by Prof. Andrej Kreutz,
EGF adviser for Trans-Atlantic security
The issue of soft power and its use in international relations, the concept of attracting and coopting rather than use of direct or indirect coercion as a means of persuasion, was introduced to present use by American scholar Joseph S Nye Jr. in 2002. However, both its concept and its practical use were in fact not new. Both modern and past history provides numerous examples of its previous applications. Although the Americans like to attribute their global domination to be the result of their liberal ideology, pop-culture, attractive media and the American dream nourished by them, in the previous centuries, France and Britain successfully promoted their own versions of liberalism and progress in order to increase and justify their power and influence. The Russian Empire claimed to be the protector of the Slavs and Eastern Orthodoxy as well as the transmitter of the European Civilization on the vast expanses of Eurasia, and the USSR was, at least until the mid-1960’s seen by many as the champion of socialism and an ideological alternative to western capitalism . Such a world-wide perception and support of some then widely popular political programs such as the national liberation of the Afro-Asian and Latin American peoples, socio-economic egalitarianism and a call for global peace and disarmament provided Moscow with many political assets and increased its strength much above its real potential and strategic resources.
Post-Soviet Russia found itself in a quite different and incomparably worse situation. Because of the collapse of the USSR and the subsequently greatly diminished territory and material resources, and the replacement of the “socialist system” by the clumsy imitation of Western capitalism in the country, its external image has changed dramatically.
In addition, during the last twenty years the Russian Federation’s foreign policy has been devoid of any deeper theoretical framework and ideological premises . In the present time of mass media and internet, the bare appeal to pragmatically understood national self-interest, the understanding of which might often be dubious and questionable, cannot be sufficient to win international support. The most powerful empire in history, the US, achieved its position largely because of its enormous reserve of soft power, and similar effect might be noticed in the cases of other great states of the era . Unfortunately as one of former Russian President Medvedev’s advisors, Igor Yurgens admitted, “Russia has not yet formulated a unique value based ideology, similar to the Western ideology of democracy and post-industrial development. Nor has it demonstrated a success story compared with that of China, which has become the world factory” . Partly because of that and partly because of the neglect and the privatization of social properties, which was typical for the early post-Soviet period, Moscow started looking for ways to influence the world perception of its image much later than Anglo-Saxons and even some other non-Western notions . Even during the last few years Russia has suffered several defeats in information warfare, at the time of its war with Georgia in 2008 and during the last parliamentary and presidential elections in 2011 and 2012. According to some experts Moscow does not have the strength or opportunity to formulate an international agenda. It simply cannot have an assertive position . The reason for that is not the Russian leaders’ misunderstanding of the current international agenda, but the lack of strength and sufficient means of influence at their disposal. In order to change the existing situation, the country needs to rebuild its basis of material and hard power and create a new soft power adapted to the present circumstances, as the ability to influence the others and to present an attractive and positive image of itself to the rest of the world. This is certainly a difficult and even formidable task, but the Russian leadership now seems to understand its importance.
Vladimir Putin in his article “Russia in the Changing World” stressed the need for “efforts to promote our international and diplomatic activity and to foster an accurate image of Russia abroad” . However, he admitted, “we have not seen great successes here. When it comes to media influence, we are often outperformed” . Some Russian liberal and pro-Western journalists are more sceptical and even sarcastic about any Russian effort to get soft power, which in their view “will be at best limited to a set of technical measures – not entirely useless, but ultimately ineffective” . And yet, in spite of the Russian leaders’ conservatism and cautiousness and pro-western Russian intelligentsia sarcasm, a new Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, which President Valdimir Putin signed on 12 February 2013, puts the emphasis on modern forms and methods of foreign policy work including the use of ‘soft power’ methods of competent integration into the global information flows. Even earlier, during Dimitri Medvedev’s presidency, Russia started to progress in improving the institutional basis for a smart foreign policy, and in 2008 a new agency, the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) was established, but during its first years it was still neither very active nor efficient. However, in March 2012, an experienced politician and the former Chairman of the State Duma Committee for Foreign Affairs, Konstantin Kosachev was appointed as head of the agency. Although he admitted that until now, Russia’s ability to wield soft power was largely far behind that of its competitors, he insisted that its goal should be to achieve a “voluntary agreement of our prospective partners, our prospective allies to cooperate with Russia” . As he argued, “the non-material, humanitarian part of our life is no less, maybe even more important than its material, tangible part” . He was probably right and considered his mission to be serious. However, at least until now despite increasing efforts, the global image of Russia, especially in the Western countries, has not improved but rather deteriorated . The reason of that is not the lack of knowledge or respect for Russian culture which was ranked in the top 10 (out of 50) by respondents of Simon Anholt Nation Brand Index, but the political issues including both its internal system and foreign policy of the country . What are the reasons for that and what are the real chances of the country achieving more positive outcomes and improving its international prestige and political influence?
I do not agree with the opinion that the only possible solution would be to wholeheartedly accept the so-called present Western values and to submit to American leadership. Neither Washington’s foreign policy nor civilizational and moral patterns propagated by the Western elites are in fact particularly popular among the majority of the people, even in many of the Western countries. In addition, although the price of their independence might be high, the possible alternative might be even more costly. In spite of the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Moscow’s numerous suggestions for the integrated economic and security zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok, Russia is still viewed as a threat and a country on probation and all its concessions brought even more scorn and rejection.
