Last week's events concerning the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign

Topics of the Week

The European Union provisionally approved the EU Global Human Rights Sanction Regime. If agreed upon, it will target human rights abusers with the freeze of assets and travel bans.

The Kremlin is establishing themselves as part of the United State's news and social media ecosystem, according to the current and former U.S. intelligence officials.

Kremlin's Current Narrative: How is Maia Sandu threatening the status quo and stability of the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic.

Good Old Soviet Joke

An old man is dying in a deserted hut. Suddenly, there is a knock on the door. 

"Who's there?" the dying man asks. 

"Death" the visitor answers.

"Thank God, I thought it was KGB."

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Policy & Research News

European Commission to approve new Magnitsky-style sanctions regime

The EU provisionally approved an EU Global Human Rights Sanction Regime, a single framework which will substitute the current EU’s country-by-country system for imposing the restrictive measures on foreigners who infringed the fundamental human rights. Human rights abusers will be targeted with a freeze of assets and travel bans. 

On November 27 prominent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who survived the poisoning, conducted by Kremlin, gave testimonials to the European Parliament foreign affairs committee (AFET).  During this hearing, Navalny called on the EU to target Russian oligarchs and their ‘dirty money’ in the European Union. He stressed that the EU made a mistake to penalise mid-ranking officials, who do not have stakes and bank accounts in the EU, and instead the Union should sanction billionaires who own stakes in Europe. 

The new regime, however, might also become a point of contention since such Russia-friendly countries as Cyprus, Greece and Hungary might oppose or water down the sanction.

The EU already started debating on the first names which will be included in the sanction list, which will be formally agreed upon and released on the UN's International Human Rights Day on 10 December. Once approved, this decision will become a historic breakthrough that will not only penalise perpetrators of gross human rights abuses but also will make transatlantic sanction cooperation easier in the future.

Norwegian company withdraws from the Russian Nord Stream 2 project

Norwegian risk management and quality assurance firm DNV GL has announced that it suspends its work on the Nord Stream II over U.S. sanctions fear. The company will stop its verification and certification process of the project, given the risk of sanctions. This decision was ignited by the recently issued U.S. guidelines for Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act (PEESA), which targets the Nord Stream 2. The new package of sanction against the Kremlin-led project should be shortly considered by Washington and included in the U.S. defence bill in December. 

Nonetheless, the withdrawal of Norway has not become an impetus for every European country and private stakeholder to follow their example. Austrian company OMV AG, which is one of the financiers behind the NS II project, stated that the EU has to secure its energy priorities, while there is no foreseeable risk that would halt the project. Other companies such as Engie SA, Wintershall DEA, and Uniper SE also remain to be committed to the project, and not willing to cease their efforts.

The controversial Nord Stream II gas pipeline is a project led by Russia’s Gazprom, which is going to run under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. This was designed to fulfil Kremlin’s strategic foreign policy goals to multiply Russia's leverage over the European energy market, without having to go through Ukraine as a transit country, and finally forcing the U.S. out of this domain.

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US Developments

Russian Influence Peddlers Carving Out New Audiences on Fringes

Although the U.S. did not see a repeat of Russia's 2016 interference, current and former U.S. intelligence officials have warned that the Kremlin is "establishing themselves as part of the United States’s news and social media ecosystem, ingratiating themselves to U.S. audiences on the far right and the far left." Russian outlets with significant engagement include state-backed sources such as RT, Sputnik, TASS, and Izvestia TV. 20% of the posts produced by sources connected to Russia were found to be in English with 40% aimed at Spanish, Arabic, Turkish- speaking audiences.

Russian Military Intelligence: Background and Issues for Congress

A recent report by the Congressional Research Service on Russia’s military intelligence agency, the Main Directorate of the General Staff (GU), also known as the GRU describes GRU's tactics as "often aggressive and brazen, leading to publicity and the exposure of GRU culpability." The report states the GRU continues "to conduct cyberattacks, election interference, assassinations, and disinformation" and so "understanding the agency’s structure and the position it occupies in Russian foreign and security policy can help identify what the GRU is capable of and why it conducts particular operations."

Kremlin's Current Narrative

How is Maia Sandu threatening the status quo and stability of the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic (PMR)

Maia Sandu has won the presidential elections of Moldova on November 16 against Igor Dodon, and ever since her name has been quite prominent in the Russian news outlets. Starting from the discussions of the future goals of the new leader of Moldova, and finishing with her recent call to withdraw the Russian peacekeeping troops from the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic (PMR). 

In contrast to “one of the pro-Russian politicians” in the post-soviet space, Igor Dodon, Maia Sandu has continuously been called out as “pro-EU,” “pro-US,” and “pro-NATO.” In addition to that, she was accused of theft of € 1 billion from banks of Moldova (reported by IZ.RU) and was seeking support in elections from one of the participants of a “criminal scheme” for withdrawal of more than 500 billion rubles from Russia. Moreover, she has reportedly paid for the votes in her support in Transnistria.

Regardless of her “pro-Western” outlook, the abilities of Mrs Sandu are quite limited, since she does not have a majority in the parliament, comments However, as most recently, she has called to dissolve the government of Moldova and hold early parliamentary elections, she may soon try to create a "puppet pro-Western government." Yet, she will not be able to act as an autonomous politician, and will be controlled “from the outside.” Under such a scenario, the relations with Russia will become at best rationally and pragmatically oriented (

More controversial remarks are made regarding her position in favour of withdrawing the Russian peacekeeping troops from PMR, to replace them with an OSCE Civilian Observer Mission. Dmitry Peskov has expressed concern about “changing the status quo in Transnistria,” that could result in destabilization of the situation, and that Igor Dodon, was much more constructive on this matter. 

Other sources, however, have perceived the issue more acutely, arguing that Maia Sandu is pursuing “a new war in Transnistria,” and that her victory in the elections as such is a “prologue of the war for Crimea.” Finally, because of this course, Ukraine is going to lose Odesa, since Russian troops “will be forced” to occupy the Odesa region in case of destabilization of the situation in PMR, as Moscow will need to protect about 220 thousand Russians live in this region. Russian Senator Alexei Pushkov noted that Russia ensured peace in Transnistria “for almost 30 years now,” while an expert from explains that despite the hopes of the West and Sandu, “it is impossible to solve the Transnistrian issue without Russia.”

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Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Center for Security Policy, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against the liberal-democratic system.

For comments. suggestions or media inquiries, please contact the Head of the Kremlin Watch Program Veronika Víchová at 

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