Russia doubles down on disruption in the wider region
Moldova and Georgia are just the latest examples of Kremlin overreach
As Russian losses in Ukraine mount, Vladimir Putin continues to be a disruptive force in Europe’s periphery.
Moldova is merely the latest example. On Sunday Moldovan police announced that they had foiled a plot in which “diversionists”, some of them Russian, had been found accepting up to $10,000 to organise “mass disorder” during demonstrations against the incumbent administration of pro-Western, pro-EU President Maia Sandu.
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This follows warnings in recent weeks — by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby and Sandu herself — of Russian plans to deploy agents to organise protests and mount an insurrection against the government, eventually leading to the installation of a pro-Moscow regime.
Russia’s influence has also been felt in Georgia. Last week, protests rocked Tbilisi as citizens took to the streets demanding the withdrawal of a bill which was, according to President Salome Zourabichvili “dictated by Moscow”. Intended to force organisations receiving over 20% of their funding from abroad to register as ‘foreign agents’, the now-withdrawn bill imitated a Russian law of 2012. The ruling Georgian Dream party, which introduced the bill, remains unofficially under the influence of its founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire who made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s and who has been considered for EU sanctions due to his closeness with the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, in November, Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic complained of “Russian proxies in our government”. Bosnian Serb leader and Republika Sprska President Milorad Dodik has close personal ties with Putin, and earlier this year awarded the Russian President a medal of honour. Dodik has long engaged in secessionist processes, including a 2021 attempt to separate the state tax authority, judiciary and armed forces for Serbs, risking the inflammation of ethnic tensions between Croats, Bosnians and Serbs. US intelligence claims he has enjoyed Moscow’s financial backing and, even during the Ukraine war, Putin has made time to receive Dodik in Moscow and offer him electoral support.
While a pro-Russia regime in the neighbourhood is always advantageous to the Kremlin, the question remains as to why Moscow is expending such efforts now when its forces are occupied in Ukraine. In fact, the invasion has given Russia fresh impetus to seek the destabilisation of its near abroad.
Anti-Russian and anti-war sentiment unleashed among citizens in the region mean Moscow can no longer rely on soft power to project influence in its backyard. Flexing its muscle in its near neighbourhood allows Moscow to distract from its losses in Ukraine, and the US Treasury suggests that, as Russia’s war in Ukraine has faltered, it has engaged in “increasingly desperate measures to prevent further erosion of its influence”.
Meanwhile, as European leaders scramble to join alliances after seeing what can happen to an isolated country, Russia has greater reason to install anti-EU leaders or provoke conflicts impeding EU membership. The granting of EU candidacy status to Moldova in June has likely spurred Putin to pursue regime change quickly, while post-invasion Russian disinformation in Serbia has discouraged the country from EU membership. Putin and Dodik share a common goal of preventing Bosnia gaining NATO and EU membership, according to the New York Times, while the now-withdrawn Russian-style law on foreign agents would have proven an impediment to the EU accession process of Georgia, which applied for membership in March 2022.
As Russia has struggled in Ukraine, it has sought greater influence over its neighbours to resolve practical issues and so bolster its efforts in the war. Serbia was outraged by Russia’s Wagner mercenary group recruiting in the country. Meanwhile, Zelenskyy attributed Russia’s plan to overthrow the Moldovan government to its desire to control Chisinau’s airport, which would then allow for the transport of forces and equipment to the pro-Russian separatist region of Transnistria before opening a new front into south-western Ukraine.
In an infamous 2015 speech to the UN General Assembly, Putin rallied against the turmoil wrought by the West’s interventions abroad, demanding: “Do you realise what you’ve done?” The question is now one for Russia to answer, as it exports instability beyond its borders.
Isn’t it interesting how articles such as this one will present the same behaviour (say, paying the government/opposition of a given country millions or supporting a minority rebel group) as nefarious when it’s the Russians and totally legit when it’s the West?
I take no issue with Moldova or Georgia wanting to join the EU (why wouldn’t they, all things considered), but the double standards on display are shocking.