In order to discuss the issue of Russia’s international image and its potential soft power it seems necessary to clarify two different but strictly connected issues: the origins of soft power and the place of the Russian Federation in the present international system.
The soft power of a country cannot arise just from the skillful use of media or even the most sophisticated communication mechanism. The country which wants to achieve it has to have a real and tangible material and hard powers at its disposal and needs to be able to offer some ideas and programs corresponding to the needs and interest of other nations and perhaps even the world at large. Without that any propaganda efforts would not be effective. It is also necessary, especially in Europe and Asia, to take into consideration all past and present ethnic conflict and animosities with their neighbours and other potential partners. Their memories are often long-lasting and might greatly harm the mutual relation. As the Russian Federation is relatively far less powerful than the Soviet Union or even the Russian Empire of the past, its possible influence might be consequently more modest. It would therefore be necessary to avoid any unnecessary conflicts and tensions. As Vladimir Putin himself admitted “Russia should scare its neighbours less, but it should work to rid itself of the imperial image which prevents even Europe from cooperating with us” . Though such a policy is does not need by itself to improve the security of the country, it seems still necessary in order to increase its moral standing and general perception.
Concerning the ideas and socio-political programs, the restoration of capitalism and often clumsy imitation of the Western patterns did not allow Moscow for their reestablishment and even less for the creation of new ones. However, the situation is changing and one can discern now a number of issues on which Putin’s Russia differs from the present Western ideology and political patterns. The first and probably the most important is that Moscow stresses the preservation of the state sovereignty. As Putin has recently reminded both his country and all its BRICS partners repeatedly affirmed their “commitment to the fundamental principle of the international law… strengthening of the United nation central role… and do not accept violation of other countries’ sovereignty” . The second, and in connection with the first, is the defence of the rights of the non-Western civilizations to develop in accordance to their own inherited values, traditions and interest. Because of the growing threat of a uniform global culture and “Americanisation” of our planet, this issue has become very important and reason of serious concern for many millions of people. Following its own interests, Moscow defends the rights of a great variety of world civilizations to go their own ways. Finally, and last but not least, though the Russian Federation is not now a socialist nation, Putin still puts a great deal of stress on its being a welfare state and on the free access to all levels of education without tuition.
Although, as always, there can be a gap between the confessed values and the existing situation on the ground, all these social and political programs run against the models which are now enforced by the West and which do not need to correspond interest and wishes of the greater majority. Defending them and calling together with its BRICS partners for a “more balanced and just global economic relations” , Russia has a real chance to win a support in many countries and to improve its image in the increasingly multipolar and multi-civilizational world. Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center might be right that in the twenty-first century, “the power of attraction trumps that of coercion,” and that consequently “soft power should be central to Russia’s foreign policy” . However, I cannot agree with his opinion that “liberal democracy is the only ideal that could allow Russia to once again achieve what in its eyes is its geographic destiny” . Both neo-liberal ideology and capitalist globalization have already been used as the tools of Western domination and certainly did not bring the expected “spiritual and physical salvation of our [Russian] people” . Working together with the other BRICS members, Russia needs to show that while respecting democratic rights and market economy it will promote a new more just world order and sustainable development which are now widely demanded. At the time of the persisting socio-economic crisis and the apparent failure of the Washington’s consensus, only this way could Moscow achieve its goal to acquire a soft power and to play an important role among the nations.
 Joseph S Nye Jr, The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s one Superpower Can’t Go it Alone (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)
 Tatiana Panfilova, “Problemy Osmysleniya Mesta Rossii v Mire” Kosmopolis, No 3/19/Winter 2007/2008 pp41-42
 Igor Yurgens, “Political Analyst set out to develop ‘soft power’”, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, September 16, 2011
Joseph S Nye Jr, pp 69-74
 “Russian and France: A new Quality of Relations – International Roundtable” International Affairs, vol 57, No. 1, 2011 p. 43
 Valdeiclub.com/politics39300html. February 27, 2012
Fyador Lukyanov, “Uncertain World: Why Russia’s Soft Power is too soft,” RIA Novosti, January 31, 2013
 Oleg Shakirov, “Russia Soft Power Under Construction,” international Relations, February 19, 2013
 “Attitudes to Russia Worsening, Poll Says”, Moscow Times, May 23, 2013
 Alexei Dolinsky, “Why Russia is losing in its soft power quest”, Russia Behind Headlines, February 5, 2013
 “Conversation with V. Putin,” Official website of the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, December 15, 2011
 Vladimir Putin, Interview to the ITAR-TASS news agency, March 2, 2013
 Vladimir Putin, Interview to the ITAR-TASS news agency, March 2, 2013
 Dmitri Trenin, “Russia Reborn: Reimaging Moscow’s Foreign Policy”, Foreign Affairs, November-December 2009
 Denis B. Shaw, Russia in the Modern World: A New Geography (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999) p248
 At their last meeting in March 2013 both Putin and the Chinese President Xi affirmed their intention to champion non-intervention and multi-polarity on an international level.
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