Russia’s external influence is substantial and extends through most facets of society, including culture, religion, media and information, business, and politics. Russia uses hybrid methods of influence, including white, grey, and black influence operations around the world. Russia’s narrative is not limited to one mode of transmission—Russia uses most if not all aspects of civil society and public life to craft influence campaigns aimed at winning hearts and minds across Europe and elsewhere.

 Russian influence in Europe can be divided into four broad categories: culture and society, media, business, and politics. Each supports and strengthens the other and none operates wholly independently from the others. Ultimately, President Putin and his inner circle exercise powerful influence over Russia’s messaging in each sphere.


The Russian government owns and operates media, such as Sputnik and RT, aimed at foreign audiences. These programs exert influence beyond former Soviet states because they sponsor programming and online content in a wide variety of languages targeted at local viewership and consumption habits. Also, Russia is increasingly skilled at manipulating the algorithms that underlie popular Western social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter in order to promote its own narrative. Russian communications professionals appear to have a sophisticated understanding of the echo chamber created by social media networks, which the Kremlin has employed to push fake news into communities where confirmation bias, distrust of the government, and fear can validate disinformation that would otherwise lack credibility. Finally, the Kremlin exerts influence on Europe’s Russian-speaking populations through Russia’s government-controlled domestic media. These include media organizations such as Rambler Co., which controls important online properties; Gazprom Media, which has both traditional and online holdings; and, which is another online firm. Within Europe, the Russian language is most widely understood in the Baltic States, the Balkans, the Caucasus region, and Central Europe.

Culture and Society

Russia uses cultural influence in three ways: by leveraging Russian community or cultural institutions; through think tanks, academia, and institutes; and through the Russian Orthodox Church overseas. Moscow uses government agencies such as Rossotrudnichestvo and government-sponsored foundations such as Russkiy Mir (literally “Russian World”). These aim to promote Russian language and culture and to “consolidate Russians globally on the basis of their loyalty to the Kremlin.” The Russian government spends a considerable amount of time and money promoting its conception of a global “Russian world” encompassing not only ethnic Russians, but also Russian speakers, their families, and others whose cultural, familial, or business connections to Russia make them Russia’s sootechestvenniki or “compatriots.” In addition to promoting community and cultural institutions, the Russian government uses associations, think tanks, and events to promote Russian foreign policy in European nations. For example, the Franco-Russian Dialogue and the Petersburg Dialogues operate as nongovernmental events or organizations despite the fact that each receives funding directly from the Kremlin. Further, President Putin himself founded and continues to promote the “nongovernmental” Petersburg Dialogues. Both organizations encourage a deliberately pro-Kremlin worldview and advocate for Kremlin-friendly policies in many European capitals. Additionally, Russia is adept in using the Russian Orthodox Church to institutionalize and affirm a wide-reaching Russian identity. The Church unifies Russians and compatriots living within Russia and abroad by promoting the idea of a greater ethno-cultural Russian state, and by working to build ties with compatriots across Europe. Paris is home to the largest Russian Orthodox Church in Europe—a visible reminder of the Kremlin’s ability to flex its muscle in the face of a deeply secular French government. Further, religious teachings of the Church shore up the Kremlin’s Eurosceptic worldview while framing Western liberal democracy as antithetical to Russian identity and security.


Business is an important tool the Kremlin uses to influence countries across Europe; Kremlin-sponsored shareholders and executives alike own major Russian industries such as energy and gas through primary shareholdings, shell companies, and corporate subsidiary organizations. One exemplar is the Russian gas and oil monopoly Gazprom. Gazprom has documented corporate holdings in many EU states; however, these holdings are “masked as offshore firms, complex joint ventures and subsidiaries registered in third-party countries” making confident attribution difficult. In addition to monopolizing oil and gas markets, Moscow oligarchs use their position to conceal wealth from sanctions through real estate, to invest in sports teams, and to lobby through organizations such as the Eastern Committee of the German Economy for favorable legislation or regulations, particularly in countries with weaker legal systems—including some former Soviet states, Balkan countries, and some new European Union members. Russia’s business connections can also include corrupt practices that create additional opportunities and channels for Russian influence. Russia’s ability to use corruption as an instrument is of course greatest where its state-owned companies are involved. Even when corruption is not a deliberate instrument, it can sway its beneficiaries to advocate or support policies that create new opportunities for enrichment or, conversely, to avoid disruption of existing arrangements.


The Kremlin’s influence in politics across Europe is primarily accomplished through its financial support of parties and politicians that favor closer relations with Moscow. These relationships are critically important because the support of persons and parties not overtly associated with the Kremlin legitimizes the Kremlin’s Eurosceptic narrative, and furthers the Kremlin’s policy agenda in capitals across Europe. A Russian bank did provided up to €9 million in financial support to the Front National in France in support of Marine Le Pen’s far-right bid for the French presidency. Moscow has cultivated relationships with mainstream and far right parties in Germany, such as the German Social Democrats, Die Linke and the Alternative for Germany (AfD), by exploiting the widespread cultural guilt that Germans felt after the Second World War; the Kremlin leverages historical grievances to support the idea that Germany owes Russia a political debt best paid in full through political support and policymaking that is friendly towards Moscow. Finally, the Kremlin has manipulated loopholes in British law to obfuscate financial contributions made to British political parties. These financial contributions are used to curry favor with political heavyweights and parties, to shape party positions/platforms in the UK, and to exert power through London’s powerful financial markets.



Civil Society, Think Tanks, Institutes

  • Institute for Democracy and Cooperation (France)
  • Russkiy Mir
  • Valdai

Associations & Events

  • Petersburg Dialogue (Germany)
  • German-Russian Forum
  • France-Russian Dialogue
  • Dialogue of Civilisations Research Institute (Germany)

Religious and Cultural Organisations

  • Moscow Houses (Baltic States)
  • Russian Orthodox Church
  • Russotrudnichestvo



  • RT


  • Russia Beyond the Headlines


  • Sputnik
  • Russia Direct



  • The Eastern Committee of the German economy

Government & Business

  • Defense and Transportation (France)

Energy Sector

  • Gazprom


  • Charitable causes e.g. Alta Fellowship
  • Real Estate


  • Overseas Banking (Cyprus)
  • Millhouse Investing e.g. Chelsea FC


  • Rassemblement National (France)
  • Alternative for Germany (AfD) (Germany)
  • Freedom Party (Austria) Cooperation Agreement with United Russia
  • League Party (Italy) Cooperation Agreement with United Russia
  • Die Linke (Germany)
  • SPD (Germany)

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