a transit
country important for Russian gaz and oil to reach western Europe are logical and likely
profitable business strategies, if they succeed. On the other hand, losing control over the
energy sector would be not only an economical, but a political disaster. Essentially, energy
companies and the Russian State have the same goal: maintaining dominance over energy
supply to Europe, which is both a way to gain political influence and draw financial profit.
However, our research and interviews, although we cannot use a direct quote as per our
interviewee's request, have suggested that the Kremlin is essentially in charge, and that if
energy companies have some leeway, it is hard to estimate. This is coherent with the strong
net of connection between energy companies and the Russian state: Rosatom, Gazprom and
Rosneft are State companies, for example. Additionally, the strategic planning horizon also
seem to be very limited, to a few month at most, which is partly dictated by the fluctuating
energy prices. For no, it cannot be said with certainty that there is indeed a Russian strategy
in the energy field.
However, while hard to confirm, if energy companies are subservient to the Russian state, it
is highly likely that there is a comprehensive strategy to maintain Russian domination over the
energy market in Europe. Most likely, Russia is aiming at keeping its position as an energy
supplier to use as leverage, as it has already done against Ukraine(during the winter 2009
crisis, for example), in order to help further its international goals. This leverage is important
particularly for Eastern Europe, which is dependent not only on Russian supplies but also on
Russian infrastructure. Towards Western Europe, Russia is less forceful, but still uses energy
deals as a way to bypass EU negotiations and influence specific member states through
bilateral deals. The main example of such a manoeuvre is the North Stream II project, which
would connect directly Russia to Germany through the Baltic sea, and has received strong
German support in EU institutions.
On the other hand, while there is a general goal of maintaining Russia's quasi-monopoly over
European energy supplies, the means are opportunistic, and Russian companies operate both
under the direction of the Kremlin and with a 2-3 month horizon. This influence on Europe
through energy is extremely unbalanced, and largely dependent on territory (maybe also
historic relations and social constructions).

Strategic assessment
Russia's strategy in the energy sector is an important part of the country's economic relations
and influence over Europe. But is it successful? How have Russia's energy leverage been
influenced by the Crimean crisis? Recent developments, in the past two years, seem to
indicate it has suffered from several factors, and that Russia have growing difficulties to exploit
its position.

17

Figure 5: Russia`s Influence in the Energy Sector of Europe

First, Russia and Europe are co-dependent on the energy market. We have already pointed
out Europe's dependency on Russia, but the Russian energy industry needs Europe's
business and financial support, as well as European machine-tools that it cannot manufacture
on its own in order to conduct the exploration of new gas and oil resources in Siberia, the
Pacific Coast and Barent Sea, needed to maintain its production28. This support, due to
European sanctions, have been significantly reduced, reducing in turn new oil and gas fields
discoveries, and threatening the long-term stability of the sector.
In addition, Russia is facing increasing opposition, especially from the Baltic countries, over
energy grid use, and the shared infrastructure is proving to be an issue to supply Kaliningrad,
while the Baltic countries themselves are becoming independent from Russia's infrastructure:
Lithuania has connected its grid through a multi-billion euro project to Poland and Sweden's
electricity grids, and together the three countries are seeking further integration to the
European market, as part of the European policy to get rid of “energy islands”. Latvia and
Estonia are considering similar projects. Apart from electricity, they are also seeking more
independence from Russia's supplies, and Lithuania, for example, is now solely relying on
Norway and the Baltic Sea resources to import gaz. This attitude conflictual attitude from the

28 Smith (2008)

18

“New Cold Warriors”29 towards Russia is not new, but it is showing increasingly influential
effects.
On a domestic level, Russia's main energy companies have been hit hard by the oil price
sharp fall in the past two years, which further eroded their financial resources. They are unable
to explore and exploit new hydrocarbons resources, and their position is increasingly
precarious: a diminished production contracts their income, which in turn makes investment
in new projects increasingly difficult, sparking a vicious cycle that could only be broken by a
rise in gas and oil prices and/or a lifting of sanctions. Even attempts to put pressure on Ukraine
through its dependency on Russian gas have been counterbalanced by Hungary, Slovakia
and Poland, through the development of reverse-flow capacities enabling them to send part
of the gas back to Ukraine.
On the other hand, Russia is still the primary energy supplier of Europe, and despite the crisis
of its energy sector, remains a primary player in this field. Moreover, Russia is turning to Asia,
and actively completing its pipelines to China, which is, however a difficult customer. It also
attempts to sway EU member states through energy deals and threats (Ex: Italy, France,
Germany), who have been defined as “strategic partners”30. North Stream II is particularly
blatant in that regard31, as it would put another direct connection between Russia and
Germany, but France and the UK are also pressured by their energy distribution companies
into lowering barriers to entry on the energy market for Russian companies. Greece and
Cyprus32, as well, have not role to play on the energy market but willingly advocate a position
closer to Russia, and support for the North Stream II, which creates rifts in the EU institutions.
As far as the nuclear sector goes, Russia's is actually faring relatively well, the only
competition in Europe being French. Russia uses its expertise to establish build/own/operate
programs for reactors all over Europe: two in Belarus at Ostrovets, one in Hungary at Paks,
others in Bulgaria and Kaliningrad. Yet, once again it's facing trouble and a virulent opposition
from the Baltic countries who are ostensibly hostile towards Russia. Russia’s position is
weakening.
European reactions to these manoeuvres have been even more damaging to Russia's
dominance. They have fuelled the project of a Common Energy policy, which first started after
the gas crisis of 2009, but picked up after the Crimea crisis and the beginning of the war in
Ukraine, as Europe, fearing a new gas shortage, united in support of the initiative. This
Common Energy policy was recently approved, becoming the Energy Union, in February
2015. It aims at unifying the market, which is extremely threatening to Russia, and our
interviews have pointed out that it worries the Kremlin's inner circle as it could mean a unified
European opposition on the energy market, where European countries would be able to
leverage Russia's co-dependency on the energy business. On the other hand, there are still
29 Leonard and Popescu (2007)
30 Leonard and Popescu (2007)
31 Kropatcheva (2011)
32 Leonard and Popescu (2007)

