The Return of Global

For much of the post–Cold War era, Russia’s ability to project its influence on a global scale was constrained by internal challenges and limited resources. But since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in 2012, Moscow has engaged in a broad campaign to expand its international reach.

Putin has launched a Russian-style charm offensive in far-flung locales where the Kremlin’s influence had been all but written off. Russia’s presence is increasingly visible throughout the Middle East and in parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. At the same time, Moscow has found numerous openings and is busily exploiting divisions within Western societies.

Russia’s agenda is straightforward: to assert its influence at the expense of Washington and the rules-based international system. The Kremlin’s toolkit includes: leveraging economic and business ties, exerting political influence, harnessing the information space, and forging or deepening military ties with key countries. Where the United States and its allies have pulled back or failed to deliver, Russia has eagerly stepped in.

When people think about Russia’s disruptive foreign policy agenda, they tend to focus on only a few recent cases.
Intervening inSyria
Invading Ukraine
Interfering in Elections
But Russia is actually casting a far broader net that is having an increasingly global impact.
Building a global state-sponsored propaganda apparatus
Propping up the Venezuelan government
Exploiting political divisions in Europe through social media and other tools
Leveraging information operations to influence Mexico’s 2018 presidential elections
Embracing populist and far right movements in Europe
Using major arms sales to undermine key U.S. alliance relationships
Fueling high-level corruption in South Africa
Stoking ethnic tensions and instability in the Balkans
Russia’s more assertive foreign policy is making the Kremlin an important player in an expanding array of countries and regions.

New Toolbox
Old Tools

Since Russia’s economy recovered from its post–Cold War collapse, its foreign policy and security apparatus has commanded ever greater resources. The resulting toolkit that the Kremlin employs was first honed and perfected in Russia’s immediate neighborhood.

Moscow’s global toolkit can be broken down into four broad sets of overlapping tools:

Levers of Economic Influence

Moscow has employed economic tools such as preferential trade arrangements, discounts on oil and gas exports, debt relief, and financial bailouts to increase its global influence. All three components of the Russian energy sector (oil, gas, and nuclear power) often play leading roles in Russian diplomatic and commercial outreach. Links between government entities and criminal/corrupt activities are a standard feature of such efforts.

The Case of Venezuela

The Kremlin is now a key player in the dramatic events unfolding in Venezuela. Amid an increasingly desperate economic and humanitarian situation and sharpening tensions between Caracas and Washington, Moscow is helping prop up the beleaguered government of President Nicolás Maduro. In exchange, Russia is acquiring valuable assets at knockdown prices.

Russia’s close ties to Venezuela date back to early in Putin’s tenure but have been recently energized by a wave of U.S. sanctions against the Maduro regime and threats by President Donald Trump to intervene militarily in Venezuela.
State-controlled Russian oil giant Rosneft has invested heavily in Venezuela’s oil and gas sector.
Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA’s former president Rafael Ramírez (center) with Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin (second from right)
Billions of dollars in Russian advance payments for deliveries of Venezuelan crude have helped Maduro hold on to power.
Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin (left) with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (right)
Russian financial support is critical as Venezuela copes with the effects of a chaotic default, hyperinflation, and economic collapse.
Russian debt relief and large shipments of wheat have helped the Maduro regime contend with chronic food shortages.
Graffiti in Caracas reading “We are hungry” and “Maduro dictator”
In November 2017, the Russian government agreed to restructure approximately $3 billion in loans to help ease Caracas’s debt burden.

Russia’s activities in Venezuela are just one example of how Moscow is leveraging its economic power to expand its influence in the Western Hemisphere. Rosneft’s growing role in Venezuela’s energy sector illustrates how Russian political and business leaders often blend commercial opportunities with important foreign policy objectives.

Select Russian energy deals around the world


Rosneft has stakes in five major oil projects and purchased two new offshore gas blocks in 2017. Venezuela owes Rosneft $6 billion.

Source: Bloomberg

South Africa

Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned atomic energy firm, signed an agreement in 2014 to build nuclear reactors worth $76 billion in South Africa.

Source: Newsweek


Rosatom began construction on the $20 billion Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in 2017.

Source: Akkuyu Nükleer

Iraqi Kurdistan

Rosneft provided more than $4 billion in loans and investments to the Kurdish oil and gas sectors from 2016 to 2017.

Source: Reuters


Rosneft purchased Indian refiner Essar Oil in 2017 for $12.9 billion.

Source: Economist

Levers of Political Influence

Russia has long taken advantage of corrupt networks across Europe and Eurasia to reward businesses close to the Kremlin and build leverage with local political leaders. Moscow routinely promotes the interests of Russia-friendly politicians, bureaucrats, and business figures in neighboring states and uses Soviet-era ties with intelligence and military officials to further Russian political goals.

The Case of Hungary

Hungary’s slide into illiberalism under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has stoked tensions between Budapest and the European Union (EU). Hungary’s estrangement from the European mainstream has created opportunities for Russia to expand its economic and political influence in the country.

