Russia's President Vladimir Putin addresses an event marking the 100th birthday of the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces' General Staff at the Russian Army Theatre on Day of Military Intelligence Officer.

Covert political operations are central to Putin’s foreign policy.

Chapter 14: Active Measures: Russia’s Covert Global Reach


Aktivnye meropriyatiya, “active measures,” are covert and deniable political influence and subversion operations, from corruption and disinformation through to outright assassination and even sponsorship of coups.1 They have a long and inglorious tradition in Russian foreign operations and reflect a permanent wartime mentality, something dating back to the Soviet era and even Tsarist Russia.2 The term was used by the Soviet Union (USSR) from the 1950s onward to describe the gamut of operations, often carried out through front organizations, and frequently entailing the spread of disinformation. Indeed, the Committee for State Security (KGB)’s Service A, its primary active measures department, was originally Service D, meaning disinformation.

In many ways, active measures reflect the wartime mentality of the Soviet leadership, as similar tactics were used by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the Second World War, but much less frequently thereafter. For the KGB, however, active measures increasingly became central to its mission abroad in the postwar period, something made explicit by then–KGB chair Yuri Andropov in his Directive No. 0066 of 1982.3 Tellingly, the KGB’s official definition of “intelligence” was

a secret form of political struggle which makes use of clandestine means and methods for acquiring secret information of interest and for carrying out active measures to exert influence on the adversary and weaken his political, economic, scientific and technical and military positions.4

KGB defector Maj. Gen. Oleg Kalugin called subversion and active measures “the heart and soul of Soviet intelligence.”5 There has been heated debate as to quite how central active measures were either to KGB activities – the most extreme example was defector Yuri Bezmenov, who claimed that they accounted for eighty-five percent of its operations6 – or Soviet foreign policy overall. Nonetheless, it was a central instrument of Soviet activities when trying to divert and subvert powerful antagonists and also to undermine the strength of powerful narratives and ideas to which they found themselves opposed.

This helps explain the utility of active measures in the post-Soviet era. While Putin’s Russia does not seek to export any specific or coherent ideology, its determination to assert its status as a “Great Power,” even at the expense of the sovereignty of its neighbors and the rules and norms of the international order, necessarily places it at odds with the West. The Kremlin’s aim is thus to divide, distract, and demoralize the West, leaving it unable or unwilling to maintain its solidarity and resist more direct and overt Russian actions in areas of greater immediate interest to it, such as in Ukraine.

Active Measures in the Putin Era

Active measures became increasingly less commonly employed during Gorbachev’s reform era in the latter 1980s and then in the chaotic 1990s, in part because of a desire to improve relations with the West and in part due to the collapse of Soviet and then Russian covert networks abroad.

However, under President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s foreign intelligence services have been restored to their old levels of funding and activity, and early hopes of a modus vivendi with the West soon foundered, hampered by unrealistic expectations and mutual suspicions. By the mid-2000s, active measures were no longer confined to the immediate neighborhood of the post-Soviet “Near Abroad” countries, but were again being seen as a central component of Moscow’s wider strategy. This change reflected a broad shift in strategic perspective best encapsulated by Alexander Vladimirov, a retired major-general who then chaired the military experts’ panel at the Russian International Affairs Council, an influential think tank close to the Russian Presidential Administration (AP). In 2007, he wrote that “modern wars are waged on the level of consciousness and ideas” and that “modern humanity exists in a state of permanent war” in which it is “eternally oscillating between phases of actual armed struggle and constant preparation for it.7

This perspective owes much to a strategic culture heavily predicated on the belief that the world is a demonstrably hostile place full of covert attempts to undermine Russia’s power institutions and roll back its international influence, and which is driven by rival interests, ideological divisions, and outright “Russophobia.” This culture has deep historical roots, in Tsarist “conspirology” that saw the country under threat from Jewish, Masonic, and Bolshevik plots as well as British, German, and Ottoman subversion;8 through Soviet counter-revolutionary theory predicated on what the Red Army’s Officer’s Handbook called a “vast system of anti-Communist propaganda… now aimed at weakening the unity of the socialist countries… and undermining socialist society from within.”9