19

bilateral deals foiling attempts to find a common solution, and several European countries are
defending a position closer to Russia, which undermines the whole decision process.
Furthermore, Russia is opposed by the Baltic countries, Poland, but also Bulgaria and Italy
since the cancellation of the South Stream project33, which was supposed to reach Northern
Italy through the Balkans. They have formed a coalition to oppose Russian within the EU
institutions, despite Gazprom lobbying, gathering most of Eastern and Southern Europe,
which proves to be a sizeable opposition. As evoked above, Europe has also been trying to
solve the issue of “energy islands”, countries isolated from the European grid and market, with
some success, strengthening the European market in the process. There are even some
signs of active opposition, like the lawsuit that has been filed against Gazprom in Stockholm
for violation of antitrust and monopoly regulations. Yet, despite these projects and initiatives,
the European institutions are still divided, and a rift is forming between Germany and the
opposition to the North Stream II project.
Has this strategy served Russia’s aims and objectives, in light of the European reactions?
Definitely not. Not only has Russia been weakened by the recent crash of oil prices, but
European countries and the EU have taken measures to weaken Russia's hold on European
energy supply and strengthen Europe's energy supply, measures that have receive
increased support, despite the divided EU institutions, because of the Crimean incident and
subsequent Ukrainian civil war. This unfortunate combination has severely shaken Russia's
hold on the energy sector. While it is still considerable, it is weakening, and as the situation
continues to deteriorate, it is increasingly likely that Russia will lose its dominant position.
This is essential to evaluate Russian influence: it is not only a matter of foreign influence, but
also a prime domestic concern, as the State's budget is also heavily dependent on energy
prices.

Section II - Russia’s Influence in Europe: Security and
Defence Perspective
By Piret Kuusik
Based on our research and the following map, influence from Russia in security and defence
realm is the strongest in the Eastern part of Europe. This is due to geographic proximity and
historical experience of the region that make Russia’s threatening military behaviour a
challenge. However, due to interconnected nature of European security through multilateral
institutions such as the NATO and the EU, threats on the Eastern side of Europe own weight
among the states in Western Europe as well.
In this short overview, we will first give a short introduction to Russia’s threatening military
behaviour in the eastern border of Europe and in the cyber domain. Then, we will provide an
overview of European reactions to Russia’s assertive behaviour. This allows us to conclude
that in comparison to political and cultural influence, Russia’s use of hard power is not the
most effective way for Russia to achieve its goals and increase its influence in Europe.
33 Siddi (2012)

20

Figure 6 Russia’s assertive military behaviour
In countries sharing their eastern border with Russia, Russia’s threatening behaviour in
security realm presents itself in two ways. One being frequent border infringements by sea or
air and second are snap military exercises near Russia’s western border. Both methods have
been described by analysts as dangerous games that may escalate quickly either deliberately
or by mistake. Thomas Frear with his colleagues at the European Leadership Network has
documented the close military encounters in the Eastern region between Russian and NATO
forces3435. It is important to note that the Baltic countries and Finland have been experienced
air border infringements since the 1990s. However, since 2014 there has been a significant
increase in the number of infringements and unreported military aircraft flights in the
international space. We believe it is important to note that increased military activities and
tensions have been recorded in the Arctic region as well, however due to the focus of this
paper and the extensive literature on this topic, we are excluding this from our analysis.
To be more specific in providing an overview of Russia’s military activities, we will bring few
cases of Russia’s behaviour in the Baltic Sea region and on the Black Sea. Most Russia’s
activities happen in the air. Russia’s military fighters, armed and unarmed, conduct
unregistered flights in the international air space, sometimes flying also on the peripheries of
national air spaces. These Russian planes usually have their responders switched off and
they do not take up any contact with aviation forces on the ground. The most dangerous
incident occurred in March 2014, where a civilian SAS passenger plane avoided a collision
with a Russian air fighter in the international space. Since Russian fighters responders were
34
35

Frear, Kulesa and Kearns (2014)
Frear, Kulesa and Kearns (2015)

21

switched off, the collision was avoided merely by good visibility in the air36. Both on the Black
Sea and Baltic Sea, Russian planes have conducted near by passes over USS Donald Cook
on the Black Sea in 201437 and USS Ross 201538 and on the Baltic Sea near Poland in
February 201639. These incidents are an examples of high risk encounters that may escalate
quickly. However, Thomas Frear stresses also that next to creating surprise and fear with such
behaviour, these activities also aim to gather intelligence40.
Second example of Russia’s offensive military posture is its increased number of military
exercises since 2014. Military exercises have instrumental value for intimidating neighbours.
There are three elements, which support this point. First location and scenario, secondly the
comprehensiveness of exercises and thirdly the secrecy and quick development of these
exercises. Firstly, most of Russia’s military exercises have been taking place in the Western
military district, which in the light of Russia’s military reform from 2008 has become the most
capable and well prepared part of Russian military. Additionally, scenarios for exercises are
often offensive in nature and targeted against real places such as Warsaw or Stockholm for
example41. Second aspect causing uneasiness among European countries is the
comprehensive nature of these military exercises. Namely, it is come to be regularity that
Russia’s military exercises include Russia’s civilian state structures. Today, civil-military
cooperation in Russia is at the level that Western countries can only dream of42. Thirdly,
secrecy and quick start of these exercises have been called out by European states as going
against the agreed conditions and rules of Vienna document 1999 that sets out the conditions
for military activities in Europe. For example, the requirement to notify military activities and
right to observe military exercises by outside parties43. Last year Russia had a “snap” drill
involving 8000 soldiers in response to Norway’s “The Arctic Challenge” exercise. Whilst
information about “The Arctic Challenge” was available already a year, there was no
information provided by Russia about its exercise. Bringing together the examples of Russia’s
military activities allows us to conclude that we have witnessed a drastic change in Russia’s
security and military behaviour.

European reactions to Russia’s military posture
As we have admitted in the introduction, it is incredibly challenging to measure influence.
However, we count some of the developments from 2014 onwards as been affected or caused
by Russia’s assertive behaviour in security domain.
It is important to note that in analysing European security architecture, NATO is a key element.
It entails US and therefore diffuses the specific focus of this study. However, it is a key platform
for security matters in Europe and therefore for the purpose of this paper, we consider NATO
as an one entity and will not look into the power dynamics between the US and European
countries within the NATO.
Most relevant change we have witnessed due to Russia’s behaviour are developments within
NATO. Some argue that NATO has regained its purpose after the end of Cold War. Practically
36

The Guardian (2014)
US Department of Defence (2014)
USNI (2015)
39
Borgen (2016)
40
Frear (2016)
41
Bugajski (2015)
42
Clark, Luik, Ramms, Shrieff (2016)
43
OSCE (1999) Vienna Document
37
38

22

speaking, Wales Summit in autumn 2014 was a key event where it was decided how to react
to Russia’s assertive behaviour. Firstly, Readiness Action Plan was agreed, whereby creation
of easily moveable and rapid force unit was decided. In addition, it was agreed to organise
more joint exercises and deploy NATO forces to countries sharing the eastern border with
Russia. All this has been happening- NATO Response Force has been established and is
currently being integrated into NATO’s structures. NATO has organised a number of land and
air exercises in the Baltic countries and Poland and also a number of naval exercises on the
Black Sea. Finally, currently there are US soldiers stationed in the Baltic countries and Poland
on bilateral basis. However, NATO has declared that it is planning to establish a rotation of
4000- soldiers in the Baltic countries and Poland44.
Focusing specifically at Europe we have observed a shift in the policy discourse. Hard power,
security and Russia are back in the policy agenda. Russian threat has become the forefront
of national security discourse in countries sharing a border with Russia, however here we
would also like to look at the reactions of some of the Western European countries.
UK in its recent “National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015:
A Secure and Prosperous United Kingdom” talks about a potential state based threat, explicitly
focusing on Russia and Russia’s behaviour. It is clearly understood by the UK that Russia’s
behaviour may be aggressive against Britain’s allies and thus may draw UK into a conflict45.
Hereby, it is noteworthy to mention that UK is leading a NATO Joint Expeditionary Force,
which includes Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania46.
Additionally, UK is taking part of the Northern Group, with Sweden, Finland and Poland to
promote greater regional security. Additionally, UK is contributing to the Baltic Air Mission and
has stationed a small number of troops in the Baltic countries and Poland. In the light of NATO
Warsaw Summit this summer, UK has announced to send 5 ships to the Baltic Sea on 6month rotational basis with NATO forces47.
Germany is torn between two extremes. On the one hand, it seems to understand the
necessity for improved military capabilities in facing Russia, on the other hand it is constrained
by its domestic attitudes towards increased military capabilities. However, Germany is taking
important steps further. In May, Germany announced a 7000 personnel increase of its troops
first time since the Cold War and just recently Defence Minister of Germany asked for increase
in defence budget48.
It is also important to look at the reactions by Finland and Sweden. These two countries are
located in the Baltic Sea region and have been targets of Russia’s intimations. Additionally,
both are members of the EU, but do not belong to NATO. NATO and countries in the region
argue that Finland and Sweden joining NATO would strengthen the region’s security.
Governments of both Sweden and Finland are weighing the options and both have set up
institutions to deal with the issue. Public opinion on the other hand is mixed. In Sweden almost
half of population favours NATO membership, whilst in Finland it has been around 27%49.
Bulgaria and Romania are ready to become more important players in Europe. In the security
realm, they have been seeking to establish regional cooperation in a form of joint brigade with
Ukraine and potentially also with Lithuania and Poland50. However, constraints are present.
44

Burns (2016)
Government of the UK (2015)
46
Ministry of Defence of the UK (2014)
47
MacAskill (2016)
48
Wagstyl (2016)
49
Braw (2015)
50
Adamowski (2016)
45

23

Sofia has been more inclined towards Russia than Bucharest, however both countries have
become an important part of NATO’s military buildup in eastern parts of Europe51.

