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Chatham House | 14Apr2016 | Orysia Lutsevych

Agents of the Russian World

Proxy Groups in the Contested Neighbourhood

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Summary 2
Introduction 3
Soft Power the Russian Way 4
NGOs as Agents of Political Unrest 6
The Russian World: a Flexible Tool 8
Key Agents of the Russian World 10
Key Routes of Influence 14
The Ukraine Gambit 32
Assessing the Impact of Russia’s Proxy Groups 36
Conclusions 40
About the Author 42
Acknowledgments 43


• Anxious about losing ground to Western influence in the post-Soviet space and the ousting of
many pro-Russia elites by popular electoral uprisings, the Kremlin has developed a wide range
of proxy groups in support of its foreign policy objectives.

• This network of pro-Kremlin groups promotes the Russian World (Russkiy Mir), a flexible tool
that justifies increasing Russian actions in the post-Soviet space and beyond. Russian groups are
particularly active in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova -- countries that have declared their
intention to integrate with the West.

• Russia employs a vocabulary of ‘soft power’ to disguise its ‘soft coercion’ efforts aimed at
retaining regional supremacy. Russian pseudo-NGOs undermine the social cohesion of
neighbouring states through the consolidation of pro-Russian forces and ethno-geopolitics; the
denigration of national identities; and the promotion of anti-US, conservative Orthodox and
Eurasianist values. They can also establish alternative discourses to confuse decision-making
where it is required, and act as destabilizing forces by uniting paramilitary groups and spreading
aggressive propaganda.

• The activities of these proxy groups -- combined with the extensive Russian state administrative
resources and security apparatus, as well as the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, pro-
Russian elites, mass culture and the media -- could seriously damage political transitions and
civil societies in the region. Events in Crimea and Donbas have exposed the supportive role of
Russian non-state actors in fomenting conflict.

• In the medium term, the contest for the ‘hearts and minds’ of citizens will persist, with the scale
and outreach of anti-Western groups continuing to testify to the presence of active networks of
genuine believers within this new Russian World. However, greater transparency and deeper
engagement with citizens as part of independent civil society organizations could bridge
opposing views and help counter the challenge of artificial divisions nurtured by the Kremlin-funded
non-state actors.

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