The other article on Moldova released today is even worse and doesn’t even attempt any kind of objectivity or impartiality – citing the NYT and Washington Post as credible sources on foreign policy matters should raise some flags for most readers (as they are “reporting US/Ukrainian intel” – i.e. spoon feeding us lies).
Can we please have more journalism and less propaganda/fearmongering on Unherd?
What double standards? Where in the article did it say it would be ok for western nations to partake in this type of disruptive behaviour?
Indeed, the article doesn’t say that, even though western nations do all the same things. But western influence operations (coups) get a nice little bow tie – some positive framing and weasel words – to make them seem somehow more legitimate and superior to someone like the Chinese or Russians influencing a given country/government.
An example: Belt and Road gets called “Debt trap diplomacy”, while IMF loans are presented as some kind of gesture of goodwill, when they are really there to strip mine and privatize the national assets of the recipients.
I’m not saying one is better than the other, I just like to point out the (ever present) hypocrisy on display.
It’s not hypocrisy, it’s just a belated recognition that the West needs to act in its own interests, rather than pursue a virtuous harmony in international relations that doesn’t exist. It’s very simple: if we don’t fight – and fight dirty – for our way of life, our children will find themselves living in a world that’s defined by Chinese, Iranian or Russian mores.
(I can’t predict which of those three will come to dominate western European life but one of them will.)
You know, if that’s what was being argued, I could at least respect that, but what is actually (primarily, even overwhelmingly) happening is moral grandstanding about “human rights and international norms”.
The problem with this is that no one believes the West when they spout this nonsense (which is why no one but American vassal states pretend to believe it), aside from a majority of western citizens – whom I believe this is actually aimed at by the people who (privately) believe what you wrote (some of them at least, I’m sure plenty are a lot more cynical).
As a second point, Russia is not a existential threat to the West and it’s ridiculous to pretend otherwise – if Ukraine has shown us anything, it’s that Russia’s military power has been overestimated and anyone telling you they’ll overrun Europe tomorrow after Ukraine is either stupid or lying. Yes the EU has been riding on American coattails in military spending, but it’s richer, more populous (with East Europe particularly motivated when it comes to fighting Russia) and most importantly, guaranteed by the Americans (NATO),
Third, I think this war is great for the US and disastrous for everyone else, particularly Europe (both Eu and non Eu). EU policy does not have to be subservient to American empire, but alas, any chance of autonomy and self reliance seem infinitesimal at this point. Europe doesn’t have to be at war with Russia and there is no endgame here but further American dependence and (possibly) the desire to use this situation for further EU federalization – first it was collective vaccine procurement, now ammunition and who knows what tomorrow.
Sorry, you’re thinking the way Putin wants you to think.
You’re assuming Ukraine wins this war, and that Russia loses and never attacks again. Something we can hope for, but not a given.
If Putin remains in power, he will simply call a truce, rebuild his forces, and then wait until he can try again.
If Ukraine isn’t rebuilt by then, to include its military, the war will just continue, and russia may well win.
Putin is laboring under his reading of past Russian history, where places like Ukraine, the Baltics and the Caucasus were won only after decades and centuries of conflict–and many Russian defeats.
You’re simply seeing things through a 19th anti-democratic lens, a la Mearsheimer: only Great Powers should have agency, not people in smaller nations. So any change of govt not sanctioned by a Great Power is a “coup.”
Factually, the “coup” in Kyiv occurred because Yanukovich fled, after his police shot and killed over one hundred demonstrators. He feared, rightly, that he would be put on trial for the killings.
Only then did the Rada choose a new govt. Since then elections have been held. Indeed, the fact that Zelensky, a peace candidate, won over Poroshenko suggests Ukraine is a functioning democratic state, with wide support.
That’s not a “coup.” It’s the fall of a corrupt govt, that was then replaced by a less corrupt, more democratic one.
When people see things that aren’t really there, it just shows how close we are to the delusions of the 17th C that brought on the various wars of religion.