Cyber warfare
by Ewen Fondrillon
Russia is one of the few countries possessing cyberwarfare and cybersecurity capabilities, as
illustrated by several cyber attacks linked to Russian nationals, which in turn are believed to
be backed by the Kremlin. Since 2008 cyber security has been an integral part of Russian
defense doctrine and foreign policy52. We aim to explain how Russia's cyber capacities are
part of its security strategy by looking at its impact on Europe and determining its success
based and linking European reactions.
To begin with, there are several actors operating at once in cyberspace, and making clear
distinctions between them is difficult. There are three types of actors, which have been
accused of most cyber attacks conducted from Russia. However, there is no clear proof tying
them to Kremlin. The first group is composed of criminal groups, such as the Russian Business
Network believed to be tied to cyber attacks during the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict or the
Dukes. These groups rent out “bot-herds”, which allow them to flood targets with information,
which then crashes websites and digital infrastructures. Estonia in 2007 is the most wellknown case, but Poland and Ukraine have been targeted as well since 2015 through these
networks. Independent hackers have also been tied to these groups. Their motivations are
unclear, ranging from “patriotism”, to mere financial gains. These groups have been
responsible for data thefts, phishing, and other criminal activities directly linked to financial
profit, but attacks have also been conducted against foreign websites which does not fit with
the financial motivation except if they have been hired to do it.
Second group are private legitimate actors, such as cybersecurity and software companies,
like Kaspersky Lab, who notably produces antivirus softwares. Kaspersky has been tied to
Kremlin through personal relations, as Eugene Kaspersky is a former KGB employee, and
maintains ties with the Russian intelligence community. Finally, there is Russian State itself,
who has made cyber warfare a focus of its defense doctrine since the early 2000s, integrating
it in its national defence doctrine, developing cyber warfare capabilities, defending both public
infrastructures and private actors, and promoting Russian position regarding the cyberspace
at the international level. Russia has not signed the European Convention on Cybercrime of
2001 and refuses to cooperate with European countries on cyber security issues53. Russian
state activities in internet are most visible in campaigns, flooding Internet-based media with
comments ranging from disapproving but seemingly reasonable to outright propaganda. This
type of information warfare has not been tied to the Russian state per se, but to “web
brigades”, operating loosely under Kremlin supervision5455. Good example to illustrate their
activities is the the case of the comment section of a British newspaper The Guardian in 2014.
After events in Crimea, the newspaper online website became a subject to a large number of
Russian comments, sometimes outright crashing the website and preventing debate and
discussion.

51

Stratford (2016)
Giles (2012)
53
Smith (2012)
54
Polyakova (2015)
55
Giles (2011)
52

24

Cases of cyber-espionage or damage to physical and digital infrastructures is harder to
evaluate. However, there are worrisome cases to be kept in mind and that stress the
importance of cyber resilience. For example, the shutdown of the German Bundestag’s ITsystem last August, the crash of TV5 Monde in France in April 2015 and the recurring attacks
against government websites of Poland and the Baltic countries. Moreover, also critical
infrastructures have been successfully targeted in Ukraine and Poland. In December 2015, a
power plant in Ivano-Frankivsk, Western Ukraine, was shut down, causing blackouts in the
region, which can be accounted a first cyber attack successfully cutting off energy supply.
Kiev's airport has also been victim of severe disruptions in January 2016 due to cyber attacks,
which have been growing in frequency since 2014, as part of Russia’s hybrid strategy in
Ukraine5657.
Since cyber attacks are becoming increasingly efficient affecting important targets, they have
also prompted counter reactions from European countries. At the European level, there is an
attempt to develop further a common cyber security strategy and linking institutions. ENISA
(European Union Agency for Network and Information Security), founded in 2004, has
received better attention and support in its activities. There has been a directive proposal that
would make the creation of a Network Information Security agency mandatory for member
states, as well as a Computer Emergency Response Team and the implementation of a
national strategy and cooperation plan. This directive was voted in 2015, becoming the
Network and Information Security Directive, a first step towards a common Cybersecurity
directive at the European level.

Are Russia’s activities strategic or opportunistic? Hard power as a tool of influence?
In the previous parts, we gave an overview of Russia’s operational military activities near the
Eastern borders of Europe and in cyber domain. Based on these evidences, we argue that
Russia’s behaviour is more opportunistic than strategic by seeking out opportunities to
intimidate and cause tensions. However, Russia’s intimidating military behaviour has proved
not be the most effective tool to inject its influence and coerce European states to align with
Russia.
Firstly, Russia is in its behaviour more opportunistic than strategic, since its intimidating
behaviour seems to be reactive and depending on opportunities in hand58. For example,
Russia’s aircrafts have intimidated US ships on the Black Sea, when they have been
conducting NATO exercises. Additionally, the erratic nature of Russia’s own military exercises
indicates that Russia does not have a calculated plan for its behaviour. However, this
opportunistic behaviour is in line with Russia's increasing military and cyber capabilities and
Russia’s hostility towards some European countries and hostile propaganda campaigns.
Therefore, there cannot be a definitive answer to whether there is a coherent general strategy
for Russia’s security behaviour, however emerging patterns confirm that Russia’s opportunism
is guided by general strategic aims, which are well brought to together under the concept of
hybrid strategy.
So, looking at the reactions by European states, has Russia’s intimidating military behaviour
served the aims we identified at the beginning of this paper? Answer to this question is twofold.
Essentially, Russia has intimidated the countries in the Baltic Sea region and the Black Sea
region and has pointed out the miserable state of European security capabilities. Therefore,
56

