After losing the Cold War, it becomes increasingly difficult for Russia to maintain its army and navy at an appropriate level, as far as its sales profits from energy sources decline each year and its gap with the world’s leading states in innovation and technological development becomes hopeless. In these conditions, it is increasingly difficult for Moscow to rely on direct coercion – “hard power” in the implementation of its foreign policy. Therefore, recently Moscow has been trying to use such tools as “soft power” and “controlled chaos” to influence world politics. In this case, the Kremlin does not need to spend most of the state budget on the modernization of the armed forces, capacities of the special services are enough for this.
As the Russian proverb says – there is never too much of special services. In addition to special agencies (security service, guard, intelligence service), activity of which are governed by the Russian law, in Russia there are also various governmental, non-governmental and even church organizations, which can be described as very close to the secret services.
For example, in 1992, a new government agency appeared in Russia, known as the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. In fact, the Institute of Intelligence Problems of the KGB of the USSR just changed its name. Mikhail Fradkov, former head of government and former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, became the head of the agency, which engaged former intelligence officers.
Another example is a non-profit organization established in 2011, which is an instrument of public diplomacy – the Russian Council for International Affairs. Its goal is to promote the Moscow’s agenda in the international field and to establish a dialogue within various foreign policy circles. Head of the organization is Igor Ivanov, a former foreign minister and former secretary of the Russian Security Council.
Both structures – demurely called “institute” and “council” – work as think tanks for the benefit of intelligence. Most of their employees are ex-employees of the secret services, who, as we may suppose, do not write analytical reports only. During various international forums, conferences, round tables and expert group meetings, they recruit agents, consolidate the positions of their agents of influence, conduct information operations and other special events.
Here is another example – in 1946, the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate which played a role of a kind of a foreign ministry and governed dioceses abroad was established within the Russian Orthodox Church, which fell completely under Stalin’s control. All members of the Department from 1946 to 1991 were KGB employees, so the Church pursued its policy abroad not only in the followers’ interests, but also following the Kremlin’s direct instructions. This symbiosis of the Church and special services survives in modern Russia. One can only guess who calls the Department more often – the Intelligence Service, the presidential administration or the residence of the patriarch?…
A textbook example of a “close friend of the secret services” using soft power tools is also the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation, commonly known as Rossotrudnichestvo. The agency was established (more precisely, reformatted) in 2008 as a response to the “color revolutions” in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004) and Kyrgyzstan (2005), after which Tbilisi and Kyiv launched their way out of close orbit of Moscow.
In the light of those events, the Russian leadership decided to augment the cultural and ideological influence on the former Soviet republics, strengthen ties with the diaspora and improve the country’s image worldwide. At the same time, it should be noted that the diaspora in the Kremlin is treated extremely broadly – it covers not only ethnic Russians living compactly abroad, but any foreign citizens who speak Russian. Naturally, thanks to such a convenient interpretation, Moscow can always afford itself to interfere in the internal affairs of neighboring states.
This summer the Kremlin decided to intensify the use of “soft power” tools! To this end, it was envisaged that the budget of Rossotrudnichestvo shall be increased, the management shall be change, and the agency itself shall be reorganised by putting it under the Presidential Administration instead of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Today, the Agency’s offices are located in 81 countries around the world, and the number of foreign staff is about 600 employees. If the methods of work before concerned mainly living people offline, now the task is to turn the agency into a prominent player in the digital space. Generally, given the global fame of the Russian IT specialists, it seems strange that still this has not happened.
Evgeny Primakov (grandson of the former prime minister and former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service) was appointed the new head of the agency. He was entrusted to reform the “soft power” generator of the Russian Federation, making its activities more efficient.
E. Primakov began by pointing to the US political scientist Joseph Nye, who in the mid-1980s introduced a concept of “soft power”, however, in the 2010s he considered it necessary to supplement his theory with the concept of “smart power”. Then the new head of the Rossotrudnichestvo agency is convinced that in the modern world the emphasis should be made on the second constituent. As he honestly admitted, the cultural influence exerted within the framework of “soft power” does not give the noticeable and lasting effect that was expected in Moscow. People all over the world are increasingly familiar with and respectful of Russian culture, however it is impossible to quickly and confidently convert it into Russia’s foreign policy influence.
Foreign citizens are happy to attend tea parties commemorating poet A. Pushkin, art exhibitions of works by V. Vasnetsov or concerts of classical music by D. Shostakovich, organization of which fell on the divisions of Rossotrudnichestvo. However, this does not prevent them from treating Russia as an economically backward state with a raw materials economy, living for selling fossil resources.
E. Primakov hopes that the “smart force” methods will allow to impact certain groups in a more accurate and target-focused way, to identify the right people with potentially pro-Russian sentiments, to grown their agents of influence, creating the potential to improve Russia’s image and to exert influence on societies and elites of different countries.
A priority task for all foreign branches of the Agency as it was set by E. Primakov is to attract the maximum number of groups, organizations and communities from the non-governmental sector. He is convinced that the more non-governmental organizations and other independent groups would be involved to the projects of the Agency’s foreign branches, the greater the response will be. At the same time, E. Primakov called on his subordinates to abandon meaningless flashiness, outright propaganda, plenitude of patriotic slogans and setting of obviously impossible tasks.
For example, the Rossotrudnichestvo office in London definitely experiences failure in their demand from British citizens to recognize Crimean peninsula Russian, however, the agency’s staff could well help in coordination of the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus pandemic. Thus, instead of immediately demanding recognition of the “impeccability and infallibility” of the Kremlin’s policy, the Agency’s branches will have to constantly create more and more “points of solidarity”! If, for example, Sudan does not want to open Russian language schools today, the Agency may provide the drinking water treatment facilities essential for the local population. Well, the time will show, whether they will change their attitude to the Russian language.
In this regard, all foreign branches of the Agency received instructions to prepare (with subsequent constant update) an assessment of the acute needs of citizens of particular state, which may be satisfied with the help of “Rossotrudnichestvo”.
However, it would be good for citizens of other states (and especially of those regions in which Moscow is particularly interested) to understand that as soon as the number of the above-mentioned “solidarity points” hits the line, their Russian “friends” (diplomats, intelligence officers, priests, Rossotrudnichestvo employees) will immediately come to them and ask for a service. For example, to protest against an anti-governmental demonstration (organized by “friends” themselves).
That is why, nothing comes without a price, especially when the matter is arrangements with cynical in its calculations Russia. The main thing is not to forget that “soft power” can strike very painfully and targetedly!