Btw, here is my response to your call for evidence of UK meddling (with regards to the peace deal early in the war) from yesterday (the Bot wasn’t fond of my post in the other article for whatever reason):
I suspect not even a transcript, video and forensic evidence from the conversation between BoJo and Zelenskyy would suffice as evidence, but in the interest of open debate I provide you with a quote from a responsible statecraft article which talks about an existing (but tentative) agreement between both sides, with no less a source than Fiona Hill, that was (in all likelihood) torpedoed by Boris.
Here’s a quote regarding negotiations in April:
“Russian and Ukrainian negotiators appeared to have tentatively agreed on the outlines of a negotiated interim settlement,” wrote Fiona Hill and Angela Stent. “Russia would withdraw to its position on February 23, when it controlled part of the Donbas region and all of Crimea, and in exchange, Ukraine would promise not to seek NATO membership and instead receive security guarantees from a number of countries.”
So, will you now tell me how this would have been worse than the current situation considering the dead, the destruction, the brain drain and the lost swathes of land (in addition to adverse global effects for basically everyone except the US and perhaps China)?
Or will you impugn the source?
Either way, it’ll still get worse before it gets better and that deal strikes me as superior to almost anything the Ukrainians can hope for at this point.
Where does it say that the UK or US barred Ukraine from agreeing to that? Also it’s common knowledge that just after the beginning of the conflict Zelensky publicly offered the Ukrainians not joining NATO to Russia in exchange for Putin pulling his forces back, yet this public offer was ignored and the troops carried on marching forward anyway. If Putin can ignore a televised offer matching the deal you described why would I believe that he’d already agreed to the exact same deal beforehand?
Putin also publicly stated on a State visit to the UK in the dying days of the Blair premiership that he didn’t have a problem with NATO expansion, and that it was up to Ukraine as a sovereign nation to decide which alliances and blocs it joins, yet fast forward to the start of the war and he dismisses Ukraine as not a real nation. Personally I believe nothing that comes from the Kremlin, simply because they’ve been found to be lying time and again
Ahh yes, the gentleman would like the transcript, video and forensic evidence after all!
Though I imagine you’d call even that into question as part of some evil Russian plot…
Care to provide some evidence it was the Russians who let the deal fall through? Far as I can tell, you’re talking about the same deal the article is, which seems to have still been negotiated, just as BoJo turned up – after which the Ukrainians just happened to break off negotiations.
With regards to NATO – Putin himself wanted to join, he proposed this to Clinton & Bush and was turned down by both. I think that made it pretty clear to him what NATO is for.
And finally, I’m not at all surprised by your comment about Russian trustworthiness (it isn’t necessarily an unfair statement as far as it goes), but it applies just as much (if not more so) to the US and UK, so you don’t really have a leg to stand on there. Then again, warmongering seems to be the one thing that is guaranteed to happen when the US/UK establishment gets together and yet somehow you people fall in line every time – which would be funny (considering the “anti-establishment” sentiments so many proxy war supporters share – especially towards “big government”) if it weren’t a tragedy.
The New York Slimes and the Washington Compost are not legitimate ‘newspapers’. They’re both worthless rags that exist as megaphones for the wealthy owners, to spew their vile viewpoints down to us, the plebians and lowly citizens. If it’s in either of these papers, 9/10 times it ISN’T at all true, 1/10 times it’s got a core of truth.
Moldova’s only a country in the first place due to repeated Soviet and Russian interference. They speak Romanian. They are Romanian. Plus some ex-Soviet colonists still desperately trying to cling on to an empire they can no longer afford.
Just as with North and South Korea, we have a direct side-by-side comparison of what you get by aligning with the West (Romania) and what happens when you’re still stuck outside (Moldova). The gap is nowhere near as wide as between the two Koreas, but it’s very clear. The Moldovans deserve better and should be free to choose a better future.
I really donot know how you can be so dismissive about Russia’s sphere of influence in its immediate vicinity while appearing to be extremely accepting of the United States being a global interventionist.
Putin will be remembered as the author of the Russia Empire’s destruction. As the war continues, Russia’s loss of its near abroad will increase.
That doesn’t mean he has lost Ukraine. He will continue to try and destroy it as long as he is in power, and Russia remains under his control.
But he will never be able to remake Russia into what it was in 2021.
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