Nocetti (2015)
Lanozska (2016)
58
Järvenpää (2016)
57

25

serving its wish to be seen as a powerful country. However, the reaction that Russia’s
assertive military behaviour has received, has first changed West’s perception of today’s
global order. It was assumed in Europe that hard power is reminiscent of the past59. It was
believed that Russia was in the same side of the history and this has clearly not been the
case. Russia’s activities challenge the current security architecture of Europe. Therefore, in
the course of last two years NATO has increased its military presence in the Baltic states and
on the Black Sea and in Europe in general. However from Russia’s point of view, this is
countereffective, since it has brought NATO forces closer to its borders. Therefore, it allows
us to conclude that hard power is not the most effective tool for projecting and inserting
Russia’s influence in European countries.
However, Russia’s intimidating security posture has highlighted a key challenge, which does
not only apply to security and defence. Namely, the continuous disunity and fragmentation
among countries in Europe. It is a paradoxical phenomenon whereas Europe is the most
integrated continent in the world, but at the same time collaborations on burning issues are
proving to be a great challenge. Russia uses these disagreements for its own gains and in the
next chapter we are going to illustrate just that point.

Section III Political and Cultural Perspective
By Kateryna Bakulina
Without a hesitation culturally Russia is part of the European civilization and its historic
interconnectedness with the European countries is undeniable. Even in the present days of
politically problematic relations, the Russian presence in the cultural life of Europe remains
strong. The Russian Balls are being held regularly in the European capitals, Paris welcomes
the new Orthodox Cathedral few steps away from the Eiffel Tower and the recent Cannes
festival had Russia as one of the high liners. As said by the President of Diplomatic Academy
of Vienna at the Moscow Ball held in Vienna in November 2015: “Despite the difficulties
Russia-European cultural links are not vanishing and remain as one of the few effectively
functioning diplomatic channels”. Given the historical links, the Russian cultural diplomacy
functions both with and without support of the Russian state.
The present chapter takes a look on the state-supported cultural activities in Europe and tries
to determine a degree of its intersection with the political influence. Traditionally this
intersection is known as the ‘soft-power’, the term coined by Joseph Nye, describing state’s
activities abroad designed to attract, rather than coerce sympathies. Since the outbreak of
Ukrainian crisis it has become increasingly evident that the Russia’s political presence in
Europe cannot be solely described by this classic term. Kremlin’s modern-day cultural and
political influence is a combination of ‘soft-power’ and propaganda tools, which Russia uses
to achieve more elaborated goals than simply ‘to attract’. Locked in a very inflexible
geopolitical situation, Russia is currently spending a record share of its budget to be heard
within European households through English speaking TV channels (also French, German,
59

U.S.-Central Europe Strategic Assessment Group (2015)

26

Spanish, and Italian ones). However, Kremlin-sponsored media outlets are just the tip of the
iceberg: a complex mechanism with a wide range of sophisticated tools lies underneath the
surface. In its first section, this chapter investigates Kremlin’s practices and instruments used
to promote its political and cultural influence in Europe. Against this background, the second
section analyses these tools highlighting their strategic use and overarching goals.

Cultural Diplomacy
The foundations of Russian cultural diplomacy can be traced back to the 1990s. Relying on
the extensive experience of the Soviet Public Diplomacy, the Russian government
adopted/elaborated the concept of Russkiy Mir (Russian World) and embedded it in various
state institutions operating both domestically and abroad60. Judging just from the name, one
can sense that the concept encompasses geographical and cultural conjunctions but at the
same time does not cast strong affiliation with the state. The word Russkiy, instead of
Rossiyskiy, has wider cultural connotations because it refers to a broader area, beyond the
political borders of the Russian Federation: it highlights the common cultural bonds of the
Slavic nations. Such an all-encompassing concept is intentionally used to appeal not only Near
Abroad, which shares historical ties with Russia, but also anyone in the West who has an
interest in Russian culture, regardless of the political standpoint.
The concept was institutionalised in 2007, through the foundation of the “Russkiy Mir Fund.”
The Fund serves as an umbrella institution encompassing many other organisations spread
throughout Europe and whose overall aim is the diffusion of the Russkiy Mir paradigm. These
organisations do so in many different ways, including by promoting Russian language and
culture, disseminating “unbiased” information about the country, creating favourable public
opinion, and so on. The Fund supports them through the provision of grants, but it also has
permanent branches abroad: currently, these are present in 21 EU Member States. The
institutional structure of the branches varies depending on the host country; however, there
are three main structures can be identified. In countries like Austria, Belgium, Italy, Finland,
branches are located within universities and schools as “Russian Centres”; in Greece, they
are independent entities carrying the parent organizations’ name; in the UK they are
incorporated in different other organisations, which serve the goals of the Fund.
Another entity that promotes Russian culture abroad is the Rossostrudnichestvo. Unlike the
Russkiy Mir Fund, the Rossostrudnichestvo is a federal agency that operates according to the
government programmes. It implements projects designed to strengthen international
relations, enhance cooperation in the humanitarian sphere and form a positive image of
Russia abroad. Activities aim to contribute to overcoming cultural barriers, negative
stereotypes and other barriers to the development of international cooperation61.
Geographically agency’s activities are more concentrated in the Near Abroad, however are
not limited to it. Currently in almost all EU member states (26 out of 28) there are
representative offices of Rossostrudnichestvo. They operate as cultural embassies and have
far more rigid structure than the one affiliated with the Russkiy Mir Fund. One of the examples
of the agency’s programmes is holding years of Russia in hosting countries. The current year
60
61

