Catherine Belton

April 19, 2024

Washington Post


Russia’s Foreign Ministry has been drawing up plans to try to weaken its Western adversaries, including the United States, and leverage the Ukraine war to forge a global order free from what it sees as American dominance, according to a secret Foreign Ministry document.

In a classified addendum to Russia’s official — and public — “Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation,” the ministry calls for an “offensive information campaign” and other measures spanning “the military-political, economic and trade and informational psychological spheres” against a “coalition of unfriendly countries” led by the United States.

“We need to continue adjusting our approach to relations with unfriendly states,” states the 2023 document, which was provided to The Washington Post by a European intelligence service. “It’s important to create a mechanism for finding the vulnerable points of their external and internal policies with the aim of developing practical steps to weaken Russia’s opponents.”

The document for the first time provides official confirmation and codification of what many in the Moscow elite say has become a hybrid war against the West. Russia is seeking to subvert Western support for Ukraine and disrupt the domestic politics of the United States and European countries, through propaganda campaigns supporting isolationist and extremist policies, according to Kremlin documents previously reported on by The Post. It is also seeking to refashion geopolitics, drawing closer to China, Iran and North Korea in an attempt to shift the current balance of power.

Using much tougher and blunter language than the public foreign policy document, the secret addendum, dated April 11, 2023, claims that the United States is leading a coalition of “unfriendly countries” aimed at weakening Russia because Moscow is “a threat to Western global hegemony.” The document says the outcome of Russia’s war in Ukraine will “to a great degree determine the outlines of the future world order,” a clear indication that Moscow sees the result of its invasion as inextricably bound with its ability — and that of other authoritarian nations — to impose its will globally.

The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, which was published March 31, 2023, and approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin, deploys bland diplomatic language to call for “the democratization of international relations,” “sovereign equality” and the strengthening of Russia’s position on the global stage. Though the Foreign Policy Concept also charges that the United States and “its satellites” have used the Ukraine conflict to escalate “a many-years-long anti-Russia policy,” it also states that “Russia does not consider itself an enemy of the West and has no ill intentions toward it.”

Russia hopes the West will “realize the lack of any future in its confrontational policy and hegemonistic ambitions, and will accept the complicated realities of the multipolar world,” the public document states.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it did not comment “on the existence or nonexistence of internal ministry documents” and on the progress of work on them. “As we have stated several times on different levels, we can confirm the mood is to decisively combat the aggressive steps taken by the collective West as part of the hybrid war launched against Russia,” the ministry added.

Russia’s recent veto against extending U.N. monitoring of sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program, effectively ending 14 years of cooperation, was “a clear sign” that the work contemplated in the classified addendum is already underway, said a leading Russian academic with close ties to senior Russian diplomats. The academic spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations in Moscow.

“Russia can create difficulties for the U.S. in many different regions of the world,” the academic said. “This is about the Middle East, northeast Asia, the African continent and even Latin America.”

The creation of the Foreign Policy Concept and the classified addendum followed a call to Russian academics for policy suggestions. One proposal submitted in February 2023 to the Foreign Ministry by the deputy head of Moscow’s Institute for the Commonwealth of Independent States, which maintains close ties to Russia’s security apparatus, laid out Russia’s options more bluntly still.

The academic, Vladimir Zharikhin, called for Russia to “continue to facilitate the coming to power of isolationist right-wing forces in America,” “enable the destabilization of Latin American countries and the rise to power of extremist forces on the far left and far right there,” as well as facilitate “the restoration of European countries’ sovereignty by supporting parties dissatisfied with economic pressure from the U.S.”

Other points in the policy proposal, which was also provided to The Post, suggested that Moscow stoke conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan to bring Russia and China closer together, as well as “to escalate the situation in the Middle East around Israel, Iran and Syria to distract the U.S. with the problems of this region.”

Zharikhin declined to discuss his proposal.

Western officials have warned that Russia has been escalating its propaganda and influence campaigns over the past two years as it seeks to undermine support for Ukraine. As part of that, it has sought to create a new global divide, with Russian propaganda efforts against the West resonating in many countries in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia.

“I think the U.S. was convinced that the rest of the world — North and South — would support the U.S. in the conflict with Russia and it turned out that this was not true,” Zharikhin told The

Post in an earlier interview. “This demonstrates the single polar world is over, and the U.S. doesn’t want to come to terms with this.”

For Mikhail Khodorkovsky — the longtime Putin critic who was once Russia’s richest man until a clash with the Kremlin landed him 10 years in prison — it is not surprising that Russia is seeking to do everything it can to undermine the United States. “For Putin, it is absolutely natural that he should try to create the maximum number of problems for the U.S.,” he said. “The task is to take the U.S. out of the game, and then destroy NATO. This doesn’t mean dissolving it, but to create the feeling among people that NATO isn’t defending them.”

The long congressional standoff on providing more weapons to Ukraine was only making it easier for Russia to challenge Washington’s global power, he said.

“The Americans consider that insofar as they are not directly participating in the war [in Ukraine], then any loss is not their loss,” Khodorkovsky said. “This is an absolute misunderstanding.”

A defeat for Ukraine, he said, “means that many will stop fearing challenging the U.S.” and the costs for the United States will only increase.