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The “proxy paradox”, namely, the fact that the “Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics”, which for 8 years have been completely subsidized by the Russian Federation, enjoy broad military support and have “authority” totally dependent on the Kremlin, but so officially and not annexed to Russia, suggests that there is a complex and multi-level model of Moscow’s interaction with the “satellites”.
A kind of “food chain” has been formed, in which a “satellite” country or territory can be “sacrificed” for the sake of Russia receiving geopolitical benefits and advantages.
At the lowest level of this “chain” are several well-known countries in Africa, in which both governments and national wealth are controlled by Russian private companies, primarily the infamous Wagner private military company. The socio-economic development of Russia, in essence, is of little interest, despite the traditional declaration of “friendly ties with the countries of Africa.” Much more profitable and interesting is the export of minerals, the “range” of which is very wide, including gold. The presence of PMCs, which do not require large resources, makes it possible to keep local clans “on a short leash”, as well as successfully compete and even squeeze Western countries out of the region, i.e. former metropolises.
“Trojan horses” are Russia’s “gold asset” among the “satellites”, primarily due to the personal loyalty of the leaders, in the spirit of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, or traditional “historical” allied relations, as in the case of Serbia. The main task of the “Trojan horses” is to create a deep split in the West, in particular, the European Union, designated by Russia as a hostile entity. The situation with sanctions has clearly shown that a “Trojan horse” can be used to destroy political unity on conceptual international issues.
The current “energy crisis” in Europe also did not do without the Hungarian “Trojan horse”. Against the background of serious problems in the industry and the growing dissatisfaction of the population caused by a shortage of gas in European countries, Hungary is confidently increasing its pumping, demonstrating to the entire EU the “advantages of friendship with Russia.”
Serbia, whose economic potential is very small, is being used by Russia in its traditional role as an “eternal fuse” in the Balkans. The recent idea to create a military base in Serbia was met with a bang by the local patriotic community, but with great apprehension in neighboring countries. The fears are quite understandable since Russian forces are almost in the center of Europe close to the NATO countries.
Serbia is a “satellite” very vulnerable to pressure. On the one hand, the Serbian economy, and its export potential, are focused on the EU, but on the other hand, the status of a “historical ally” obliges the Serbian authorities and Serbian society to demonstrate loyalty to Russia at all levels.
The “satellite” countries from among the former republics of the USSR traditionally play the role of a “security belt” for Russia. “Setting fire to conflicts” along the perimeter of its borders, Russia is trying to “stop” tension, preventing destructive processes from spreading to its territory. True, with the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the “satellites” from the CSTO began to demonstrate intractability and therefore are now considered a cheap source of resources for the war with Ukraine. Mercenaries are being recruited in Central Asia, and Soviet-made weapons are being exported.
Also, “post-Soviet satellites” are considered by Russia as platforms for circumventing sanctions or a profitable exchange with influential players in the Transcaucasus, and Central Asia. The role of PMCs at this level of the “food chain” is performed by the Russian “peacekeeping contingent”, the effectiveness of which is doubted, for example, by all parties to the Karabakh conflict.
Belarus occupies a special place among the “post-Soviet satellites”. In fact, this is a military springboard for Russia’s advance to the West and at the same time a “theater of military operations” that allows you to “export chaos” and take the war out of Russia.
Finally, one more, extremely interesting element of the “food chain” of Russian satellites, is now being actively developed. These are “rogue states”, i.e. Iran, and North Korea. In exchange for economic preferences, they must also ensure the “export of chaos” and blackmail of the West, including nuclear. The special operation in Ukraine made its adjustments to this standard set. Now these “satellites” are also a source of weapons (Russia tried to buy drones from Iran) to continue the war with Ukraine.
Several countries in Latin America, where Russian propaganda is traditionally strong, can also replenish the “food chain”. They are destined for the role of “counterweight” to American influence in the region.
Finally, the BRICS countries. In the literal sense, they are not “satellites” of the Kremlin, but they have a “strange respect” for Russia (like India). This group of countries is a platform for Russia’s attempts to realize the idea of a “multipolar world” and declare a “pivot to the East”, which in many respects has a pure propaganda value.
The entire food chain satellites” is called upon to play an active role in Russia’s struggle with the West. We now have a rather unique situation – what for centuries formed the basis of the existence of the Russian state, namely, opposition to the West, is being implemented at all levels. We hear about the “turn to the East”, about the “predatory aggressive West”, about the “pernicious Western values”. But this was during the time of the dispute between the “Slavophiles” and the “Westerners” back in the 19th century.
Using “satellites”, Russia is testing new technologies for the destruction of Western civilization.
Russian “satellites” are active or potential “grey” zones of instability. The formation of such “zones” is Russia’s calling card. So it was in Georgia, so it was in Syria. Now, this technology is being scaled up in Ukraine, where Russia is trying to turn the occupied Ukrainian regions into mini-satellites. The same scheme is being implemented – control over resources, mobilization of the population, the transformation of the territory into a “theater of military operations”, a barrier that does not let the war directly into the territory of Russia.
The carriers of the “ideology of destabilization” in the occupied Ukrainian territories are both local collaborators and officials who “landed” from Russia. But, most importantly, these are figures from the ruling United Russia party, a kind of “collective Putin”, organizing “referendums” and establishing quasi-state structures in these territories.
There is no guarantee that Russia will not organize such “gray zones” somewhere in Europe. The scheme is quite simple. A country, region, or even a separate city declares itself to be a “satellite” of Russia, due to traditions, historical memory, or the presence of a Russian population, which is allegedly “infringed on their rights.” Further, the current government is declared illegitimate, and an enclave controlled by Russia is rapidly forming with all the attributes of chaos – from the degradation of administrative and economic structures to the emergence of a base of militants, arms, and human trafficking.
The events in Ukraine testify that the “export of chaos” can be organized by Russia anywhere in the world.
Mykola Volkivskyi is a political scientist, fellow of the Lane Kirkland Scholarship, Founder of the Foundation for the Development of Ukraine in Poland, and the Institute for Government Relations in Kyiv. Former Advisor to the Chairman of the Committee of the Ukrainian Parliament.
Artem Oliinyk is a political scientist, President of the IAPSS in Ukraine and research assistant at the Academy of Political Sciences of Ukraine, Director of the Institute for Government Relations (Kyiv).