As part of a three-year research effort, AidData has produced diagnostics and analysis to support civic space, media resilience, and energy security and counter Russian influence in 17 Eastern European and Eurasian countries.
Russia's Influence on Civil Society
In the Kremlin's Shadow monitors trends in the health of civic space across Eastern Europe and Eurasia (E&E) over time in the lead-up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
A three-year undertaking, this research included extensive original data collection to assess domestic trends within E&E countries—public attitudes towards civil society and civic participation, as well as restrictions of civic space actors. It pioneered novel methods to track Russian financing and in-kind assistance to civil society groups and regulators, media coverage targeting foreign publics, and perceived influence over civic space in other countries.
Research in Context: Russia-Ukraine War
"This is a classic case of Russia's use of hybrid warfare tactics, where they were using civilian tools to apply pressure on the Ukrainian population, years in advance of the attack." —AidData Director of Policy Analysis, Samantha Custer
Ukraine has held firm in its fight for democracy since Russia’s full-scale invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022. AidData's Samantha Custer sat down with Jeff Kaplow, Associate Professor of Government and Director of the NukeLab at William & Mary's Global Research Institute, to discuss the developments of the past year and where this conflict might be headed.
Focus Area: Civic Space
How can we better monitor the health of civil societies, in the face of malign foreign influence?
Policymakers have long been concerned about the erosion of civic space, in the face of a wave of rising authoritarianism and democratic backsliding. Yet, reliable and comparable data to quantify and monitor country vulnerabilities has rarely been available, nor have US policymakers been able to quantify the best avenues for US assistance. The challenge is particularly heightened in post-Soviet countries, due to concerns over the Kremlin's attempts to disrupt societies, stoke discord, and counter democratic norms in an attempt to maintain Russia's sphere of influence.
To bridge the gap, AidData has published a new dataset of 14 indicators to monitor trends in the health of civic space from 2015-2021 in a comparable way across Eatern Europe & Eurasia (E&E). These indicators asses the domestic environment for citizens to assemble peacefully and to express their views without fear of retribution. They also assess the channels by which the Kremlin may exert external influence to skew or constrain civic space.
In addition to these historical indicators, AidData expanded its in-house Listening to Leaders sampling frame to field two first-of-a-kind surveys of representatives of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and their constituents across 16 countries (excluding Ukraine) in Eastern Europe and Eurasia in 2022. The surveys triangulated information on the health of civil society, by hearing from the perspectives of CSO staff and their constituents in a comparable way.
The resulting report, In the Kremlin's Shadow: Civic Space and Russian Influence in Europe & Eurasia, synthesizes these indicators to quantify the Kremlin's activities and impacts in the E&E region. It complements, rather than duplicates, the extensive context-specific information provided in an accompanying series of profiles of 17 countries and 7 occupied or autonomous territories.
Focus Area: Energy Security
What do countries need to bolster energy security—and where are they most vulnerable?
Energy markets are highly interconnected, and related investments are relative opaque. It is therefore difficult to understand how countries in Eastern Europe and Eurasia govern energy resources; how foreign energy suppliers like Russia exert influence; and how US government efforts to bolster energy security in the region are effective—or not. While existing indices monitor global energy trends, none of these tools adequately address energy security environment unique to Europe & Eurasia. AidData has produced a new Energy Security Index (ESI) that systematically tracks and analyzes energy governance and security in the region over time. The ESI provides insights into how best to target assistance towards Eastern European countries to decrease their dependence on natural gas imports and strengthen the resilience of their institutions to avoid capture.
Focus Area: Media Resilience
How well-positioned are societies to navigate misinformation and disinformation?
AidData has produced diagnostics and analysis on media resilience in 17 countries in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. These measures overcome a critical shortcoming in existing data on media freedom and trust in media that focuses primarily on domestic rather than external threats, especially Russia.
Our 31 indicators of media resilience provide a comprehensive, multi-faceted snapshot across countries and over time, in order to gauge how the degree of resilience with which a media system responds to externally influenced narratives.
We've also researched the presence of Russian state-owned media in these countries, along with the ownership breakdown of top media outlets in these 17 countries with known or suspected Kremlin ties.
To assess how citizens view the domestic media environment, how they source and consume information, and in which ways they assess the credibility of their information sources, AidData designed and field a general population online survey for 10 countries.
Finally, AidData analyzed the sentiment of content produced by a subset of domestic media over a 3-5 year period with regard to key words of relevance to foreign policy issues.