16:58 Apr. 15, 2016
Moscow creates a network of advocates and activists to promote its nativist policies under the guise of the ‘Russian World', journalist says
In late February 2014, the Russian Community of Crimea, a pseudo-NGO largely funded by Moscow, appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking officials to prevent a potential "genocide of the Russian people." Shortly after, reports of looming ethnic cleansing in the Ukrainian peninsula dominated the Russian airwaves.
A few days later so-called "little green men" in Russian military uniforms took control of airports. On March 1, 2014, the Russian parliament authorized sending its troops into Ukrainian territory. By March 18, the annexation of Crimea was complete.
This is how Crimea was taken without a shot — and Chatham House, a London-based think tank, sees Moscow's conquest of the Ukrainian territory as a textbook example of Moscow's evolving strategy of blending military force with grassroots advocacy by ostensibly independent groups that are actually in the pocket of the Kremlin. The organization maps Moscow's new approach in a new report.
"Their purpose is to project Russian ‘soft power' abroad and help turn the hearts and minds of citizens in neighbouring countries towards accepting Russia's supremacy," said the report.
The report's author, Orysia Lutsevych, told that Moscow is increasingly using state-controlled media organizations and pseudo-activists working for the Kremlin to create friction and stir up conflict in neighboring countries to justify increased Russian involvement in the nation's internal affairs.
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"Russia wants to have its sphere of influence, and one way or another it will find a way to attain it," Lutsevych said. "What the Kremlin is doing is less using soft power and more using soft coercion."
Using civil society groups to advocate a country's foreign policy wasn't a tool invented by Russia, but it is increasingly integral to Russian foreign policy. The United States funds democratic civil society groups around the world and China invests heavily into Confucius Institutes, which promote Chinese language and culture. But Russia, says Lutsevych, has taken the concept to a new level.
"The goal isn't to look at the local agenda and see where the Russian experience can fill a void. It's simply to promote the Kremlin's agenda and amplify it," Orysia Lutsevych said.
The origins of this emphasis on controlling information and using proxy groups to change public perceptions began in the chaotic aftermath of the color revolutions in former Soviet countries: the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia, the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and the 2005 Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan.
These events were widely viewed by the Kremlin as being fomented by American NGOs and exaggerated by U.S. media companies working at the behest of Washington.