Russia has begun negotiations with Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to open Russian cultural centers abroad, likely aimed at increasing Russian influence in the Middle East and North Africa, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote in its assessment on Jan. 4.
According to the ISW, Russia's effort to develop cultural centers, known as Russia House centers, in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are part of a broader diplomatic initiative to exert Russian influence in different regions of the world. The details regarding the current status of the negotiation process with these countries were not disclosed.
European nations have criticized Russia's attempts to use cultural centers to promote Russian propaganda abroad, with Ukrainian and Moldovan officials previously warning that Russian officials use Russian cultural centers to conduct “subversive work" abroad.
In July 2023, Czech authorities opened an investigation into a Russian cultural center in Prague known for promoting a booklet with anti-Ukrainian themes translated into Czech, citing potential sanction violations. In 2022, the cultural center allegedly released a translated document promoting Russian war propaganda.
The ISW notes, citing Russian state-controlled media reports, that similar negotiations are ongoing with other undisclosed nations. Previous Russia state media reports indicate that Russia is also in negotiations to open additional cultural centers in Brazil, South Africa, Angola, and Mali by 2025.
Russia currently operates more than 80 Russian House centers across Europe, Africa, and Central and Southeast Asia under the guise of promoting Russian culture abroad and preserving historical sites abroad with significance to Russia.