The Return of Global
Russia

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:

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