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RUSSIA’S SEMI-SOFT POWER

 

This article offers an analysis of Russia’s soft power which, given the state of today’s international developments, may be better thought of as Russia’s semi-soft power. Tracing the evolution of Russia’s soft power politics and instruments since the early 2000s, it highlights the three stages of this development, giving detailed characteristics of each. The paper argues that Russia’s soft power strategy has most notably manifested itself in the work of the television channel Russia Today and the Immortal Regiment event, which now regularly takes place on 9 May, Victory Day. In conclusion, the article states that the current version of the country’s soft power, despite all contradictions, still furthers Russian geopolitical interests.

 

DMITRY EFREMENKO, ANASTASIA PONAMAREVA AND YURY NIKULICHEV

 

On 11 August 2020, the pandemic afflicted world was informed that Russia had registered the first COVID-19 vaccine. The two-component vector vaccine GAM-COVID-VAK has been developed at the NGamaleya Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology. It has been trademarked as Sputnik V with the intention to draw a direct analogy with the other famous accomplishment of Soviet science and engineering. Akin to the first launch of an orbiting artificial satellite in human history, Russia became the first country to take practical steps aimed at vaccinating people against the new Coronavirus. The fact that the Sputnik vaccine received temporary registration well ahead of the third phase of clinical trials, indicated that the time factor, the desire to get ahead of competitors and earn a favourable international resonance were important to Russian authorities. Along with the beginning of the mass vaccination of its own population and the promotion of the vaccine in foreign markets, the development of the vaccine is also regarded as a substantial contribution in strengthening Russia’s soft power.

The Russian approach to soft power has many distinctive perspectives that have been widely discussed in literature. (Tomila Lankina and Kinga Niemczyk, “Russian Foreign Policy and Soft Power” in David Cadier and Margot Light (Eds), Russian Foreign Policy: Ideas, Domestic Institutions and External Relations, New York: Palgrave, 2015; Peter Rutland and Andrey Kazantsev, “The Limits of Russia’s ‘Soft Power’”, Journal of Political Power, vol9, no3, 2016, pp395–413 and Marcel H van Herpen, Putin’s Propaganda Machine: Soft Power and Russian Foreign Policy, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016) First, it should be noted that there are some terminological difficulties stemming from the fact that the English term “power” may be translated into Russian in two ways— sila, (the ability to carry out action) and vlast (the right and capacity to impose one’s will on others). However, it is evident that in talking about soft power, Joseph S Nye (“Soft Power”, Foreign Policy, no80, Autumn 1990, p153–71) had the latter in mind—the capacity to achieve one’s objectives through a certain set of means. It was about “how to make others want what we want” without resorting to blatant coercion, that is, by offering appealing incentives to prompt them to act in our interests.

 

In addition, there are certain specificities  in  official  documents defining soft power as an instrument for foreign policy influence, which is increasingly becoming more confrontational. This  approach  is  supported in pronouncements by President Vladimir Putin, (“Rossiia i Meniaiushchikhsia Mir/ Russia and the Changing World”, Moskovskie Novosti, 29 February 2012, online at http://www.mn.ru) in his understanding of soft power “as a complex of tools and methods to achieve foreign policy goals without the use of force, through  information  and other means of influence”. It is also reflected in his belief that Russia’s rivals resort to these methods “to encourage and provoke extremism, separatism, nationalism, manipulation of  public  sentiment  and  outright  interference  in the internal affairs of sovereign states”. Although such instrumentality   in understanding “soft power” is a common characteristic of the Russian approach, it is, nevertheless, possible to trace its evolution and relate it to the qualitative changes in Russia’s domestic and foreign policies. The official Russian politics of soft power has evolved through three distinct phases, as detailed below.