Sunday, June 29, 2014

Russian Power - Soft, not Hard - in Ukraine?

Over the weekend, I was talking to an Armenian expert of Russia and Russian foreign policy. As I was explaining my research interests and dissertation topic - international communication, public diplomacy, Russian foreign policy - his initial response was slightly cold.

"Ah, that's the American stuff. Russians are still working on it and are trying to figure out what their own approach should be," he said. "They don't even have one name for it, do they? And they prefer a different term..."

"Myagkaya sila - soft power", I said.

"Yes! Soft power. They're more comfortable with this one." His face suddenly lit up: "By the way, did you see what a success Ukraine has been? I don't think they expected it to work so well."

As unnerving as this might sound, I was actually amused to hear it, because this corresponded to a lot of my analysis on the subject, as well. Yes, there is a strong military -- i.e. "hard power" -- aspect to Russia's involvement in the current conflict in Ukraine. However, had it not been for a solid 'presence' of Russian soft power in the country -- even if we assume that it's been limited to its Eastern regions -- none of this would be possible.

Original image from Valdai Club.

I don't like the term "smart power", not only because it's even more conceptually shallow and unspecified than "soft power", but also because it does not account for the various proportions of the "hard" and "soft" powers supposedly constituting it. That said, it might be the best "Western" term to describe what is currently happening regarding Russian public diplomacy and soft power, particularly in its near abroad. On the other hand, as we know, even soft power is rarely entirely "soft", so clear black-and-white separations are most certainly bound to be overly simplified.

In short, more food for thought, as we watch -- with horror -- what happens next in Ukraine...


For a further discussion, see my previous posts:

"Russification" of "Soft Power" -- Part 1: Russia's view of Soft Power as Hegemony

"Russification" of "Soft Power" -- Part 2: The Russian Twist & Ukraine

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