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Russian diaspora and the Russian Orthodox church

The Russian diaspora abroad, which, with about 30 million people is third in the world after that of the Chinese and the Indian, plays an important role as the subject and channel of Russia’s soft power (Budaev, 2015).The Russian government’s focus on Russian people abroad and support to their associations and organizations has grown in recent years, including the establishment of the World Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots Abroad in 2018. Regional and country Co-ordination Councils also greatly contribute to this process. At the same time, the Russian diaspora needs to preserve its cultural and civilizational identity in the context of increasing globalization and growing feelings of national identity in the super-ethnic groups prevalent in the countries of residence. In this regard, the Russian diaspora, in turn, needs the national soft power, which objectively contributes to the preservation of its identity and is able to be the key agent of its interests.

Another, related channel of Russian soft power is the Russian Orthodox Church and its numerous parishes abroad. Remaining for a long time almost the only core of unity and spiritual support of Russian people abroad, today the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate brings traditional Orthodox spiritual and moral ideas and values to people. This implicitly supports the actions of official government agencies to improve the image of Russia. Spiritual nourishment of members of the Russian Orthodox Church with both Russian and foreign citizenship underpins the essential moral and ethical values of Russian soft power and its civilizational mission in the world.

Soft power institutions and actors

To implement the soft power resources discussed above, there are a number of institutions, including public authorities, primarily the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its agencies, business associations and non-governmental organizations and civil society institutions. The Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States (abbreviated as Rossotrudnichestvo Agency) is the main governmental institution implementing state policy in the field of soft power.The Agency was established in 2008 by a Presidential Decree and is subordinated to the Russian Foreign Ministry. It is currently represented in 80 countries by 94 institutions, including 70 Russian Centres of Science and Culture (RCSCs) in 61 countries and 24 Agency representatives in 22 embassies. In many ways, Rossotrudnichestvo, as a key soft power institutional agent, is similar to the US Agency for International Development.The activities of this Federal Agency and its foreign missions are aimed at the implementation of the state policy in international humanitarian cooperation and the priority area for its activities is the CIS countries. As mentioned above, the agency also provides the system of support for promoting the Russian language abroad.

Another key institution for Russian soft power is the Russian World (Russkiy Mir) Foundation, which was established on the models of the German Goethe Institute, the British Council and the Alliance Française, and which plays an essential role in sustaining interest in Russian culture and language. It has branches all over the world, from Jakarta and Sydney to Seattle and Buenos Aires and provides grants to support the implementation of projects launched by Russian and foreign nonprofit organizations, as well as by foreign citizens on a competitive basis and dealing with the promotion of the Russian language, programmes in the Russian language, the development of cultural and humanitarian cooperation between Russia and other countries, and the support for foreign-based Russian-language media outlets.

The annual international pedagogical forums of the Russian World Foundation provide an intellectual platform where Russian and foreign Russianists discuss issues of teaching Russian language and literature. In 2018, an updated version of ‘The Russian World Professor’ programme was launched to systematize the work of sending Russian specialists abroad, at the invitation of their foreign partners, and to organize the teaching of the Russian language and other subjects. ‘The Russian World Student’ programme oversees recruitment of young students to learn the Russian language by participating in readers’ libraries, children’s educational centres and language camps. The Foundation also runs a grant programme (Russkiy Mir Foundation, 2015).

The key priority in the promotion of national soft power, namely its public diplomacy component, is the involvement of civil society, the Russian public and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which have proliferated in recent years. Among the most active, and those playing a prominent role in the implementation of public diplomacy and soft power include, Public Chamber, the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, the Centre for Political Research of Russia, the Foundation for Support of Public Diplomacy, the Russian Foreign Affairs Council and the Russian World Foundation.

In 2018, as many as 281 NGOs from Russia had consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, a key body for coordination with civil society organizations. Their diverse activities, not always following official opinion, are a useful addition to traditional diplomacy, bringing to Russian soft power more confidence and credibility. Civil society, its institutions and agencies are an important source of Russia’s soft power, with great potential in terms of developing and strengthening relationships with compatriots, with Russian-speaking diasporas, with political elites and the general public in foreign countries.

The positioning by the Federal and regional authorities of the largest cities of the country as attractive places for the major international socio-political, economic and sports events can be considered a new element in the use of Russian soft power. In this regard, the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum and the Valdai International Discussion Club, the holding of G-8 leaders’ summits and other events within the context of BRICS and the G20, are notable examples. In addition, Russia has recently hosted major international championships and competitions, including the World Athletics Championship in Moscow and the World Martial Arts Games in St. Petersburg - both held in 2013, the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014 and the World Cup in 2018.

The successful holding of such large-scale multilateral forums, conferences, exhibitions and competitions becomes an effective information and media channel, contributing to the creation of a positive image of Russia, the consolidation of a benevolent attitude among a significant part of the national and international community including their specific segments (political establishment, economic and sports community, youth).

Sophisticated information technologies and Internet resources have a significant potential for the expansion of Russia’s soft power, taking into account their almost unlimited opportunities to reach a wide audience, the efficiency of information transmission and the ability to communicate in real time. A good example is the web page of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia and its numerous institutions abroad, with technical capabilities to access the social networks: Facebook, Twitter andYouTube.

It is important to note that Russia has its own social network, Vkontakte, an alternative to Facebook, which is used daily by more than 140 million people, including residents of the CIS and other neighbouring countries (Leontiev, 2012). Vkontakte allows the creation of an information space in which the key position is occupied by Russian cultural values, and the main generators of content are the people who share these values. Vkontakte is also the basic social network for the Central Asian countries.

In conclusion, it should be noted that modern Russia is trying to use a range of up-to-date soft power tools and that Russia does not reject the positive historical developments inherited from the USSR.The emphasis is placed on media, universities, promotion of the Russian language and culture, global events and tourism. It should be added that the context for the implementation of Russian soft power policy in the last five years has become less favourable (Nye, 2013). This is due to growing international tensions, the negative reaction of the West to Russia’s military actions in Syria and Ukraine, accusations of interference in the 2016 US Presidential elections and the 2018 case of alleged poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for British intelligence services in the UK. At the same time, the Russian Government understands that it is impossible to make do with only soft power in the intensified global confrontation between Russia and the West. Therefore, it is trying to build a balance of‘hard’ and ‘soft’ approaches in international influence - what is been called ‘smart power’.

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