Laruelle, M. (2015)
Rs.gov.ru. (2016)

27

is the year of Russia in Monaco, throughout which numerous cultural events, student
exchanges and other activities took place in the principality.
The affiliated centres of the Russkiy Mir Fund as well as the representative offices of the
Rossostrudnichestvo declare to evolve their actions exclusively around the cultural nexus.
Therefore, degree of politicisation of their activities is a subject to a closer scrutiny. However,
as noted by Peter Duncan and many others, “culture is always political.” Given that both
organisations receive money directly from the Kremlin, they definitely serve political purposes.

Media
The second and currently most evident political instrument of exerting Russian influence in
Europe is the use of international media outlets, such as Russia Today (RT), Sputnik and
Russia Beyond Headlines. Whereas the latter ones are less known to the general public, RT
has definitely gained its prominence over the last few years. As pointed out by Maragarita
Simonyan, chief editor of Russia Today media holding, when the conflict in Georgia unfolded
the Kremlin realised that despite Russia achieved its objectives in military terms, it had lost
the war due to its inability to communicate the Russian perspective to the Western audience62.
Hence, since 2008, RT has been flooded with public money to deliver the Russian standpoint
internationally.
From the moment RT embarked on its mission, it has achieved undeniable results: today it is
broadcasted in 100+ countries, in eight languages. Such success was achieved through a
definite shift in strategy. RTs management realized that airing news about Russia to promote
a positive image, had not brought desirable results because the audience has a very short
attention span when it comes to ‘foreign’ news. Thus, instead of talking about Russian
domestic affairs, RT decided to focus on international audiences’ own countries. “What makes
as special is that the image and the message we show differ from the one you find at the BBC,
Euronews or any other mainstream media- continues chief editor of RT -- We provide an
alternative view”. Indeed, today RT is popular and even appreciated among Europeans for
bringing up issues and voices left out by their mainstream media. Although some may
advocate that bringing plurality to media space ultimately benefits the general public, it is
important to analyse the content provided. As a matter of fact, if one takes a closer look at
RT’s proposition, it becomes difficult to support that it is without bias.
RT does give a platform to those mostly excluded form the forefront discussions and sheds
light on underreported issues. However, the calibre of those that the TV channel highlights is
rather particular and the tone used appears somewhat “toxic.” To name few examples, the
RT-UK gave platform for controversial producer Martin Durkin to crowdfund for the
documentary advocating to leave in the upcoming Brexit vote, as well as the channel invited
various members of UKIP to comment on the most controversial issues surrounding the
campaign. When reporting the refugee crisis, RT repetitiously put together a sequences of
contrasting images picturing welcoming Germans and rioting Hungarians complemented by
comments form various underdog European politicians claiming that the European Union
62

Sobchak: Margarita Simonyan (2013) TV. Rain (Телеканал Дождь). 30 Oct.

28

collapse was underway63. Even while reporting the tragedy of Paris attacks, RT International
infused scepticism bent by connecting the attacks with Western governments’ responsibility
in Syria64. In line with Russia’s domestic media dogma of pronounced anti-Western narratives,
RTs’ input into the European media landscape attempts to compromise the effectiveness of
European institutions and national governments.
As confirmed by Dr. Andrew Foxall of the Henry Jackson Society, since the annexation of
Crimea RT has become increasingly heavy-handed. The channel was accused of propaganda
and false reporting, which exposed it to serious dangers of losing broadcasting license in some
countries. If the European media space is rightfully vulnerable to open propaganda, last years
have shown that Kremlin’s media protagonists are not shun even of the blunt lies. In the midst
of the refugee crisis, Russian state First Channel, which is also broadcasted around Europe
in Russian and is a usual source of information for Russian immerge, aired a news report
about Lisa, 13-year-old girl of Russian-German origin allegedly raped by three immigrants in
Berlin. The news firstly caused massive mobilisation of Russian diaspora followed by the antiMuslim activists and opponents of Merkel’s open door policy who went on the streets
demanding explanations and actions from the German authorities. Despite, in a few days
investigations concluded that the story was false, Russian domestic media and the First
Channel International continued to report the story and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Minister of
Foreign Affairs, even accused Germany of covering up the story. The so-called “Liza Affair”
came out shortly before Germany held State elections and constitutes an evident attempt to
galvanize strength of the Christian Democratic Party and the chancellor herself. This is one of
the prominent examples of how the Kremlin uses its media web to shaken the stand of the

leading European political actors exploiting the most socially sensitive issues.

