Russia has mounted a campaign of covert economic and political measures to manipulate five countries in central and eastern Europe, discredit the West’s liberal democratic model, and undermine trans-Atlantic ties, Reuters reports, citing research by a private U.S. research group, released today:
The report said Moscow had co-opted sympathetic politicians, strived to dominate energy markets and other economic sectors, and undermined anti-corruption measures in an attempt to gain sway over governments in Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Serbia, and Slovakia.
“In certain countries, Russian influence has become so pervasive and endemic that it has challenged national stability as well as a country’s Western orientation and Euro-Atlantic stability,” said the report of a 16-month study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and the Sofia, Bulgaria-based Center for the Study of Democracy.
“The Russians have been engaged in a sustained campaign to recapture what Putin considers their rightful buffer in Eastern Europe, and to undermine not just NATO and the EU, but the entire democratic foundation of both institutions,” said a U.S. official who has studied Russian behavior since before the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
Russia has cultivated an opaque web of economic and political patronage across Central and Eastern Europe that the Kremlin uses to influence and direct decision-making, and to erode democratic institutions, says the report, The Kremlin Playbook: Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe written by Heather A. Conley, Director of the CSIS Europe Program, James Mina, Former CSIS Europe Program Research Associate, Ruslan Stefanov, Director at the Center for the Study of Democracy, and Martin Vladimirov, an analyst at Center for the Study of Democracy.
The report describes the nature of Russian influence as a web resembling “a network-flow model—or ‘unvirtuous circle’—which the Kremlin can use to influence (if not control) critical state institutions, bodies, and economies, as well as shape national policies and decisions that serve its interests while actively discrediting the Western liberal democratic system.”
“The United States can no longer be indifferent to these negative developments, as all members of NATO and the European Union must collectively recognize that Russian influence is not just a domestic governance challenge but a national security threat,” the study concludes.