Russia Accuses U.S., West of Building 'Belt of Instability' to Undermine Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused Western nations of trying to create a "belt of instability" to undermine Moscow, while also meddling in Russia's upcoming parliamentary elections and backing extremists.

At a foreign policy webinar on Friday morning, Lavrov levelled multiple accusations at Russia's Western adversaries, both American and European.

Lavrov's remarks come amid a period of frosty relations between Washington, D.C. and Moscow, as President Joe Biden vows to punish the Kremlin for its extensive cyber operations against U.S. companies, allies and federal institutions, as well as its covert operations against dissidents and rival nations.

"They are attempting to build a belt of instability around us, forcing our nearest neighbors and our fraternal populations to make a choice—either you're with the West or you're with the Russian Federation," said Lavrov on Friday, according to the state-run Tass news agency.

"They want to absorb the territories around our country through various means—both military and economic ones—and surround us with a buffer zone, additionally profiting from the fact that the West will have a decisive influence on the development of our neighboring countries."

Russia has long feared Western encroachment into what Moscow considers its sphere of influence. The NATO alliance—an anti-Soviet Union Cold War defensive pact—has always been a particular concern for the Kremlin. The alliance's continued expansion is a major grievance for Moscow, and has prompted Russian threats of conflict.

"This line was thoroughly seen in Ukraine," Lavrov said. "Over the recent months, they tried to test out color revolution methods in Belarus as well."

"The Americans and Europeans started a geopolitical battle for Moldova, not even shying away from open propaganda during the election campaign, directly meddling in the internal affairs of a seemingly sovereign state," Lavrov added.

"And now our Western colleagues are attempting to expand their presence, with their militaries as well, along the perimeter of our borders, including both Central Asia and Transcaucasia."

Russia has repeatedly accused the U.S. and its NATO allies of plotting regime change in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and elsewhere. The U.S. and NATO, meanwhile, have cited Russian invasions of Ukraine and Georgia as proof that Moscow is more interested in its sphere of influence than regional peace.

Russian aggression in Ukraine and Georgia has pushed both nations towards NATO membership along with Montenegro, which in 2016 was the target of an alleged Russian-linked coup. All three nations are striving for full NATO membership, despite threats from Moscow that it could ignite more conflicts.

Biden came to office vowing a tougher approach to Russian agitation, particularly its cyber attacks against American institutions and companies, and its efforts to spread disinformation and meddle in American elections.

Biden has also imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russian individuals and companies involved in cyber attacks on U.S. targets and suppression of Russian dissidents.

But Biden was criticized this week for agreeing a deal with Germany over the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, which will enable Russia to export its natural gas directly to the European Union. Opponents see the project as a geopolitical victory for Russia, and a threat to EU and thus NATO security.

Russia has accused the U.S. of meddling in its own elections. Russian officials routinely deflect allegations of wrongdoing by accusing adversaries of similar behavior and accusing rivals of Russophobia. Russian elections are closely controlled by the Kremlin, described by critics as electoral theater.

Putin is the de facto leader of the United Russia party, which currently holds a comfortable majority in the Duma, Russia's lower house.

Observers expect a comfortable victory for United Russia in the coming Duma elections, as Putin and his allies seek to fortify their control after a turbulent period of pandemic, economic difficulties, and diplomatic tensions with the U.S. and European Union.

"Many Western countries are taking advantage of this external situation in order to influence the situation in Russia, especially with regards to the upcoming elections," Lavrov said on Friday.

"Western political strategists, to a large extent, make no secret of the fact that they want to undermine Russia's internal political stability by resorting to a wide range of unscrupulous tools, false information, as well as trotting out unsubstantiated accusations."

Lavrov accused the U.S. of supporting "extremists" inside Russia, though did not specify any individuals or groups.

The U.S. and its allies have supported Russian dissidents in their anti-corruption and pro-democracy activities. Biden and the State Department have recently thrown their weight behind Alexei Navalny, the campaigner who survived an FSB (Federal Security Service) assassination attempt in 2020, and has since been imprisoned in Russia.

Navalny's political operations and Anti-Corruption Foundation were branded extremist by a Moscow court in June. Anyone convicted of working for Navalny can now be jailed, and anyone who publicly supports Navalny or his organizations can be barred from running for office.

"Intelligence services, as you know, are keen on supporting those who are interested here in promoting various extremist tendencies," Lavrov said on Friday. The FSB and other Russian intelligence services "are watching closely such extremist threats," Lavrov said.

The foreign minister also lashed out at the State Department's United States Agency for International Development work, which U.S. critics have long complained is used as to push for regime change abroad.

"The more classic example is the so-called soft power: promoting one's agenda through NGOs, which are sponsored from overseas, and advancing the agenda through foreign missions of NGOs, which are financed by the United States Agency for International Development of the Department of State," Lavrov said.

Sergei Lavrov at press conference in Moscow
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov holds a press conference with Guatemala's Minister of Foreign Affairs after their meeting in Moscow, Russia on June 24, 2021. MAXIM SHIPENKOV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images