Kremlin Uses Russian and International Youth to Expand Influence and Fight in Ukraine

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 88

(Source: Rossotrudnichestvo)

Executive Summary:

  • The Kremlin is increasing efforts to work with foreign youth, journalists, and politicians through the federal agency Rossotrudnichestvo by offering training from leading Russian propagandists.
  • Simultaneously, in Russia itself, raids on conscripts, illegal assignments to the front, and coercion to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense have become more frequent.
  • Alongside ethnic Russians, the Kremlin has begun actively recruiting foreigners from Latin America, Central Asia, Africa, and South Asia to send to the front with promises of Russian citizenship and money.

Independent journalists report that the Russian Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation—Rossotrudnichestvo—is increasing expenditures on programs for foreign journalists, bloggers, and youth. Over the first four months of 2024, the agency announced relevant tenders of almost 230 million rubles (about $2.6 million)—a greater sum than the organization spent in 2023. Costs for such endeavors increased markedly after the outbreak of full-scale war in Ukraine (, May 15). In 2023, Rossotrudnichestvo launched a new project for foreign journalists—the media school InterNovosti (, December 18, 2023). Participants are taken on excursions around Moscow, including to the Komsomolskaya Pravda publishing house, the Ostankino television center, and the Federation Council (, December 29, 2023). Journalists and bloggers from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are the target audience for the project (, May 15). Russia’s initiative to attract young people from abroad demonstrates how the Kremlin seeks to expand its influence on youth outside of Russia while it is losing so many of its own youth in its war against Ukraine.

Journalists from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, as well as young politicians from Armenia, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and other countries, have come to Russia by invitation of the Russian agency. In 2024, Rossotrudnichestvo encouraged journalists and bloggers from members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Latin America, Muslim countries of the Middle East, and Africa to participate in new projects. As part of these projects, foreign journalists are trained by the Sputnik news agency, run by leading Russian propagandist Margarita Simonyan. The agency has offered trips to Crimea and Donbas as well as the opportunity to attend Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration, along with other “privileges” (, May 15).

At home, the Kremlin’s work with Russian youth is not progressing well. Human rights activists report that in Moscow, several dozen conscripts have been forcibly detained (The Moscow Times, May 21;, May 25; European Bureau for Conscientious Objection, June 3). According to family members, some of those detained have certificates of chronic illnesses or are in legal proceedings with the military registration and enlistment office. Yet, they are still threatened with assignment to the front (, May 27). Additionally, in Moscow, the conscription campaign has been using a Unified Recruitment Point (EPP), which replaced district military registration and enlistment offices. Lawyers note that EPP doctors systematically ignore diseases that, by law, are grounds for exemption from service (, May 27). According to Grigory Sverdlin, the founder of “Go Through the Forest!”  (Idite lesom), a human rights project that helps Russians feeling mobilization or conscription and defectors, the most recent call for recruitment in Russia was the largest in the past eight years. The Ministry of Defense plans to mobilize 150,000 conscripts into the armed forces (Meduza, April 1;, accessed  June 6).

Those mobilized are increasingly forced to serve under contract. According to relatives, refusal to sign a contract will lead to the mobilized being placed in the so-called “pits” and sent to assault brigades a few days later. Experience shows, however, that signing a contract does not always relieve a soldier from participating in Russia’s “meat assaults” (, May 27).

Promises that participants in the war against Ukraine will become a “new Russian elite” have also turned out to be false (see EDM, March 4, 13). Kremlin propaganda reports that the start of training for the first group of veterans under the “Time of Heroes” program will be taught by leading Russian propagandists. The program claims to help participants of the “special military operation” become leaders through the mentorship of government personnel, the Presidential Administration, and notable figures in Russia, such as singers, artists, and journalists listed in the “Public Council” section of the website (TASS, May 28; Vremya Geroyev, accessed June 6). The program, however, only contains 83 veterans, while the remaining “participants in the special operation” have already encountered how the system has not lived up to its promises.

Independent media has reported that only 19 out of almost 100 participants in the war in Ukraine who entered the United Russia primaries received enough votes to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections this coming September. No participant in the “Time of Heroes” project was among the winners. The candidates claim they were subject to administrative pressure and blatant manipulation of results. Additionally, they say that local public sector employees were brought in an organized manner and forced to vote for the “right” candidates through threats and intimidation. Notably, in Moscow, all 15 candidates lost their elections, and none garnered even 1,000 votes, despite the winners receiving more than 6,000 votes (, May 29).

Such an attitude toward veterans is in sharp contrast to the conditions created for pro-Russian foreign guests, such as participants in the Rossotrudnichestvo program. Not all foreigners brought to Russia attend Kremlin celebrations or go on excursions to Crimea, however. The Kremlin also uses them for cannon fodder. Journalists report that Moscow continues to recruit foreigners for the war against Ukraine. They are offered a substantial cash reward and a Russian passport for their services. The main targets of the Ministry of Defense are labor migrants from Central Asia (see EDM, November 8, 2022, February 16, September 13, 2023, February 14; Deutsche Welle–Russian Service, April 15).

The Kremlin is also looking in the “far abroad” for those willing to fight in Ukraine. For example, Cubans who moved to Russia for work have been recruited to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense (ВВС Russian Service, May 6). International students in Russia experiencing urgent financial difficulties are also being targeted (, January 28). Ukrainian sources report that citizens of India, Nepal, Cuba, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and other African countries fighting on the side of Russia have been coerced into service (, April 16).

As Russia loses more and more citizens to the war in Ukraine, it must look beyond its borders to replenish both its army and its domestic workforce. Rossotrudnichestvo’s project demonstrates how Moscow is looking to expand its influence on the younger generation abroad through indirect propaganda and media, while its recruitment of foreigners to fight in its war shows that it may not have the manpower or collective support within Russia needed to keep its aggression going. Despite the vast sums of money expended on working with foreigners, it is evident the Kremlin seeks to use both its own citizens and those it can attract from abroad as cannon fodder for its long war against Ukraine.