During these last days of March, the Kremlin has intensified support for its pro-Russian elements in many European cities. Through these actions, under the guise of rallies and protests, Russia is infiltrating militants and extremists into the European space, trying to undermine and destabilise the situation.
The almost simultaneous appearance of supporters of Putin’s policy on the streets of European cities is as surprising as the number of these supporters. Apparently, this is the number the Kremlin is able to pay for in the context of a full-scale war with Ukraine and under pressure from sanctions.
The organised pro-Russian rallies in Spain, the Czech Republic, Moldova, and manifestations of support for Moscow’s policy in Switzerland and Poland, according to Putin, should show that Russia has its supporters in many European cities. But, this synchronised manifestation of pro-Russian protests only confirms the Kremlin’s long-standing strategy of illegally funding radical and left-wing movements in Europe.
In response, they usually oppose European unity and lobby for pro-Russian interests in their home countries. Russian agents of influence are a hidden and dangerous threat that, unfortunately, is concentrated in many European countries. These are usually ordinary citizens who are sympathetic to Russia, Russian migrants, and representatives of political movements. It is this category of Europeans that Russian intelligence services view as a target audience that will subsequently contribute to attempts to destabilise Europe.
The rally of supporters of the pro-Russian party Shor, held on 12 March in Chisinau, was such an attempt. It was accompanied by anti-government slogans, and this was nothing new to either the Moldovan authorities or Europe. There were attempts to undermine the situation in Moldova in the autumn of 2022, and Russian special services were also behind these attempts, using pro-Russian Moldovan parties for their own purposes. The day before, an incident occurred at the Chisinau airport, during which a Wagner PMC mercenary was detained and returned to the country from which he had come. It is clear that this is also no coincidence because when the Kremlin sends Wagner mercenaries to the EU, it is in effect setting a delayed action “time bomb” to establish a sleeper cell that can subsequently be used to destabilise Europe. So, under the guise of protests, rallies, and various actions, Russia is trying to infiltrate as many of its agents of influence as possible into European countries in order to destabilise the situation.
Putin continues to see the West as his adversary, and he wants to weaken, divide, and deprive it of unity and strength. The Kremlin views Russian hybrid aggression as an important element of strategy. That is why the Russian authorities are not only planning but have apparently already begun to implement their destabilisation and sabotage activities in various European countries, thus trying to divert attention from the war in Ukraine and mask their own failures at the front.
The recent pro-Russian rallies in Bilbao, Prague, Chisinau, and the attempts to get a Wagner mercenary into Moldova can be considered part of the same Kremlin scheme. The significant decrease in the number of Wagner’s people in certain African countries – Central African Republic, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – fits into this scheme. It is known that at least 5,000 Russian mercenaries were in these countries until March 2023. But now their number has decreased by about 10%. Some pundits believe that most of the 500 Russian mercenaries who left Africa have settled in Europe. But while Russian militants are trying to enter Moldova almost openly, without much fear, their way to the EU/NATO countries will be more covert and more careful.
Here it is worth recalling how Moscow “planted” its saboteurs in Ukrainian cities on the eve of a full-scale invasion. It is known that some of them had settled in Ukraine 2-3 years before the war. Then everything went according to the Russian playbook: ordinary life in ordinary Ukrainian cities. At the same time, the saboteurs were obtaining key information and making contacts in the circles of their interest. All this was done in order to use this intelligence during the invasion by Russian troops. Only the courageous resistance of Ukrainian soldiers and the complete consolidation of the Ukrainian people in the face of the invading enemy disrupted their plans.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion and after the turning point in the Russian-Ukrainian war, Moscow has begun to throw its agents into the fray even more intensively on the political and information fronts to justify Russian terror, war crimes and genocide.
By planning pro-Russian rallies, Moscow wants to send a message to European governments that there are many political forces and citizens in European countries who allegedly support Putin’s policies. In this way, the Kremlin wants to raise certain doubts among the population of these countries about the unity of the West in countering Russian aggression. In addition, in the case of Europe, Putin is pursuing a much more complex strategy, as the saboteurs are Russia’s sympathisers – political parties, leaders, and representatives of business circles who have a vested interest in cooperation with Russia.
Moscow exploits contradictions between European countries, starting from socio-economic problems and trying to explain their cause in the support provided to Ukraine. As a result of this tactic, the anti-war lobby in Europe is unwittingly becoming an ally of the Kremlin. The Russian diaspora, which is scattered in many European countries, plays an important role in these destabilising processes. There are many Russians in Europe, but they have not become part of the European world, do not accept and do not share European values and lifestyles even after years of living there. That is why they remain an ideal environment for extremists to plan sabotage.
For example, subversive work was carried out by the Russian diaspora in Germany to flood German mailboxes with anonymous letters calling for an urgent flight from Germany alleging that the United States was planning an attack. This campaign was launched at the same time as pro-Russian rallies in the EU. If we add to this cocktail of subversive activities the fact that Wagner mercenaries have already settled in European cities and have combat experience and skills in committing terrorist attacks and sabotage, the mixture is explosive. It is clear that Putin has launched a new stage of hybrid aggression against Europe against the backdrop of his military failures and the pressure of sanctions, in an attempt to disrupt the global consolidation of support for Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s hybrid aggression continues, trying to penetrate further into European space. This is where pro-Russian mercenaries and rallies become dangerous elements that pave the way for the enemy to achieve its dream of splitting and weakening Europe. To prevent this from happening, the threats of covert Russian extremism must be uncovered and neutralised today, because tomorrow may be too late.