Russia’s Sphere of Influence: Looking East and West

EVANSTON, Ill. — A new report by National Security journalists at Northwestern University’s Medill Graduate School of Journalism offers a detailed status report from six former Soviet client states now dealing with questions of independence and complex relations with Russia, the European Union, NATO….and inevitably, the United States.

Each reporter traveled to one of six countries long overshadowed by the Soviet Union, their former overseer: Bulgaria, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova, Poland and Serbia. Three of the countries — – Bulgaria, Latvia and Poland — are members of the European Union and NATO, causing special friction with Russia; others of the countries aspire to membership but feel push and pull pressures between Washington and Moscow.

Each of the countries is navigating uncertainty since the inception of the Trump administration. Meanwhile, government officials, journalists and private citizens in each country discussed Russian economic and political influence, as well as propaganda and false news reports linked to Moscow.

For its part, the United States has been providing economic and military assistance to these states to counter any Russian geopolitical aims. However, Moscow reacts badly to the United States in its backyard and expresses nostalgia for the past.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made his view clear more than 10 years ago in his 2005 state of the nation address: “The breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.”

The Medill correspondents set out to test the temperature in each of these former USSR client states. They interviewed politicians, activists, pundits, researchers, students, and citizens, focusing on their aspirations for the future and mapping out a ground view of life in the shadow of Russian influence.

This project was done under the auspices of the National Security Journalism Initiative, which is part of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Media Communications.

Our partners in the project are The Ground Truth Project and Newsweek. Medill, a national leader in journalism education for decades, has expanded that leadership role to include national security journalism education with the assistance of generous Robert R. McCormick Foundation grants.

The full report: