During the Soviet Era, Russia’s foreign policy was primarily driven by classical realism and hard power. Domestic and international motives drove these policy decisions at the time. Domestically, cultural pressures called for strong leadership. Communism in the USSR itself required strong heads of state to hold the soviet people together. Internationally, the image of a strong power upheld communist legitimacy. The geopolitical ambitions of the Soviet era leaders reflected the classical realist ambitions of consolidating and preserving power at home. Obtaining nuclear weapons and economically contributing to proxy wars furthered Soviet interests towards being a great power in the international arena.[i] Meanwhile, the economic abilities of the Soviet Union allowed for a policy of integration with the West despite worldview differences, such as the trade of oil between the USSR and Western Europe during the height of the Cold War.
In modern day Russia, Putin continues to deploy elements of hard power to further current day geopolitical ambitions. However, the use of soft power has been on the rise in the Russian federation, introducing a new paradigm in Russian foreign policy.
Soft power policies allow states to seduce other states into changing their preferences. Tactics here include attraction through culture, political values, and policies. This concept was developed by Joseph Nye, who describes soft power policies as allowing “one country to get other countries to want what it wants.”[ii] Soft power differs from traditional hard power by changing preferences through attraction, rather than through military or economic force.
These policies did not officially appear in Russian politics until 2010, when a form of cultural diplomacy appeared in an addendum to the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation. At this point Russian soft power became institutionalized “after the creation of the federal agency on soft power, Rossotrudnichestvo.”[iii] Putin himself issued his own definition of soft power in his February 2012 foreign policy article, describing soft power as “a set of tools and methods to achieve foreign policy goals without the use of weapons, through the use of information and other levers of influence.”[iv]
This new tool for Russian political leaders appears in more policies than suggested by the media, who aspires to retain the appearance of Soviet masculinity associated to hard power. Domestic cultural pressures within Russia, remnant of the Soviet Union, continue to call for strong military and economic leader.[v] Displaying Russia with an identity of a hard realist power in the international arena helps “to consolidate power at home.”[vi] Exhibiting a hard leader is, however, in itself a form of domestic soft power, for these policies of maintaining a façade of a strictly realist leader shapes the identity of Putin in the eyes of the Russian people.
Internationally, soft power allows Putin to continue Russia’s geopolitical ambitions of increasing integration with the West, as well as consolidating and preserving power at home. Through the seduction of soft power, Putin is able to advance Russia as a great world power, allowing him influence over developing nations. Russia’s alternative political system can be appealing to developing nations that see quagmires appear out of Western attempts to spread democracy. The spread of Russia’s political sphere of influence furthers the aim to consolidate and preserve power.
The most common tactics of soft power that Russia deploys can be seen in relation to the Ukrainian conflict. The emphasis placed upon the importance of ethnic Russians versus Russian citizens allows Putin to have an identity of legitimacy over many of the nations in the former soviet bloc, including Ukraine. A shared history and culture with Ukraine also aids in Putin’s attempt to identify it as a territory of Russia. A strong presence of the Russian Orthodox institution furthers this attempt of unification. The church gives Putin political legitimacy in Ukraine, acting as “a tool for expanding Russia’s cultural and political influence.”[vii] During the 2014 Ukraine conflict, soft power allowed Russia to claim “the higher moral ground by defending its core values of honor in the context of the unique historical, religious, and cultural bonds with Ukraine.”[viii]
This identity as a territory carries over into the Russian language. At the root of the name Ukraine there is an implication that the region is on the outskirts of a region, similar to the word for suburb: okraina.[ix] Furthermore, many Russians refer to Ukraine using the preposition на, which describes territories, rather than в, which describes independent states, in order to suggest that Ukraine is not an independent nation.[x] These practices of manipulating the Russian language carries over into propagandized public announcements, often given by attractive individuals, who discourage Ukrainian independence. The attraction to the spokesperson partnered with the soft power of language contributes to Putin’s attempt to legitimize Russian authority in the Ukraine.
Economically, Russia’s superior economy and demand for labor also works as a form of soft power. By constructing a visa-free regime and issuing Russian passports to ethnic Russians, regardless of nationality, Putin fashioned fluid labor market that undermines the legitimacy of neighbor nations.[xi] Issuing passports to ethnic Russians implies that Russian rule still extends over post-soviet space and that the governments in place in these states are not legitimate. By seducing individuals into joining the Russian labor market, Putin is able to improve Russia’s identity while damaging that of her neighboring countries with inferior economies and lesser political power.[xii]
The shift to increasing soft power tactics displays a transformation of Russian foreign policy. Increased emphasis put upon the formation of Putin and Russia’s identity in the international and domestic community allows for state behaviors to change through seduction, rather than only through coercion. By changing the identity of an actor, modifying how the actor is perceived, soft power constructivist policies aid in Putin’s attempt to satisfy Russian national interests.
What this means for the international community is that we should expect more from Russia in terms of their foreign policy. By adding soft power to his toolkit, Putin’s Russia is becoming increasingly able to satisfy national interests and redevelop Russia as a great world power. This could mean increasing clashes with the West, China, and beyond. Acknowledging Russia’s newfound abilities and understanding the domestic and international motives for Putin’s actions can maintain the stability of the international arena.
[i] Budjeryn, Mariana. “Violence, Power, and Nuclear Putin.” World Affairs. World Affairs Journal, 2014. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
[ii] Nye, Joseph S. Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. New York: Basic, 1990. Print.
[iii] Burlinova, Natalia. “Russian Soft Power Is Just like Western Soft Power, but with a Twist.” Russia Direct. N.p., 7 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
[iv] Burlinova, Natalia. “Russian Soft Power Is Just like Western Soft Power, but with a Twist.” Russia Direct. N.p., 7 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
[v] Lankina, Tomila, and Kinga Niemczyk. “What Putin Gets about Soft Power.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 15 Apr. 2014. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
[vi] Dougherty, Jill. “Putin’s Hard/soft Strategy.” Putin’s Hard/Soft Strategy. The Wilson Quarterly, Jan. 2016. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
[vii] Speedie, David C. “”Soft Power”: The Values That Shape Russian Foreign Policy.” “Soft Power”: The Values That Shape Russian Foreign Policy. Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 30 July 2015. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
[viii] Speedie, David C. “”Soft Power”: The Values That Shape Russian Foreign Policy.” “Soft Power”: The Values That Shape Russian Foreign Policy. Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 30 July 2015. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
[ix] Hyrych, Ihor. “Where Did “Ukraine” Come From?” The Ukrainian Week. N.p., 1 June 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
[x] Lotus, Apps. “All Language Is Propaganda.” The New Russians. N.p., 13 June 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
[xi] Tafurois, Eleanora. “Can Russia Exercise Soft Power as Well as Hard Power? | Policy Review.” Can Russia Exercise Soft Power as Well as Hard Power Comments. Policy Review, June 2014. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
[xii] Lankina, Tomila, and Kinga Niemczyk. “What Putin Gets about Soft Power.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 15 Apr. 2014. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.