Orbán’s ruling Fidesz Party has done a 180-degree turn and become increasingly friendly toward Russia. Meanwhile, the far right Jobbik Party has allegedly received Russian financing.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin (right)
Both Fidesz and Jobbik have expressed strong opposition to EU sanctions against Russia.
The parliament building in Budapest
“Non-economic problems cannot be solved with economic means . . . Everyone stands to lose from such solutions.”
Prime Minister Orbán on Western sanctions against Russia
Warming relations between Hungary and Russia are reinforced by cozy energy and economic dealings. Well-connected Russian firms like Gazprom have amassed considerable influence in Budapest over the past two decades. Hungary relies on Russian state-owned companies to fuel its nuclear power plants, which generate almost half of the country’s electricity.
In 2014, Hungary awarded Rosatom a $14 billion project to upgrade and modernize the Paks II Nuclear Power Plant, without opening the project for competitive bidding.
Greenpeace protests Paks II on the Hungarian Parliament’s office building in Budapest
Russian intelligence and security service operations reportedly have also increased in Hungary in recent years. In December 2017, Hungarian prosecutors charged Jobbik Party politician and Hungarian member of the European Parliament Bela Kovacs with spying on the EU for Russia.
Russian military intelligence reportedly cultivated the Hungarian National Front (MNA), a far-right militant group that actively sought to secure funding from Moscow. According to Hungary’s National Security Committee, MNA members conducted military-style training with Russian Foreign Military Intelligence (GRU) officers working in Hungary under diplomatic cover.
Hungarian National Front members march with the MNA flag in Budapest in February 2014

The Orbán government’s business dealings with Moscow have exacerbated frictions with the EU and key European countries such as Germany and France. Russian intelligence and security service operations in Hungary have also caused concern among its EU and NATO partners. Orbán is an important standard-bearer for anti-EU populist sentiment in Europe. His pro-Russian, anti-EU stance does face some resistance at home, however, as most Hungarians hold a positive view of the EU.

Information Space

The Kremlin frequently exploits new opportunities in the digital domain to promote narratives conducive to Russian interests and to undermine liberal Western governments. Moscow pushes these narratives via a variety of platforms, including traditional and social media; educational, cultural, and entertainment programs; and cyber-enabled information operations. In countries with Russian-speaking populations, Moscow-backed Russian-language media, including pop culture and entertainment programming, are powerful tools.

Information Operations:
The Cases of Germany, the UK, and Spain

Throughout Europe, Moscow is using social media, state-controlled news outlets, and cyber operations to disrupt decisionmaking and promote societal divisions.

In Germany, Russian information operations have exploited internal tensions over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies and supported the radical nationalist Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party and far-left Die Linke party.
AfD supporters protest German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies
The most infamous episode of Russian disinformation involved a false story in early 2016 about an ethnically Russian, thirteen-year-old German girl abducted by migrants.
The story spread quickly by way of Russian state-controlled media outlets (RT and Sputnik), social media, and even Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
UK lawmakers are conducting an ongoing investigation into whether the Kremlin sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum.
British Prime Minister Theresa May in November 2017 publicly accused Russia of “weaponizing information” and interfering in various Western election campaigns.
Spain’s foreign and defense ministers accused Russian state and private groups of trying to bolster support for the Catalonian referendum. These groups were reportedly aided by teams operating in Venezuela.

Moscow repeatedly has used new technologies and information as key elements of its foreign policy arsenal. These efforts have played on preexisting tensions and the vulnerability of open societies to foreign manipulation in an era of popular anger, fake news, and widespread dependence on social media.

Russia’s Growing State-Sponsored Propaganda Apparatus


RT International TV is established

24/7 news channel providing a “Russian viewpoint on major global events”


Russia Beyond the Headlines is established

Produced by Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Kremlin’s paper of record, with content in thirteen languages

RT Arabic TV is established

24/7 news channel in Arabic broadcasting from Moscow

RT’s first YouTube channel is launched


RT Arabic YouTube channel is launched


RT en Español TV is established

24/7 Spanish-language news channel broadcasting from Moscow with correspondents in Buenos Aires, Caracas, Havana, Madrid, Mexico City, Miami, and Washington, DC

RT begins broadcasting in Canada

RT en Español YouTube channel is launched


RT America TV is established

24/7 news channel broadcasting from Washington, DC

RT America YouTube channel is launched

Russia Today is rebranded as RT and begins “Question More” advertising campaign in the United States and UK


RT in Russian YouTube channel is launched


RUPTLY is established

RT-affiliated video news agency based in Berlin

Rossiya Segodnya is established by Kremlin decree

Led by pro-Kremlin media personality Dmitry Kiselyov, the state-run media conglomerate united RIA Novosti and Voice of Russia radio to increase Russia’s global media presence


