Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia Must Deploy ‘Soft Force’ Against the West’s ‘Soft Power,’ Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 21 – Having discovered that economic power does not immediately translate into political influence and may in fact alienate those it is supposed to attract, the Russian government needs to identify new ways to influence the West but finding that its options are not nearly as good as many in Moscow had thought, according to a Russian analyst.
And the most effective way to do that, Andrey Pronin writes in an essay posted today on a Moscow State University portal that has often served as a source of foreign policy ideas for the Russian government, is for Russia to deploy what he calls its “soft force” against American “soft power” (
That will not be easy, he argues, because “at the present moment, Russia does not have those cultural forms which can be exported to the West and converted into political influence.” As a result, Russia needs “a new national project,” that that would promote Russia as an intellectual center where “new social initiatives and humanitarian technologies” are promoted.
To that end, he argues, Russia should not try to match the Americans militarily – the U.S. is simply too strong in that sector – or make the mistake of focusing on keeping “in its orbit” the former Soviet states. Instead, Moscow must “focus on the United States” and deploy an ideological agenda that will undercut Washington’s influence.
Russia should present the US with “an ideological challenge,” by forming “a new international with the most educated groups in the West.” Such an approach, Pronin says, would allow Russia to “repeat the success of the USSR which was able to ideologically split the West and find for itself numerous allies” within the latter.
“In the 1940s and 1950s,” the Moscow analyst continues, “a significant part of the most respectable Western intelligentsia held leftist views and openly sympathized with the USSR, and English aristocrats worked for Soviet intelligence services on the basis of their convictions in this regard.”
Today, he says, Russia needs to find “allies interested in itself within America” and to “form a pro-Russian lobby, a circle of influential people who respect and support Russia and who will exert an ever greater pressure on the political establishment of the United States” on behalf of Moscow.
In Soviet times, Moscow allied itself with the West’s “outsiders.” But now, Pronin suggests, Russia must take advantage of the opportunity it has to “form a union wit5h the most educated part of Western society, the scientific and artistic avant garde of America” and thus to promote “a reformation of the United States.”
That won’t be accomplished simply by media programs directed at Western and especially American audiences, Pronin says. It will occur only if the Russian Federation can transform itself into a center of innovation where scholars can share ideas on how to “humanize” globalization and satisfy the very real but currently unsatisfied spiritual strivings of Western intellectuals.
Given the problems the West is now experiencing – and Pronin argues that “the US today in many ways recalls the USSR of the period of Brezhnev’s stagnation – Russia has “a chance to do so by providing a “new global project in place of neo-liberal globalization which has discredited itself.”
If Russia is able to promote such an agenda, he continues, Moscow “can win the sympathy of American intellectuals” and thus advance its political agenda by recruiting them as allies. But unfortunately, “contemporary Russia does not have sufficient possibilities for the realization of this project” on its own.
Moscow needs allies, and the two most obvious ones are India and China, neither of whom Pronin suggests is comfortable with American-style globalization. If such a “union of the three giants” is formed, he concludes, Russia will occupy the leading role of a scientific and innovative center and the developer of humanitarian technologies and standards.”
Both the sources of Pronin’s argument – the past of the Soviet Union – and the problems with it – Russia is unlikely to be able to present itself in the way that he advocates or gain the allies he hopes for – are obvious. But that such arguments are being offered and in such a respectable place suggests that at least some in the Russian government may be listening to them.
If they are and if some Russian officials do in fact try to act as Pronin suggests, that could pose serious challenges for the United States in particular and the West more generally, especially if most commentators in the West assume that what he is saying is not only absurd but completely impossible.

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