Like the Soviets, today’s Russian government sees an inevitable and inextricable link between external and domestic security. Since Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution through the other color revolutions and the Arab Spring of the 2010s, there has been a growing school of thought within Russian security circles that the West—essentially the United States—has been mastering “political technologies” able to topple governments through a mix of social media subversion and old-fashioned spycraft and economic pressure.10 Western encouragement of democratization, support for civil society, transparency, and efforts to encourage activists addressing issues such as corruption and human rights abuses are now seen as forms of such subversion. A crucial turning point was in the 2011–2012 Bolotnaya Square protests, which at their peak saw perhaps 100,000 people on the streets of Moscow and other major Russian cities. President Barack Obama’s administration showed a clear preference for then–President Dmitri Medvedev over Putin; its support for the protests; and its decision in late 2011 to appoint an outspoken champion of democratization, Michael McFaul, as the new U.S. ambassador to Moscow were regarded by the Kremlin as proof that the protests were managed by the West. Putin personally accused then–U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of sending “a signal” to “some actors in the country” to begin causing trouble “with the support of the U.S. State Department.”11

This worldview also creates a strategic culture that not only regards subversion as a perfectly suitable instrument to use against Russia’s rivals, but considers the boundaries between war and peace now blurred to the point of being meaningless. Under Putin, the Kremlin—and especially the civilian national security community of the Presidential Administration (AP) and Security Council (SB) secretariats, as well as the intelligence community—has thus embraced a sense that Russia faces a Western campaign of subversion and that using active measures are the best and most logical response.

Of course, active measures have not replaced other methods and instruments, from conventional diplomacy to military force, and each of the main institutional stakeholders within the Russian system has its own interests in play and differing perspectives they have on their use and scope:

  • The Foreign Ministry: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) is a relatively conventional diplomatic service that has absorbed many of the values and methods of its overseas counterparts. Its diplomats thus often affect a degree of disdain for active measures, which they view as breaking the tacit codes of their trade, and they are concerned about the potential consequences of such measures. However, MID is a fairly weak actor in the Russian system and is often required to provide cover and support for other agencies. More to the point, it is still informed by Russia’s strategic culture and operational code. It has shown itself to be very eager to support and initiate (dis)information operations—more often disinformation—which are on the active measures spectrum. Some examples include the MID’s involvement in Germany’s infamous “Lisa Case,” which sought to stir up anti-immigrant populism,12 its outspoken efforts to confuse the narrative after the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 shootdown in Ukraine in 2014, and its actions following the poisoning of defected former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom in 2018. Although not responsible for the attempted murder of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in August 2020 and his arrest on return to Russia in January 2021, MID has also played a crucial role in subsequent efforts to challenge Western criticisms and deter new sanctions.
  • The media: The state-controlled and -dominated media clearly play a crucial role in disinformation operations, but it also supports and covers for other operations, including magnifying the impact of such operations. When, for example, a politically embarrassing telephone conversation13 between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victorian Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt was intercepted by the Russian intelligence community, the extensive play in Russian foreign-language media outlets really gave this operation weight. While there is a degree of direct management of media operations from the AP, notably in weekly meetings between editors and presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, many activities are instead generated by television presenters, journalists, and editors. Without questioning the patriotic sentiments of many involved, to a considerable extent, engagement in such activities is driven by hopes of career advancement and the need to keep the authorities happy.
  • The military: To the generals, the primary role of active measures is not to supplant but to supplement regular military operations. Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov has had to adapt his rhetoric to include the threat of “hybrid war”—gibridnaya voina—as a Western tactic able to use “political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other non-military measures”14 to shatter societies before direct military intervention. This quote came from his speech to the Academy of Military Sciences, summarized in a now-infamous article in the Voenno-promyshlennyi kur’er (Military-Industrial Courier) that launched many opinion pieces about a “new way of war.” Although to a large extent, he was likely simply genuflecting to the concerns of the political leadership. The Russian military is, like other militaries around the world, exploring how nonkinetic means, from electronic warfare to psychological operations, can prepare the battlefield and supplement its direct combat operations. However, the focus of its planning, training, procurement, and thinking is still on conventional high-tempo offensive war.
  • The intelligence community: The intelligence agencies are both the main players in Russian active measures and the main beneficiaries of the Kremlin’s dependence on such methods. The Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Federal Security Service (FSB) and military intelligence (GRU)15 are all involved in a wide spectrum of operations. The GRU, for example, has been implicated in the hacking of U.S. political actors’ email accounts, as well as in an attempted coup in Montenegro and in the Skripal case.16 The SVR tried to stop attempts by Canadian unions to block a partnership between Bombardier and Russian aircraft manufacturers and to disrupt a name-change referendum in what is now known as North Macedonia.17 The FSB, while primarily a domestic security agency, is increasingly active abroad, and is linked with operations from the murder of Chechens in Turkey to recruiting criminals as intelligence assets in Estonia.18
 A poster showing six wanted Russian military intelligence officers is displayed before a news conference at the Department of Justice, on October 19, 2020 in Washington, DC.
A poster showing six wanted Russian military intelligence officers is displayed before a news conference at the Department of Justice, on October 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. The Justice Department announced an indictment against six Russia GRU officers charged with engaging in a series of hacking and malware deployment operations to attack other countries’ infrastructure, elections and other actions designed to further Russia's interests.
  • Presidential Administration: The AP (which includes the SB) is the nerve center of Putin’s deinstitutionalized state, and is the coordination center for those active measures which require interagency collaboration.19 Many of the AP’s departments are also directly involved with their own operations, from the Foreign Politics Department seeking to suborn foreign politicians and movements to the Presidential Council for Cossack Affairs encouraging paramilitary groups abroad. Active measures, as a reflection of a style of Russian foreign policy that enthusiastically ignores the constraints of traditional institutional roles and international etiquette, very much play to the country’s culture and perceived role. In effect, the more fluid and covert the policy, the more power and freedom of maneuver it gives the AP.

