Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Russia in Review: Diversifying Foreign Policy Tools

Russia in Review is a weekly intelligence summary (INTSUM) produced by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). This ISW INTSUM series sheds light on key trends and developments related to the Russian government’s objectives and its efforts to secure them. Receive future Russia in Review INTSUM products via-email by signing up for the ISW mailing list.

Authors: Darina Regio and Nataliya Bugayova

Key Takeaway: The Kremlin is increasingly prioritizing legislative ties as a foreign policy tool. The Russian Parliament expanded its cooperation with the legislatures of several states in September 2019 including Egypt, Qatar, Uzbekistan, and Hungary. The Kremlin likely seeks to diversify its foreign policy outreach and build institution-to-institution ties that reduce its reliance on specific human networks and individuals to advance its goals. The Kremlin might also seek to increase the foreign policy role of the Russian Parliament and the ruling United Russia Party as Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks to preserve his influence after his latest term ends in 2024.

Russia’s Parliament has continued to pursue new inter-parliamentary agreements with its foreign counterparts throughout September 2019. Russia and Qatar announced plans to sign a memorandum of cooperation between the Qatari Consultative Assembly and the Russian Duma on September 24.[1] Russia and Hungary similarly agreed to create a joint parliamentary commission focused on economic and humanitarian cooperation on September 23.[2] Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko, and Russian Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin also held a meeting with Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee Chair Li Zhanshu on September 25.[3]

The Kremlin also continued to expand its legislative ties across Africa ahead of the upcoming Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi on October 24. Legislators from Russia and Egypt met and agreed to review the results of the Russia-Africa Summit on September 19. The two sides also agreed to support key strategic projects (such as the construction of a nuclear power plant in Egypt by Russia) and prepare for a ‘year of humanitarian cooperation’ between Egypt and Russia in 2020.[4] The Russian Duma previously hosted over three hundred parliamentarians from over thirty states at the Russia-Africa Inter-Parliamentary Forum on July 3.[5] ISW has assessed that the Kremlin is cultivating these links with state parliaments to ensure future support for its interests in Africa.[6]

Russia is increasingly emphasizing outreach to legislatures in priority theaters such as the former Soviet Union and Syria. Volodin facilitated an inter-parliamentary agreement between Russia and Uzbekistan during a visit to Tashkent on September 16.[7] The trip marked the first visit by a head of the Russian Duma to Uzbekistan since 2006. The Kremlin is also using legislative channels in its renewed push for influence in Moldova.[8] The Russia-Moldova Inter-Parliamentary Commission resumed its work after a three-year hiatus in June 2019.[9] Moldovan Parliamentary Speaker Zinaida Greceanii chose Russia as the destination of her first foreign policy visit in June 2019.[10] Russia has similarly expanded its formal outreach to the Syrian Ba’ath Party since 2018. Putin’s United Russia Party signed a two-year cooperation agreement with the Syrian Ba’ath Party in April 2018.[11] Russian lawmakers invited members of the Syrian Ba’ath Party to visit Moscow and Sevastopol on the (illegally occupied) Crimean Peninsula in August 2019.[12]

The Kremlin likely intends to use its legislative ties to diversify its political investments in key countries and build more sustainable networks of policymakers favorable to Russia. The Kremlin likely seeks to decrease its reliance on specific human networks and key individuals to achieve its foreign policy objectives. It also likely intends to solidify its interests through favorable legislation advanced by its foreign partners and clients. Volodin has emphasized the need to reinforce “legislatively” the agreements made between state leaders and Putin.[13] Volodin has also highlighted the need to “harmonize” legislation with foreign partners, citing the example of counter-terrorism legislation in Qatar.[14] Volodin similarly proposed harmonizing educational legislation with states in Africa in July 2019.[15]

The Kremlin’s outreach to state parliaments supports not only its specific country-by-country objectives but also its broader geopolitical agenda. The Kremlin is actively attempting to cast itself as an international mediator, humanitarian actor, and effective counter-terrorism partner. It uses inter-parliamentary forums to promote all of these narratives.[16] It has also attempted to use legislative ties (including parliamentary exchanges) to gain global acceptance for its illegal actions, including its illegal occupation of Crimea in 2014.[17]

The Kremlin might be also attempting to increase the stature of the Russian Parliament as Putin looks for options to preserve his rule beyond 2024. The Russian Constitution technically bars Putin from running for reelection when his latest terms as President of Russia ends in 2024. Volodin has previously advocated for expanding the authority of the Russian Duma over the appointment of the Russian Cabinet.[18] His proposal might allow the United Russia Party to preserve its influence after 2024 by allowing it to shape the next Government of Russia. The Kremlin might also be attempting to expand the overall foreign policy role of the Russian Parliament and United Russia.[19]

