Published On: Tue, Jan 29th, 2019

Well used Russian soft power methods in international relations

The term ‘soft power’ is one that you may have heard with increasing regularity within modern politics. First coined by Joseph Nye in the late 1980’s, it refers to a certain approach to world affairs by any one country that chooses to use it. ‘Soft power’ relies on influencing the behavior of others to get what you want but in a non-aggressive or coercive way. That is quite different from ‘hard power’ which does rely on force and aggression to make other people or countries do what you want.


But why has ‘soft power’ become more and more popular as an approach to working with other countries in world politics? In short, it offers a more peaceful and co-operative way to achieve what you want. This avoids having to risk resources and lives on aggressive acts like war and also makes it more likely that people will give you what you are asking for.

Russia – a masterclass in modern soft power methods

If there is one country that has used ‘soft power’ methods extensively in recent years it is Russia. This is particularly true when you look at the years since the new millennium where they have been especially active in this area. First officially incorporated into Russian foreign policy in 2013, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin it has been seen more often.

But what specific ‘soft power’ methods has Russia used to cement its status as a top world power and to boost its influence?

  • Social media interference – we all know how influential and powerful the major social media platforms can be for affecting public opinion. Many believe that this is one area that Russia devotes time and resources too in its ‘soft power’ methods. By paying an army of pro-Russian users to post and comment online via these platforms, they have been able to give Russian ideas and policies creditability. This in turn helps to make these same values and ideas more attractive to other social media users in countries around the world.
  • Huge diplomatic network in place – diplomacy lies at the heart of ‘soft power’ and Russia has used this idea to a great extent. As of 2017, it was thought that Russia had the fourth largest diplomatic network in the world. From former communist allies including China and Cuba to former Soviet outposts in Eastern Europe and legacies of the USSR in Africa, it has diplomats in place to forge helpful connection and grow its influence.
  • Massive PR efforts – another area where Russia uses ‘soft power’ well is in its global PR efforts. Examples of this include Putin being named Forbes’s Most Powerful Person in 2013. That sort of positive PR serves to make Russia appear powerful and a country that is one of the main players globally. In terms of achieving what it wants, this is useful as it gives it a greater standing with other countries and citizens worldwide.
  • Creation of the Eurasian Economic Union – in 2015, Russia led the creation of this powerful union that contains states from Central and Northern Eurasia. Engaging in this kind of foreign politics and cultural exchange is a classic example of ‘soft power’ methods at work. By forming a union that brings them into close contact with other states on key issues, Russia is able to influence policy decisions and direction to its own advantage.
  • Interference in elections – while this has not yet been proved, many people think that Russia may have somehow influenced the 2016 US Elections that saw Donald Trump come into office. If this were true, it would be another way that Russia has used soft skills to get what it wants. While no-one knows why it would want this outcome specifically, it would naturally be based around shifting world politics in its favor and establishing its own political values across the planet.

Of course, this last point centers on the country that has dominated recent political events with Russia – the USA. With two very different outlooks on most things still, the ‘soft power’ war that Russia seems engaged in is often done with one eye on the USA and its allies.

Many political experts, including Angela Stent, have a keen interest on the international relations between the two superpowers. As a respected name in US-Russian international relations, Stent has spent more than 40 years in academia and government affairs around this subject. Her 2015 book The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century, looks into the whole question in more depth.

Will Russia continue its ‘soft power’ push?

In modern world politics, the key is not to win wars but to win minds. Russia seems to have understood this better than almost any other country with its political efforts. Their extensive use of ‘soft power’ tactics to make the country’s values and politics more attractive while also widening its diplomatic influence certainly seem to suggest this strategy will continue into the future.

Author: Ariana Smith

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