Active Measures as Guerrilla Geopolitics

Russia’s reliance on active measures can be considered an example of “guerrilla geopolitics,” an asymmetric response for a nation keenly aware of the limitations of its position. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s Article 5 guarantee of mutual defense and the formidable risks in a direct challenge to a richer and, in overall terms, more powerful West would seem to preclude any direct military options. However, active measures make use of Russian strengths, not least the scale of its intelligence networks, to exploit perceived Western weaknesses—from its divisions to its commitment to free speech and open politics.

The “hybridity” of this approach also reflects the “hybridity” of Putin’s Russia, in which the boundaries between state and private, politics and business, legal and illegal are much more permeable than in the West.20 Indeed, in a way the Wagner Group private military company could in itself be characterized as an active measure.21 Originally established for operations in south-eastern Ukraine, it was expanded and professionalized as a means of sending ground troops to Syria without alarming a Russian population with little enthusiasm for the conflict. In this respect, it was “deniable” both to the outside world and even the Russian people. It performed adequately well, but by some time in 2017, the Russian defense ministry decided it did not need Wagner’s services.

Yet the Kremlin was reluctant to see it disbanded, thinking it might have further value, and so charged businessman Evgeny Prigozhin with keeping it alive. To cover its costs, Prigozhin’s Concord Group holding company secured a deal with the Assad Regime in Damascus that granted it a share in the profits from any oil and gas fields it helped recapture in Syria, which led to the debacle of their assault in the Deir ez-Zor region and subsequent decimation at U.S. hands – something the Russian military did nothing to deter. In other words, a pseudo-mercenary force seamlessly transitioned into a genuine mercenary force, and looking at Wagner’s later engagements, from Venezuela and Libya to the Central African Republic and Mozambique, it is clear that while some operations may be directly in support of Kremlin interests, others are primarily motivated by private enterprises. Wagner’s status as both deniable state instrument and private commercial venture underscores this “hybridity” of modern Russia.

It also makes a virtue of the way that Putin’s state system is not the ruthlessly-disciplined and rational “power vertical” that many believe, but rather a loose and flexible deinstitutionalized “adhocracy” in which powers and responsibilities are often assigned and reassigned with little direct connection to individuals’ and organizations’ formal roles.22 A corollary of this is that all kinds of actors and agencies are using active measures to compete and demonstrate their value to the Kremlin, just as Andropov’s Directive No. 0066 made active measures the responsibility of all the KGB, not just Service A. Everyone—from businesspeople to clergymen, students to scholars—can generate their own initiatives that would often be considered covert acts of subversion and disruption.

