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Russian language and literature

In 2015 President Putin declared his intention ‘to make Russian literature and Russian language the powerful factors of spiritual influence of Russia in the world’ (Putin, 2015). The Russian language would be the dominant tool of soft power as a carrier and translator of the national culture. Russian is one of the global languages, being the sixth most spoken language in the world after English, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic and is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. It has served as a means of international, inter-ethnic and multicultural communication since Soviet times. The collapse of the Soviet Union significantly weakened the influence of the Russian language in the world for a quarter of century but by 2013 Russian was spoken by over 270 million people in the world: 146 million people in Russia and 127 million in 33 countries around the world (Bovt, 2013).

Russian is also a widespread language on the Internet: 5.9 per cent of all sites in the global network are in Russian. It is the most common language on the websites of the former Soviet republics, including Belarus (87 per cent), Kazakhstan (84 per cent),Tajikistan (82 per cent), Uzbekistan (80 per cent), Ukraine (79 per cent) and Kyrgyzstan (76 per cent), which makes the Russian language a soft-power tool to reach the younger generation (Borta, 2017).

Russian language and culture are promoted through Russian Centres of Science and Culture (RCSC).The Centres are supported by the Foreign Ministry and diplomatic missions in foreign countries. In 2018, there were 67 Centres (59 plus 8 branches) in 59 countries and there are plans to build new ones in Turkey,Venezuela and Laos. At the same time, according to Ozerova, Russian is gradually ceasing to be a means of international communication in post-Soviet countries, giving way not to national languages but to English (Ozerova, 2013).

In 2007 the ‘Year of Russian Language’ programme was launched, in which a series of bilateral cultural events were to be held annually with different partner countries. The Year of Russian Language in China was organized in 2009. In 2014, the UK-RussiaYear of Culture was held for the first time in the history ofbilateral relations at the initiative of the British Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. This year-long festival contributed to the mutual enrichment of cultures, the emergence of new ideas and the strengthening of relations between people and organizations of the two countries.

An important factor in the role oflanguage in the promotion of Russian influence is the study of Russian as a foreign language, both through programmes of training foreign students in Russian universities and abroad, in the RCSCs or branches of Russian universities or other institutions. For this purpose, special programmes have been developed to train or retrain Russian language teachers from among the Russian-speaking diaspora. The Russian government aims to increase the number of students studying Russian outside Russia first to 300,000 and then to 500,000 students a year. It should be noted that these figures lag behind those of the Soviet period, when 600,000 students outside the USSR annually were taught Russian (Androssova, 2011).

The Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo - RS Agency), together with the Ministry of Education and Science of Russia have a programme of support for Russian language education in the world. An international forum of teachers of foreign schools teaching Russian was first held in 2010 in Moscow at the Institute of the Russian Language as part of the ‘Fourth Assembly of the Russian World’, organized by the Russian World Foundation, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Rossotrudnichestvo Agency. The forum discussed the functioning of foreign secondary schools teaching Russian and the development of foreign supplementary schools (Saturday and Sunday schools) (Androssova, 2011).

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