[1] [“Parliamentarians from Russia and Qatar Will Prepare Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation,”] Russian Duma, September 24, 2019,
[2] [“Russia and Hungary Will Create Inter-Parliamentary Commission,”] Russian Duma, September 23, 2019,
[3] [“Federation Council Chairman Participated in Meeting with the President of Russia and the Chairman of the VSNP Permanent Commission of China in the Kremlin,”] Russian Federation Council, September 25, 2019,; [“Meeting with Chairman of the Standing Committee of the All-China People’s Congress Li Zhanshu,”] Kremlin, September 25, 2019, http://kremlin(.)ru/events/president/news/61642.
[4] [“Umahanov: Federation Council Is Interested in Developing Relations with Egyptian Parliamentarians,”] Parlamentskaya Gazeta, September 19, 2019, https://www.pnp(.)ru/politics/umakhanov-v-sovfede-zainteresovany-v-razvitii-otnosheniy-s-parlamentariyami-egipta.html; [“Meeting with Parliamentary Delegation of Egypt,”] Russian Duma Committee on International Affairs, September 9, 2019, http://interkomitet(.)ru/blog/2019/09/19/sostoyalas-vstrecha-s-parlamentskoj-delegatsiej-egipta/; [“Federation Council and Egypt’s Chamber Deputy Will Form Parliamentary Groups for Cooperation – I. Umahanov,”] Russian Federation Council, March 5, 2017,
[5] [“Materials of the International Forum ‘Development of Parliamentarism’,”] Russian Duma, Accessed September 26, 2019,
[6] Nataliya Bugayova and Darina Regio, “The Kremlin’s Campaign in Africa: Assessment Update,” Institute for the Study of War, August 23, 2019,
[7] [“Vyacheslav Volodin: Russian and Uzbek Parliaments Must Legislatively Support Presidents’ Decisions,”] Russian Duma, September 16, 2019,; [“Volodin and Uzbekistan Head Discussed Importance of Parliament Contacts,”] RIA, September 16, 2019, https://ria(.)ru/20190916/1558745107.html.
[8] Nataliya Bugayova and Mason Clark, “Russia in Review: Military Exercises as Geopolitical Tools,” Institute for the Study of War, September 4, 2019,
[9] [“Dmitry Kozak in Chisinau: First Visit Results,”] Sputnik Moldova, June 24, 2019, https://ru.sputnik(.)md/politics/20190624/26561722/dmitriy-kozak-chisinau-pervye-itogi-vizita.html.
[10] [“Head of the State Duma and Moldovan Parliament Chairman Discussed Inter-Parliamentary Relations Development,”] Russian Duma, June 27, 2019,
[11] The Kremlin’s state media has also reported about a government committee created to fulfill the cooperation agreement with Syria. See: [“United Russia and Syrian Ba’ath Have Signed Cooperation Agreement,”] TASS, April 14, 2018, https://tass(.)ru/politika/5127036; [“Syrian Minister of Domestic Trade Met with United Russia Delegation,”] Riafan, August 1, 2019, https://riafan(.)ru/1199770-ministr-vnutrennei-torgovli-sirii-vstretilsya-s-delegaciei-edinoi-rossii; [“Turchak Met with Assad After U.S. Strikes on Damascus,”] RBC, April 14, 2018, https://www.rbc(.)ru/politics/14/04/2018/5ad1d9109a7947295c5fa03d?story=58c7ff469a7947398567fb3d.
[12] [“Deputy Sablin Invited Representatives of Syrian Ba’ath Party to Moscow and Sevastopol,”] TASS, August 20, 2019, https://tass(.)ru/politika/6780570.
[13] [“Vyacheslav Volodin: Parliaments of Russia and Uzbekistan Should Legislatively Ensure the Decisions of the Presidents of the Two Countries,”] Russian Duma, September 16, 2019,
[14] [“Parliamentarians from Russia and Qatar Will Prepare Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation,”] Russian Duma, September 24, 2019,
[15] [“Volodin Offered to African Parliamentarians to Discuss the Topic of ‘Harmonization of Legislatures’ in Education,”] TASS, July 3, 2019, https://tass(.)ru/obschestvo/6624559.
[16] [“Humanitarian Ties Between Russia and Africa Are Entering a New Stage,”] Russian Duma, July 7, 2019,; [“Parliamentarians from Russia and Qatar Will Prepare Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation,”] Russian Duma, September 24, 2019,
[17] [“Aksyonov: Delegations of the Crimean Parliament and Syria Will Exchange Visits,”] Ukraina Ru, October 16, 2018, https://ukraina(.)ru/news/20181016/1021429041.html.
[18] [“Constitution of the Russian Federation,”] Kremlin, December 12, 1993, http://constitution.kremlin(.)ru/.
[19] Nataliya Bugayova, Darina Regio, Mason Clark, and Michaela Walker with Alexandra McClintock, “Russia in Review: Domestic Discontent and Foreign Policy,” Institute for the Study of War, August 6, 2019,