Many operations are thus neither conceived nor directed by the Kremlin. Indeed, they may not even be known to the authorities, unless and until the prime mover brings it to their attention. Major operations carried out by government agencies such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the intelligence services, obviously are subject to such oversight. However, many of the smaller-scale active measures, especially those involving disinformation, cyberattacks or other low risk “arm’s length” means, are carried out by businesspeople, hackers, media pundits or other individuals either out of a sense of patriotic duty (which the Kremlin has sought to mobilize) or in the hope of future reward from the regime if they prove successful.

The Limitations of the Model

This approach has many advantages – it is often deniable, requires no or little up-front resourcing, and capitalizes on the imaginations and ambitions of numerous autonomous actors – but carries with it some serious weaknesses, too. Because of the lack of central coordination, operations can often be small-scale, contradictory and amateurish.

More seriously, what the Kremlin does not order or bankroll, and which it cannot acknowledge, it also finds it harder to control. Many of the individuals and agencies concerned are working to their own personal ideological agendas or else their assumptions about what the Kremlin “wants.” They may well get that wrong, or simply fail to adapt to tactical changes in the government’s position. A case in point has been the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Kremlin tried to use it to regain some of its lost political ground since 2014, pushing a narrative of common endeavor against a common threat, agitating for a moratorium on sanctions, and launching controversial “From Russia with Love” medical aid missions to Italy, Serbia, and the United States. Setting aside the limitations of such nakedly opportunistic efforts, the Kremlin was unable to prevent the activities of many low-level disinformation outlets and creators. Although there is little evidence of the kind of coordinated, multi-platform magnification of narratives that marks a Kremlin-sponsored or -sanctioned disinformation campaign, the mere presence of these malign narratives helped undermine any attempts to mount a pandemic charm offensive.

Active measures, when unmasked, can often poison diplomatic relations: the attempted Skripal and Navalny assassinations, the “Lisa Case,” and interference in the 2016 U.S. elections all created serious strains in relations with London, Berlin, and Washington, respectively. However, when poorly-managed, they can also lead to a more subtle blowback. Disinformation around coronavirus, for example, may have been directed at the West, but given the two-way flow of ideas, has also contributed to the sizeable body of myth, conspiracy theory, and quack remedies inside Russia.

In general, the reputation of being an enthusiastic user of active measures can sometimes give Russia disproportionate “dark power” – the coercive counterpart to soft power, the capacity to intimidate23 – but in the longer term it is deeply problematic, contributing to a perception of Russia as “rogue state” and potential international pariah.24

German army emergency personnel load portable isolation unit (Epi Shuttle) into their ambulance that was used to transport Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny at Charite hospital on August 22, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.
German army emergency personnel load portable isolation unit (Epi Shuttle) into their ambulance that was used to transport Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny at Charite hospital on August 22, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Navalny has arrived in Germany at Charite Hospital in Berlin for treatment for possible poisoning.

Different Theaters, Different Plays

While much is made sometimes about a supposed “Russian playbook,” in practice, active measures are by definition opportunistic and flexible, responding both to the Kremlin’s needs of the moment and also to what scope there is for covert political operations. Active measures against China, for instance, are not wholly ruled out – although largely confined to jousting for influence in third countries – but they are severely constrained. This is in part because one of the Kremlin’s primary concerns is not alienating Beijing and also given the practical and operational constraints of mounting such missions in China.

