How the Russian proxy groups are managed


In 2016, Chatham House published a study entitled „Agents of the Russian World – Proxy Groups in the Contested Neighbourhood“, which thoroughly analyzes and describes the emergence and development of Russia’s influencing enlargement strategy in the world, outlining both the size of the plan’s funding and the distribution principles as well as the objectives set in various areas.

The study provides a good background for Propastop’s series on individuals that are operating in Estonia and are involved with Russia, representing the Kremlin’s interests. It shows through which channels they are managed and compensated for their efforts in increasing Russia’s influence in Estonia.

The study highlights the beginning of the Russian modern concept of influence activities as foreign policy signed by the Russian President in 2013, which formulated for the first time the role of compatriots living in foreign countries on the foreign policy of Russia as well as the need to increase the use of soft power. With this document, the Russian Foreign ministry was given a power of attorney for activities, whose realization we are seeing as well in Estonia.

Based on the concept of soft power distribution, a whole set of tools, rhetoric and goals are formed, allowing funding to organizations that clearly promote the Kremlin’s narratives and goals in designated countries.

According to the survey, there are six funds in the system, of which three are in Estonia: Rossotrudnitšestvo, Russki Mir as well as the Russian compatriots support and Rights Protection Fund.

The study clearly outlines the main areas of Russian soft power and their basic rhetoric. The first and most important area of soft power is the Russian speaking communities in different countries. This area is dedicated to promoting the Russian language and culture in other countries, reaching out, for example through the Pushkin Institute or the International Association of Teachers of the Russian language. For example, the Russian Compatriot Support and Rights Protection Fund supports this sector with one of the coordinators being the Russian Institute of Compatriots.

The second largest sector is history, which tries to capture and increase the influence of Russia on the former Republics of the Soviet Union and to prove the magnitude of Russia’s influence internally in the nation.

The use of history plays an important role in guiding the image of Russia, often based on an idealistic history of the Second World War in mobilizing the loyalty of the Russian speaking population, maintaining order and combating national apathy.

The re-writing of historical events, according to their vision is central to, for example the Baltic nations, where the constant theme is the accusation of fascism and the revival of Nazism.

Grants in this area move through, for example the World without Nazism, the Historical Perspective Foundation, the Democracy and Cooperation Institute etc. The first fund has also reached Estonia.

As a separate block, the study describes the development of Eurasian cooperation with the aim of undermining the independence and development of the former republics of the Soviet Union in the region.

As one of the target groups of influence activities which is specifically addressed by Russia, the study outlines young people from the countries of the former Soviet Union, among which attempts are made to consolidate pro-Kremlin understandings and promote anti-Western feelings. For this purpose, Russian funded camps are organized, international joint events and projects aimed at Russian speaking young people are also organized. The Pushkin Institute in Estonia, which is closely linked to the Russki Mir foundation, organized two such camps.

One of the major areas of Russian influence activities is the dissemination and support of the Russian Orthodox faith in the world. Through this, compatriots and believers of the Russian Orthodox faith are united globally, among whom attempts are made to spread and strengthen the ideas of a central Russian world, an opposition to the European Union and NATO and the acceleration of the moral decline of the Western world. A number of Russian companies through the Russki Mir Foundation support the development of this area in the world. Konstantin Malofeejev and an individual familiar to Estonian readers, the former head of the Russian railways, Vladimir Jakunin are brought out separately in the report as big supporters on this topic.

The last large block in the study describes the distribution of Russia’s understanding of human rights, democracy and elections. This block appears to a significant extent in Estonia as it highlights how a far from democratic Russia intervenes vigorously and loudly in the Western world’s democracies, accusing European countries of discrimination and human rights violations. The accusers are Russian compatriot human rights activists, NGO’s and „rapporteurs“ living in these countries. For example, the study shows that Russia finances through the Russian compatriot and rights protection fund, dozens of reports of offences committed by targeted countries every year as well as the fund supporting them becoming „ experts in opinions“  for international umbrella organizations.

Understanding the fields of activity and promoted narratives in the study and the goals pursued is crucial for the survival of each independent state, as Russia seeks to influence the integrity, independence and reputation in the international community through various proxy groups. The marking of such groups and the disclosure of their activities will help stop or reduce the achievement of Russia’s goals. In Estonia the Security Police Board, KAPO has done remarkable work in this area, revealing the existence of such networks in Estonia.

You can read more about networks and their activities in the previous postings of Propastop and definitely it is worth your while to pay attention to the latest anti-Estonian activities of one of these networks in international organizations.

Photo: Thomas Berg/Flickr/CC