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Research Article

The Evolution of Russian Political Tactics in Ukraine

Pages 121-132 | Published online: 01 Oct 2020


The conflict in Donbas has distracted attention from broader patterns of interaction between Russia and Ukraine. Russia continues to use a variety of tactics, apart from military force, to influence Ukraine. Among the key tactics are coercion in the gas sector, naval blockade, “passport colonialism,” attempts to sway Ukrainian elections, support for the pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, and promotion of religious influence through the Russian Orthodox Church. None of these tactics is novel, but each is evolving along with circumstances. Regardless of what happens in Donbas, Ukraine will continue to feel multifaceted pressure from Russia.

Disclosure Statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.


1. Many studies of Russian foreign policy focus on the concept of “soft power” to describe nonmilitary means of influence. We find that coercion, attraction, and subversion are so thoroughly intertwined that trying to label them as “soft” or “hard” would cause as many problems as it resolves. For a nuanced discussion of “soft power” in the Russia–Ukraine relationship, see Feklyunina (Citation2016).

2. Igor Guzhva is a Ukrainian pro-Russian journalist who has lived in Russia for some time, and has at various times been the editor-in-chief of the political expert network of the Kreml.org project and the editor-in-chief of Moscow News.

3. Fifty percent of ZIK’s shares are owned by Russia’s Gazprom.

4. Quoted in Ukraine Election Task Force, “Foreign Interference in Ukraine’s Democracy,” 3.

5. Ukraine Election Task Force, “Foreign Interference in Ukraine’s Democracy,” 6.

6. The Opposition Bloc had been formed to run in the 2014 parliamentary elections as a successor to the Party of Regions. It split in 2018, with a faction under Oleksandr Vilkul retaining the “Opposition Bloc” name and fielding its own candidates.

7. The relationship between Russia’s motives, policy solutions, and variants of realist international relations theories is explored in Paul D’Anieri, “Magical Realism: Assumptions, Evidence and Prescriptions in the Ukraine Conflict,” Eurasian Geography and Economics 60, 1 (2019): 97–117.

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