Opportunities for their use are thus most commonly found in theaters which are both relatively uncontrolled – whether democracies or simply less effective authoritarianisms – and also the subject of particular Kremlin initiatives and interests. In the “Near Abroad,” for example, relative weak structures of governance and rule of law mean that Moscow can often rely on outright corruption and the use of so-called kompromat, compromising materials, to exert covert influence. It almost goes without saying that they are a constant feature of the Russian campaign against Ukraine,25 but they also range from alleged election meddling in Moldova26 to cyberattacks on Georgia.27

Conversely, in Western and Central Europe, while such measures are not unknown, they are at once more risky and less usable. Instead, as in North America, greater use is made of disinformation and support for extremist and divisive movements and voices, whether leftist or rightist, separatist or nationalist. At a time when the West is in any case experiencing something of a crisis of confidence and a wave of interconnected challenges to the status quo, with constituencies questioning everything from existing borders to the democratic model, the Russians have ample opportunities to exacerbate existing divisions. After all, the evidence is that they cannot create such fissures, but can widen them. It appears that Moscow has backed away from attempts to directly influence polls, seeing them as unpredictable and prone to backfire, and instead seeks to capitalize on the tensions and disagreements they inevitably create.

In Africa, active measures have become a central component of a campaign to acquire status, favorable economic deals, and leverage through quick, cheap initiatives.28 As well as trying to hasten a general Western retreat from much of the continent, the Russians are in effect becoming active measures mercenaries, with covert political operations part of a package of measures they offer regimes in return for economic and political stakes. Thus, Prigozhin’s Concord Group markets not just armed force but also “political technologists” willing to deploy disinformation in support of a regime.29 Likewise, persistent allegations of commercial espionage and bribery have dogged Rosatom’s efforts to sell nuclear power stations across the continent.30

Unlike the Soviet Union, Putin’s Russia does not have a long-term ideological objective in Africa – indeed, in many ways there is a stark absence of any real strategy.31 Instead, it looks to the continent for quick, transitory gains that both support the narrative that Russia is a global rather than just a regional power and could be used as bargaining chips in the future. Besides which, China is seen as a much more serious and deep-pocketed rival for African influence, and ultimately Moscow neither believes it can compete on the same terms as Beijing, nor does it want to.

Conversely, both Latin America and Asia are seen at present as less suitable and interesting arenas for active measures. These operations are, after all, largely connected with efforts to sway or subvert governments that are either antagonists or else potential clients. In these continents, the perception is that while Russia has some friends such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Vietnam, the scope for expanding its influence is minimal, not least because of the presence of the U.S. and China, respectively. Given that Russia lacks the resources to outbid either and is essentially looking for cheap and easy wins, the environment is uncongenial. Instead, active measures are only really employed when there is a very specific goal in mind – such as the campaign to try to prevent the extradition to America of arms dealer Viktor Bout in 2010 – and even then largely confined to disinformation campaigns.

Former Soviet military officer and arms trafficking suspect Viktor Bout deplanes after arriving at Westchester County Airport November 16, 2010 in White Plains, New York.
In this photo provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, former Soviet military officer and arms trafficking suspect Viktor Bout (C) deplanes after arriving at Westchester County Airport November 16, 2010 in White Plains, New York. Bout was extradited from Thailand to the U.S. to face terrorism charges after a final effort by Russian diplomats to have him released failed.

Conclusions and Implications

Active measures are both an expression of Russia’s strategic culture, with its propensity to see the world as full of covert challenges, and the operational code of the Putin regime, which considers the best defense against such threats to be good offense. A central element of this code is that responsibility for active measures has become diversified, even universalized, linked with the way Russia has become an ‘adhocracy’ of competing, semi-autonomous actors expected to generate their own plans to work toward the state’s broad objectives.

Of course, this does not mean that every Russian individual or institution is necessarily involved in active measures. Most are not, and furthermore, most of the initiatives generated should not be considered active measures, as they are often overt and well within the usual norms of political activity.

However, the crowning irony is that it has become very easy for foreigners to see the Kremlin’s hand behind every reversal, every trip, and every Russian initiative. Ironically, at a time when ordinary Russians’ perceptions of the West are increasingly favorable,32 Westerners are more negative about Russia. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, only eighteen percent of Americans, twelve percent of Swedes, and twenty-six percent of Britons have a positive view.33 More broadly, the mistaken perception, even in policy circles, that Russia’s active measures are simply part of a nihilistic hunger for chaos, to “watch the world burn,” is not only inaccurate but also dangerous, as it inclines other powers to regard the country simply as a threat.34

All this has an undeniably baleful impact on international relations, for while it may seem to suit Putin well, crediting him with more influence and impact in the world than he and his Russia truly deserve, his country ultimately can neither sustain an open-ended strategic competition with the West, nor does it largely want one. Putin is undoubtedly more that just a KGB veteran in terms of his experiences, attitudes, and approach to the world. Nonetheless, the KGB’s penchant for active measures, an instrument adopted when Moscow had far fewer options for more positive engagement with the West, is one of the more pernicious of its lasting legacies for him.

For Academic Citation
Mark Galeotti, “Active Measures: Russia’s Covert Global Reach,” in Russia’s Global Reach: A Security and Statecraft Assessment, ed. Graeme P. Herd (Garmisch-Partenkirchen: George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, 2021),, 118-126.


* This is an expansion of “Active Measures: Russia’s Covert Geopolitical Operations,” Security Insights, George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, No. 31 (June 2019),

1 Andrew Radin, Alyssa Demus, and Krystyna Marcinek, “Understanding Russian Subversion Patterns, Threats, and Responses,” RAND (2020),

2 See Thomas Rid, Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare (London: Profile Books, 2020).

3 Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West (London: Penguin Books, 2000), 316.

4 Quoted in Ivo Jurvee, The Resurrection of ‘Active Measures’: Intelligence Services as a Part of Russia’s Influencing Toolbox, Hybrid CoE Strategic Analysis (September 2018),

5 Interviewed on CNN, June 27, 2007,

6 In an interview on YouTube, accessed March 1, 2021,

7 Alexander Vladimirov, Концептуальные основы национальной стратегии России. Военно-политический аспект [Conceptual Bases of Russian National Strategy: Military-Political Aspects] (Moscow: Nauka, 2007), 105, 130.

8 See, for example, Léon Poliakov, “The Topic of the Jewish Conspiracy in Russia (1905–1920), and the International Consequences,” in eds. Carl F. Graumann and Serge Moscovici, Changing Conceptions of Conspiracy (New York: Springer, 1987); Marouf Hasian, “Understanding the Power of Conspiratorial Rhetoric: A Case study of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” Communication Studies 48, no. 3 (1997).

9 Andrew and Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive, 324; S. N. Kazlov (ed.), The Officer’s Handbook: A Soviet View, Translated by the U.S. Air Force (Moscow: Soviet Defence Ministry, 1971), 32.

10 See, for example, V. A. Kiselev and I. N. Vorobev, “Гибридные операции как новый вид военного противоборства” [Hybrid operations as a new type of military confrontation], Voennaya mysl’ 24 no. 2 (2015).

11 David M. Herszenhorn and Ellen Barry, “Putin Contends Clinton Incited Unrest Over Vote,” New York Times, December 8, 2011.

12 Stefan Meister, “The ‘Lisa Case’: Germany as a Target of Russian Disinformation,” NATO Review (2016),

13 “Ukraine crisis: Transcript of leaked Nuland-Pyatt call,” BBC News, February 7, 2014,

14 Valery Gerasimov, “Ценность науки в предвидении” [The Value of Science in Foresight], Voenno-promyshlennyi kur’er, February 26, 2013.

15 Technically now simply known as the GU, for Main Administration of the General Staff, but in practice universally still known as GRU, even by President Putin.

16 U.S. Department of Justice, “U.S. Charges Russian GRU Officers with International Hacking and Related Influence and Disinformation Operations,” October 4, 2018,; “Montenegrin Court Convicts All 14 Defendants Of Plotting Pro-Russia Coup,” RFE/RL, May 9, 2019,; U.K. Prime Minister’s Office, “PM Statement on the Salisbury Investigation: 5 September 2018,” September 5, 2018,

17 U.S. Department of Justice, “Evgeny Buryakov Pleads Guilty In Manhattan Federal Court In Connection With Conspiracy To Work For Russian Intelligence,” March 11, 2016,; Patrick Wintour, “Greece to Expel Russian Diplomats over Alleged Macedonia Interference,” Guardian, July 11, 2018,

18 “Have Russian Hitmen been Killing with Impunity in Turkey?” BBC News, December 13, 2016,; Holder Roonemaa, “How Smuggler Helped Russia to Catch Estonian Officer,” re:Baltica, September 13, 2017,

