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.
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: