A RUSSIAN 'SOFT POWER' OFFENSIVE? A LOOK
"We should present a smiling face. Like mine is right now."
Russian President Medvedev quoted on Danish Radio, when asked how Russia should present itself to the world. See: "Fury as Ukraine bows to Russian charm offensive," 28 April 2010 in http://www.ft.com.
"The sympathy and help that we have received from Russian brothers has breathed new life into a hope for closer relations and reconciliation between our two Slavic nations."
The Archbishop of Krakow quoted in "Poland Holds State Funeral for President Lech Kaczynski," 18 April 2010, in http://news.bbc.co.uk
"This war is not as in the past; whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach. It cannot be otherwise".
Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin quoted by Milovan Djilas circa April 1945, in Conversations with Stalin, 1962, p.114.
"Don't talk to me about 'socialism'. What we have we hold."
Leonid Brezhnev quoted arguing to Aleksandr Dubcek circa the Summer of 1968, as recounted by Robert Tucker in "Swollen State, Spent Society: Stalin's Legacy to Brezhnev's Russia," in Foreign Affairs, Winter 1981/1982,p. 429.
The Russian 'soft power' (to borrow Joseph Nye's phrase) offensive is a most unexpected, surprising and also good news that any follower of contemporary Russia and indeed Russian history can have anticipated. Of course one can well imagine that there are those who will look upon the Russian advances in Ukraine, and indeed elsewhere, such as the recent agreement with Norway to finally sign a treaty delineating each countries borders in the Arctic, maritime region (see: "Thaw in the Arctic," 29 April 2010, in http://www.ft.com), as 'dangerous' moves by a now more diplomatically agile Kremlin, which ergo requires more not less Western vigilance. Even the more restrained comments in the Anglo-phone press were and are negative about the Russian moves (see: "Tilting to Moscow," 26 April 2010 in http://www.ft.com). What these commentators fail to see is that by pursuing seriously a 'soft power', AKA a more purely diplomatic and suave look to Russian diplomacy, Moskva has to some extent followed the playbook that the West has complained Moskva was failing to follow in the post-Yeltsin years. It was precisely the absence of an alternative to a purely machtpolitikaspect to Russian foreign policy which critics of Russian policy (nota bene: myself including in this journal)have so frequently complained of. Now that Matushka Russia is following a more modulated and softer diplomatic line, I am not sure that there is any logic whatsoever to complaining of the fact that said tactic will be successful. By definition, as long as Russian aims are well within the boundaries of what is par for the course in current day international relations, it hardly makes sense to complain about the possibility of a Russian success here and there `a la the recent agreement with Ukraine. What critics fail to see, is that this turn in Russian diplomacy, provided that it is sustained to a degree, offers up the possibility that in turn a 'thaw' in Russian international relations, will make possible a serious 'thaw' in Russian domestic policy as well. Something which to a small extent has already occurred under the Medvedev Presidency. As the late-19th century Russian historian V. O. Kliuchevsky wrote in his magisterial Course of Russian History
"the expansion of the state territory, straining beyond measure and exhausting the resources of the people, only bolstered the power of the state without elevating the self-confidence of the people....The state swelled up; the people grew lean."
A turn away from the traditional grossmachtpolitik style of Russian foreign policy, will inevitably mean a turn away from the semi-authoritarian regime which governs Russia today. Not necessarily immediately, but, certainly within the next ten to fifteen years. And, it is the job, nay the duty of Western statesman to further this process along, by avoiding the anti-Russian pyrotechnics of the Bush & Blair regimes.
Thankfully, something one hopes of the past and not the future.