19 Mark Galeotti, “Controlling Chaos: How Russia Manages its Political War in Europe,” ECFR Briefing, September 1, 2017,

20 Graeme P. Herd, “Russia’s Hybrid State and President Putin’s Fourth-Term Foreign Policy?” RUSI Journal, 163, no. 4 (2018); Mark Galeotti and Anna Arutunyan, “Hybrid Business -- The Risks in the Kremlin's Weaponization of The Economy,” RFE/RL, July 26, 2016,

21 Kimberly Marten, “Russia’s use of semi-state security forces: the case of the Wagner Group,” Post-Soviet Affairs, 35, no. 3 (2019): 181-204; Nathaniel Reynolds, “Putin’s Not-So-Secret Mercenaries: Patronage, Geopolitics, and the Wagner Group,” Carnegie Moscow Center, July 8, 2019,

22 For more on the concept of Russia as an “adhocracy,” see Business New Europe, 18 January 2017,

23 Mark Galeotti, “Russia pursues dark power and the West has no answer,” Raam op Rusland, March 15, 2018,

24 Something also being recognized in Russian research, even if often framed as an unfair and Orientalizing perspective. See, for example, O. A. Solopova and M. Yu. Ilyushkina, “Russia as a target domain in American, British and Canadian political discourses,” Вестник Южно-Уральского государственного университета, vol. 14, no. 3 (2017); Ekaterina A. Repina, Marina AR. Zheltukhina, Natalya A. Kovalova, Tatiana G. Popova, and Conchita Garcia Caselles, “International media image of Russia: trends and patterns of perception,” XLinguae vol. 11, no. 2 (2018); Galina Melnik, Boris Misonzhnikov, and Evgeniya Vojtik, “The Image of Russia in the Western Media as a ‘Military Threat,’” Ariel, vol. 1. no 2. (2019).

25 Alya Shandra and Robert Seely, “The Surkov Leaks: the Inner Workings of Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine,” RUSI Occasional Paper (2019), op surkov leaks web final.pdf.

26 “Senior Official Accuses Russia Of Meddling In Moldovan Politics,” RFE/RL, February 10, 2018,

27 “UK says Russia's GRU behind massive Georgia cyber-attack,” BBC, February 20, 2020,

28 Jideofor Adibe, “What does Russia really want from Africa?” Brookings Africa in Focus, November 14, 2019,

29 “The Chef’s Global Footprints,” OCCRP, December 17, 2019,; “Master and Chef. How Evgeny Prigozhin led the Russian offensive in Africa,” Proekt, March 31 2019,; “A Private Army for the President: The Tale of Evgeny Prigozhin’s Most Delicate Mission,” The Bell, January 31, 2019,

30 Andrew Weiss and Eugene Rumer, “Nuclear Enrichment: Russia’s Ill-Fated Influence Campaign in South Africa,” Carnegie Endowment Paper, November 16, 2019,

31 “Arms, Oil and Influence: What You Need to Know About Russia's First-Ever Africa Summit,” The Moscow Times, October 24, 2019,

32 “4 in 5 Russians View West as a Friend – Poll,” The Moscow Times, February 18, 2020,

33 “Russia and Putin receive low ratings globally,” Pew Research Center, February 7, 2020,

34 Kasey Stricklin, “Why Does Russia Use Disinformation?” Lawfare, March 29, 2020,

About the Author

Dr. Mark Galeotti is director of the London-based consultancy Mayak Intelligence, an honorary professor at the University College London School of Slavonic and East European Studies, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, and a senior non-resident fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague. He is an expert and prolific author on transnational crime and Russian security affairs.

The George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies

The George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, a German-American partnership, is committed to creating and enhancing worldwide networks to address global and regional security challenges. The Marshall Center offers fifteen resident programs designed to promote peaceful, whole of government approaches to address today’s most pressing security challenges. Since its creation in 1992, the Marshall Center’s alumni network has grown to include over 14,400 professionals from 156 countries. More information on the Marshall Center can be found online at

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the U.S. Department of Defense, the German Ministry of Defense, or the United States, German, or any other governments. This report is approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.