Sputnik News replaces RIA Novosti

Sputnik News replaces RIA Novosti as Russia’s international news agency with content in over thirty languages (including Abkhaz, Arabic, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Belarusian, Chinese, Czech, Dari, English, Estonian, French, Georgian, German, Italian, Japanese, Kazakh, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Latvian, Lithuanian, Moldovan, Ossetian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Serbian, Spanish, Tajik, Turkish, Uzbek, and Vietnamese)

RT UK TV is established

24/7 news channel broadcasting from London

RT Deutsch is established

RT’s German-language online platform

RT France, RT UK, and RT Deutsch YouTube channels are launched


RT en Français is established

RT’s French-language online platform

RT Chinese YouTube channel is launched


RT France TV is established

24/7 news channel broadcasting from Paris


RT Deutsch TV to be established

News channel planned as early as 2018

Military and Security Ties

Russia has taken advantage of instability throughout the Middle East and U.S. retrenchment to rebuild ties with governments and regimes across the region. These efforts include: arms sales, military training and cooperation, and technology transfers.

The Cases of Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia

Moscow has capitalized on vacuums created by U.S. policy mistakes in the Middle East and Washington’s retreat from global leadership. Russia has expanded military relationships with a variety of counterparts in the region.

Russia’s decisive military intervention in Syria, beginning in September 2015, has spurred a dramatic series of diplomatic openings with other Middle Eastern states.
Amid an increasingly chaotic situation in Libya, the Kremlin is building a partnership with strongman General Khalifa Haftar and cultivating ties with other competing groups.
A pro-Kremlin youth group demands, “NATO, stop destroying Libya!”
In January 2017, General Haftar visited the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov off the Libyan coast, a public show of Moscow’s support.
Moscow has reportedly sent special forces to Egypt near Libya’s border and provided various types of support to Haftar’s forces.
Libya’s General Haftar leaving the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
In Egypt, the Kremlin has courted President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and reportedly has reached a deal on access to Egyptian airspace and airfields.
A billboard in Cairo of Presidents Putin (left) and Sisi (right)
In October 2017, during King Salman’s historic visit to Moscow—the first by a sitting Saudi monarch to Russia—Riyadh agreed to purchase an S-400 air defense system and other weapons.
A Russian S-400 system
Saudi Arabia and Russia signed various documents on energy, trade, and defense cooperation. The two countries agreed on a $3 billion arms deal and several billion dollars in joint investment projects.

Russia’s military power is most visible in the Middle East, where it has established its ability to deploy an expeditionary force and serve as a party to conflict resolution efforts. As the world’s second largest arms exporter, Russia has aggressively pursued weapons sales around the world for financial gain and to project its political, economic, and military clout.

Arms sales around the world


Order 24 Mi-171Sh military transport helicopters

Status Deliveries completed (2015)



Order Equipment including Pechora-2M, S-300, and Buk-M2EK anti-aircraft complexes; Igla-S missile systems; BTR-80A armored personnel carriers, T-72 tanks; and Smerch and Grad rocket launchers

Status Deliveries completed (2017)



Order 14 Su-30 fighter jets

Status Deliveries started (2017)



Order 12 Mi-35M attack helicopters

Status Deliveries started (2017)



Order 4 S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems

Status Contract signed (2017)



Order Several hundred tanks, including a first batch of 73 T-90 tanks

Status Deliveries started (2017)



Order 64 T-90 tanks

Status Deliveries started (2017)



Order 11 Su-35 fighter jets

StatusContract signed (2018)


From 2012 to 2016, Russia delivered arms to fifty countries. Russia is the world’s second largest arms exporter with a 23 percent market share, behind just the United States (33 percent).

Russia has excelled at inserting itself into complex situations and making sure its interests are protected.
Russia’s global forays do not face significant economic constraints, given Moscow’s frequent reliance on low-cost methods to project power and influence.
The Kremlin has a knack for seizing opportunities and exploiting other actors’ weaknesses to further its aims. Russia’s toolkit, especially its exploitation of information and propaganda tools, will continue to evolve and embrace new and emerging technologies.
Going forward, Putin’s more assertive foreign policy will be a factor—and potentially a spoiler—for Western policymakers in a growing number of regions.

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Research on Global Russia

Global Russia Project Team Core Members

  • Visiting Scholar
    Russia and Eurasia Program
    Julia Gurganus is a visiting scholar with the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research focus is on trends in Russian foreign policy and Russia-U.S. relations.
  • Director and Senior Fellow
    Russia and Eurasia Program
    Rumer, a former national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the U.S. National Intelligence Council, is a senior fellow and the director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program.
  • Nonresident Senior Fellow
    Russia and Eurasia Program
    Richard Sokolsky is a nonresident senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program. His work focuses on U.S. policy toward Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.
  • Senior Fellow
    Russia and Eurasia Program
    Paul Stronski is a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, where his research focuses on the relationship between Russia and neighboring countries in Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
  • James Family Chair
    Vice President for Studies
    Weiss is the James Family Chair and vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, where he oversees research in Washington and Moscow on Russia and Eurasia.
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