In Other News – Russia, China, and Western Influence

October 6, 2023

US adversaries use multiple strategies to counter Western influence around the world – some more successful than others- but either way, it’s worth paying attention. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine jolted the established world order and cracked open an opportunity for global realignment. Since the war began, we’ve been watching as nations like China, Russia, and Iran have adopted a variety of approaches to gain allies and influence in regions like Latin America, Africa, and Central Asia. Like the Ukraine-Russia battle itself, these influence efforts adopt both traditional and modern tactics and offer examples of both increased collaboration and animosity.

Over the past few decades, China’s been deliberately expanding its efforts in Latin America, with Chinese stakes in everything from critical infrastructure in Peru, to telecom with Brazil. What’s notable in the way that China’s operating now, however, is that it’s trying to develop new structures and institutions instead of operating within the established ones. For example, China wants to create a new China-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) space cooperation forum – looking to collaborate with CELAC instead of the established Organization of American States (OAS) that boasts US participation. Softer efforts are also apparent, like the prevalence of the Chinese Covid vaccine in the region, which was substandard but still viewed favorably by recipients, and educational exchange initiatives.

Likewise, Iran has long adopted soft power means for influence in regions like Latin America- at times accompanied by direct, physical threats to anyone standing in the way. While often ineffective, Iran understands that Latin America holds special geostrategic significance to Washington and tries to employ the influence of its local Shi’a clerics to deliver and encourage anti-American sentiment. Over the past few months, for example, Tehran has been actively propagating a new Spanish translation of its state-sponsored text Cell No. 14 that bolsters the image of the religious leadership of Iran. This softer effort appears to complement Iranian President Raisi’s summer trip to Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba where the focus was largely on energy and defense.

Similarly, Russia also seems to be taking the hard/soft approach when it comes to Latin America. In late September, Moscow hosted the first Russia-Latin America International Parliamentary Conference under the theme “Russia and Latin America: Cooperation in a fair world for all.” In his welcoming remarks, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov highlighted that trade, economic and cultural exchanges never stop, and scientific and educational ties are strengthening between the two regions.

But while Russia might be trying to maintain influence in places like Latin America, in other areas it’s seemingly losing it. Indeed, while the regional conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is longstanding, complex, and politically fraught, Russia’s relinquishment of its peacekeeper role – and failure to maintain calm in the tumultuous region- is being viewed by most Armenians as a betrayal. Putin was apparently either too preoccupied with Ukraine or trying to send a broader message about what happens when his friends start to look West. Either way, Armenia isn’t going to be quick to rejoin the fray.

Further, while Moscow might have hoped that his inaction would punish Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan for his outreach to Western partners, it will be instructive to see what happens next. Putin might be hoping that Armenians will push Pashinyan out, potentially making room for a more Russian-friendly successor. But right now, Armenia seems to be doubling-down on its Western-facing efforts more broadly by moving to join the International Criminal Court- which has an open arrest warrant out for Putin.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.