Russia is trying to attract the world through its culture, language, contribution to the global heritage, but that is not enough to make its soft power strong. There is no ideology besides these things, no logic concept that would aggregate them into a structural whole along with politics, economy and science.
It is clear that one of the most popular word combinations in world politics today is “soft power.” Since Joseph Nye used it for the first time in 1990 in his book
Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power
, many politicians, diplomats and academicians have been involved in debates about its nature and ways of implementing it.
There is no generally accepted definition of soft power, although many researchers have tried to invent one. If it is only possible to summarize what has been written on this issue, we can define “soft power” as the attractiveness of a country’s international image (keeping in mind that this is a simplification of sorts). In this case a country’s image is a set of integral parts, such as their value system, political system, economic order, culture, traditions and customs, historical heritage, ideology, religion, etc.
The mechanism of soft power works as follows: If a country enjoys an attractive image abroad, people in other countries feel a growing respect toward it. They begin to hold this country’s institutions, way of life, and policies in high esteem and start to look at the world through its lens. So they become influenced by the nation’s soft power and become friendly toward it.
There is nothing inherently bad about advertising a country’s positive achievements and thereby strengthening international cooperation. Nevertheless, these friendly feelings can be exploited by the country in question to suit its own interests, for instance to gain some kind of preferential treatment or sometimes even to change the foreign policy of another country, or its political order, or economic system (acting not by force, but by conviction).
So among other things soft power provides an opportunity to interfere in the domestic affairs of third countries. Looking back into the past we can cite many samples of this, the most vivid being the struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States. Both superpowers promoted their own ideology and values around the world and created special institutions for doing so. They also accepted the huge costs involved and spent lots of money in their soft power competition.
After the end of the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, Russia’s attitude to soft power changed. This was mostly because Moscow faced a number of serious political and economic challenges and due to the fact that many representatives of its political elite really believed that they were in the same camp as the United States and should therefore promote the same values and policies as Washington. These illusions ended in the late 1990s and from the beginning of the 21st century Russia has tried to elaborate its own approach to the application of soft power.
Quite predictably, it ran into big problems. As has already been stated, there is a direct link between a country’s image and the strength of its soft power. And Russia’s image since the collapse of the Soviet Union is deteriorating; in some ways it is not even comparable to that of the Soviet Union. Also, it should be taken into account that while for Moscow the Cold War may have ended, it seems that for its former opponents it is still ongoing. So while Russia was trying to improve its attractiveness in international public opinion, it faced countermeasures from other countries who tried to criticize its intentions and policies (often in a biased way). So in the realm of soft power the competition has not ended.
Furthermore, Russia made some strategic and tactical mistakes. In strategic terms it failed to present a message for the global agenda. It once espoused the Communist ideology of social equality and internationalism, which was in some historical periods very attractive to many people. After Communism was rejected by Moscow in the late 1980s – early 1990s there was nothing to replace it with. So now Russia is trying to attract the world through its culture, language, contribution to the global heritage, but that is not enough to make its soft power strong. There is no ideology besides these things, no logic concept that would aggregate them into a structural whole along with politics, economy and science. Thus the elaboration of the new state ideology that will be competitive in the global market of ideas is a key objective for Russia and a prerequisite for the success of its soft power.
In addition, an analysis of Russia’s soft power institutions shows that Moscow is putting too much emphasis on big governmental agencies, which is a tactical mistake. Of course they should be used in the application of soft power, but smaller NGOs must be involved in much greater numbers. It is they who effectively concentrate activities in specific areas and on specific topics, and make a country’s soft power more flexible. The dispersive nature of soft power will help Russia to use differentiated approaches and effectively achieve its goals.
It is still not known whether all these changes will be made, but one thing is clear. Russia today is paying much more attention to soft power and intends to use it to restore its position in the world. And now – unlike in the 1990s or even the 2000s – this policy is backed by the appropriate financial resources (although not so big as U.S. or Chinese).