Religious Influence
The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is a prominent and long-standing actor in
Russia’s social and political spheres and has influenced the country’s domestic and
international affairs. The ROC, together with the Security Service, is the only institution that
has survived the collapse of the Soviet Union. Evidence shows that during the Soviet era the
ROC was subordinate to the decisions of the Communist Party and incorporated KGB officers
into its operations 65. In modern Russia, this link between the State and the ROC has not
disappeared66.
Through its Department of External Church Relations, the ROC develops relations between
local orthodox and non- orthodox Churches, religious communities, and international
organizations, and it works in close cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Kirill, the
Patriarch of Moscow and Russia, regularly receives foreign Ambassadors to Russia and
makes reciprocal visits abroad. These meetings evolve around the line of religious
63

Refugee crisis could lead to EU collapse, Luxembourg FM warns (2015) RT, 9 Nov.
Political author Gearoid O Colmain discusses the Paris attacks with RT International (2015) RT, 14 Nov.
65
Armes (1993)
66
Blitt (2011)
64

29

cooperation, but usually imply for a cooperation that goes beyond the spiritual domain; a
cooperation between the two States.
ROC’s international objectives encompass the promotion and protection of Orthodox values
as well as the defense of believers abroad. Such aims broadly coincide with Kremlin’s latest
doctrine, which emphasises traditional values – overlapping with Orthodox ones – and the
protection of Russian speakers in foreign countries. An example of such close cooperation
between the Church and the State was the historical meeting between Patriarch Kirill and
Pope Francis, which took place in Cuba last February. According to sources close to the
Kremlin, Vladimir Putin asked the Patriarch to meet with the Pope out of the foreign policy
considerations.
Professor Soroka of Harvard University claims that, despite the close cooperation with the
Kremlin, the ROC is an independent actor enjoying a relatively good/decent level of autonomy.
It is very hard to establish the degree of ROC’s dependence on the Kremlin, as their
partnership has many dimensions. The Ukrainian Crisis greatly undermined the synergy
between the two. Being preoccupied for its community in Ukraine and other near abroad
states, the Patriarch refrained from expressing support to the Kremlin’s recent foreign policy
conduct. Thus, it is possible to suggest that rather than being an instrument available in the
government arsenal, the ROC is a rightful partner, which Putin is able to leverage only when
interests coincide.
In Europe, the ROC is present through affiliated churches and religious communities, and its
degree of influence is proportional to the share of the Orthodox population. Thus the ROC
exercises a significant influence in former Eastern Block states, such as Bulgaria, Hungary,
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Currently, given the general paradigm of Russia’s
exceptionalism, ROC’s presence in Europe serves similar objectives to those of Russian state
media. Even before the Crimean debacle, the Russia establishment has started to increasingly
emphasise on Russia’s cultural distinction from Europe and portray Russia a guardian of
traditional values, that take their roots from the Christianity. Discussing the single-sex
marriages, adoption rules, and the other private freedoms the Kremlin referencing the
Orthodox values accuses Europe of downgrading the moral threshold. These narratives can
be appealing to those living in Europe that share similar concerns. Thus, the presence of the
ROC abroad reinforces Kremlin’s claims and serves as a stronghold for Russian immigrants
and other believers who, irrespectively of their political views, find themselves closer to the
traditional values.

Political Influence
Historically, Russia prefers to establish bilateral relations with its counterparts. As in the
aftermath of the Ukrainian crises, the relations between the leading European powers and the
Kremlin have tensed. Thus, Vladimir Putin has made a significant effort to build relations with
Europe’s far-right and opposition parties across the continent. In March 2015, the Russian
Government hosted the first Russian International Conservative Forum and it invited
representatives from many of Europe’s most controversial parties. Among others participants

30

included the European Alliance for Peace and Freedom, EIN ZWEI DREI of Germany, Italy’s
Forza Nuova and many others who share nationalist stands and are saturated with Euroscepticism. After days of discussions fuelled with nationalist statements, aspirations for
traditionalist moral values, and criticism of the official European response to Kremlin’s actions
in Ukraine, the forum concluded with a resolution to work in a close partnership to end the
“Cold War” imposed on Russia and Europe by the United States67.
When it comes to exerting influence on European institutions (i.e. the European Commission),
Russia acts through lobbying. The first time that Russia hired lobbying firms in the US and
Europe was when Mr Putin became president of the G8 in 2006. In Europe, Russia and
Russian state-owned oil companies are represented by one of the most powerful lobbying firm
in Brussels, GPlus, which has many former EU representatives in its ranks. Hired to spread
the Kremlin’s message and foster investments in GazProm, GPlus carries out standard
lobbying practices such as organizing press-conferences, open tables, creating PR-strategies
and liaising with the MEPs. Lobbying efforts succeeded in removing Gazprom form the EU
sanctions list in 2014. However, according to the Corporate Europe Observatory report, such
outcome is not solely a result of GPlus’s work: “Gazprom’s European partners, energy firms
from Italy, France, and Germany, were involved in the lobbying68”.
From the lobbying, the Kremlin has learned how to exploit European practices. A very telling
recent example is the recent referendum held in the Netherlands. In April 2016 the Dutch held
the plebiscite with regards to the Ukraine- European Union Association Agreement. Judging
from the plea of European politicians advocating against the agreement and the arguments
employed by the NO-campaigners there is a strong possibility of the Kremlin’s involvement.
Vasyl Myroshnechenko, founder of the Ukrainian Crisis Media Centre, and the one
responsible for supporting Ukrainian interests in the referendum has pointed to us that he is
sure that the Kremlin has not missed an opportunity to undermine the European political
cohesion and was participating in the funding NO-campaign. Although, this is yet to be
confirmed by further investigations, Kremlin’s ties to the European far-right supports this
assumption.

Strategic assessment
The instruments Kremlin uses to exert Russian cultural influence are strategic in nature
because they have been established long before the current turn in the Russian- European
relations and require long-term investments and infrastructure. These tools, i.e. state-run
cultural centres, are not different from the ones adopted by other countries. Similarly, Germany
has Goethe-Institut around the world, the UK hosts British Councils and France presents itself
with French institutes. The practice of state-run cultural organisations is a truly Western
tradition and the Russian practise does not deviate from it.

67
68

The International Russian Conservative Forum Resolution (2015)
Corporate European Observatory (2015)

31

The picture changes when the political influence comes into the focus. Despite many of the
interviewed experts suggest that Russia does not have a defined strategy of political influence
in Europe, thorough look at the practice shows some distinct features that taken together
account for a strategic practice. First of all, they have a common overarching goal, that will be
further discussed in the following section; and, secondly, they all have one particular similarity
which makes the Russian political influence in Europe enigmatic. Rather than creating own
conduits of influence, the Kremlin exploits ascending opportunities. Through the state-owned
media outlets, the Russian state manipulates the news, tainting the events of European
political agenda. Referring to the classic propaganda methods such as taking quotes out of
context, appeal to prejudice or even disinformation, the Kremlin reinforces possible political
and social dissatisfaction of the European citizens, fuels Euro-scepticism and creates
uncertainties. Similarly, rather than creating new political forces, the Kremlin co-opts the
existing ones, making the partnership appealing by vocalising same conservative values and
converging end goals69.

What are the goals?
It appears that Vladimir Putin has found the way to instrumentalise culture for the purposes of
the foreign and domestic policies. Embedding its narratives in the Russkiy Mir paradigm and
the values of the Orthodox Christianity, the Russian state presents itself as the last guard of
the ‘true European values’, ensuring the massive public support domestically and the
international appeal from those frustrated by the current problems in Europe. Russia’s political
influence in Europe has several trajectories as it attributes to multiple layers of foreign policies
and strategies. On one level, by promoting a different view of the European events through
it’s the state-owned media, the Kremlin attempts to undermine social support and electoral
base of the current European leaders; at the same using the same means the Kremlin wishes
to distract from its own false and tries to create opinion among European public that indeed
Europe suffers from the same illnesses as Russia. Establishing tight relationships, supporting
and giving the platform to speak to the far- right and opposition parties, serves the same goals.
Quite successfully, relying on the Russian support, the nationalist parties are regaining their
popularity in many European countries, changing the agenda and course of actions. Not only
the Kremlin tries to destabilize politics on the national level, it also wishes to ensure that on
the supranational level the relations between Russia and Europe are not hijacked by either
anti-Russian states (Baltic States) or those who have the least common interests with Russia
(the UK).

69

Polyakova (2016)

32

Conclusion: Russia’s influence -- for what goals?
In order to provide an overview of Russia’s power in Europe we identified three domains that
frame the objectives guiding the Kremlin’s policy towards the European Union : developing
economic security through trade and cooperation, securing its borders through military activity,
and developing cultural ties in order to promote Russia’s role as a great power on the world
stage, one that cannot be ignored in a world where international relations are increasingly
characterised by their multi-polarity.
Overall, Russia’s influence in Europe is declining. Precipitated by external shocks in global
energy markets and economic sanctions from the EU the Russian government is faced with a
domestic economic down-turn and an EU more able than ever before to mobilise support to
block Russia’s diplomatic initiatives. The impact of the sanctions has affected Russia’s
economic influence, which has soundly decreased over the past three years, due to both
frozen economic relations and the lack of a cohesive strategy in an energy sector hurt by the
oil price crisis.
The loss of traction in the economic domain is coupled with a growing ineffectiveness of
Russian hard power. Increased NATO involvement and the ambition provided by the EU’s
Common Security and Defence policy to guarantee military support in the Eastern and Nordic
neighbourhood has neutralised Russia’s ability to coerce or intimidate states into providing
strategic support. Unable to increase its influence through economic or military power, Russia
is relying increasingly on soft power to advance its interests, using more unconventional ways,
away from its traditional energy and security strategies, to influence Europe.
Possibly the most important manifestation of unconventional approaches is the national
propaganda campaign launched by the Kremlin in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis, using
the portals provided by social media to ensure a transnational spill-over effect. Using its stateowned TV channels, Russia is penetrating Europe’s media space on a scale that is
unprecedented in an attempt to undermine the credibility of European political leaders from
liberal or centrist parties and to criticise the inefficiency of its decision-making structures. This
reports also highlights the growing evidence that the Russian government is indirectly
financing and supporting anti-establishment parties on both extremes of the political spectrum,
whose moral values and sovereigntist policies coincide with those held by Vladimir Putin’s
United Russia party. By granting support to a selection of parties, either through indirect
funding, invitations to forums or the me positive portrayal in the media, the Kremlin is
attempting to destabilize the European political agenda, in order to find an equilibrium that is
more receptive to its policies. It remains to be seen whether Russia’s attempt to implicate itself
within Europe’s civil society by sublimating an alternative vision of the world will be at all
effective in influencing perceptions of its politics and cultural status. It seems more likely that
Russian influence in Europe will only unfreeze once a more stable economic climate has set
in both at home and abroad.

33

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