Dr Andrew Foxall is Director of the Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society. His first book, Ethnic Relations in Post-Soviet Russia, was published by Routledge in October 2014. Andrew holds a DPhil from the University of Oxford. The Russia Studies Centre is a research and advocacy unit, operating within The Henry Jackson Society, dedicated to analysing contemporary political developments and promoting human rights and political liberty in the Russian Federation.
- Russian foreign policy has become more assertive and revisionist under the leadership of President Putin. While Russia’s use of hard power has received much attention, particularly since the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, the Kremlin’s use of soft power – with the exception of Russia’s international rolling-news channel, RT (formerly Russia Today) – has gone largely unnoticed.
- Since the mid-2000s, the Russian government has invested significant effort, intellectual endeavour, and money to increase the country’s international appeal. The Kremlin has established cultural, educational, media, political and other organisations that appear, at first glance, to be unbiased, but which unapologetically promote a world view consistent with its own.
- In the UK, Russia has undertaken a marked soft-power offensive over the past decade, with some success. The goals and methods that define Russia’s public-diplomacy efforts, however, pose a challenge to the UK’s national interests, as Russia’s actions have become more egregious. Russia’s influence is also counter to the UK’s core values, based on democracy, freedoms, and the rule-of-law.
- While there is nothing illegitimate about Russia using soft power to advance its policy objectives, there are a number of initiatives that the UK could undertake to highlight the extent of Russia’s influence, to expose Russia’s ‘useful idiots’, and to combat Russia’s lies.
Much of the commentary on Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, and its destabilisation of eastern Ukraine since, has focused on its hard power – its geopolitical designs and strategic objectives in the so-called ‘near abroad’, its use of new and less conventional military techniques, 1 and its military capabilities. As a 2014 UK House of Commons Defence Committee report makes clear, these issues have a strong sense of urgency not only for countries in Eastern Europe, but also for Transatlantic security.2 Yet, an excessive focus on Russia’s hard power overlooks what academics Tomila Lankina and Kinga Niemczyk call “the Kremlin’s skillful manipulation” of soft power.
According to Joseph S. Nye, the academic who coined the term, ‘soft power’ is the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than coerce or financially induce, others to do what you want. The concept has gained substantial traction over recent years, in Russia, and policymakers have explained this firmly as recognition of the need to improve the Kremlin’s image abroad. Though Russia has invested in various instruments of public diplomacy since the mid-2000s, the term ‘soft power’ (myagkaya sila) came to prominence during the 2012 presidential-election campaign, when Vladimir Putin, writing in the Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper, described it as “a matrix of tools and methods to reach foreign policy [sic] goals without the use of arms but by exerting information and other levers of influence.” The term was subsequently included in the country’s ‘Foreign Policy Concept’ of 2013 – the first time it had been mentioned in an official document.
Today, Russia combines elements of both soft and hard power in pursuing its foreign-policy objectives. As part of what analysts Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss call Russia’s “weaponization of information, culture and money” for soft-power ends, the Kremlin has established organisations to promote a world view consistent with its own and to act solely in its interests. In 2004, it created the Valdai Discussion Club, to woo international experts. In 2005, the 24-hour rolling-news channel, Russia Today (subsequently renamed RT), was established, to project a positive image of Russia internationally. In 2006, the Kremlin contracted two Western PR firms – Ketchum, Inc., in the US, and GPlus, in Europe – to manage the country’s image. In 2007, it founded the Russkiy Mir (‘Russian World’) Foundation, to promote values that challenge Western traditions. In 2008, the ‘Russian Centre for International Scientific and Cultural Cooperation’ (Roszarubezhtsenter) – the government agency responsible for maintaining a network of official overseas cultural centres – was re-named ‘Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation’ (Rossotrudnichestvo) and given significant additional funding to expand its activities, particularly in the West. Throughout this period, Russia also hosted a number of mega-events, such as the 2006 G8 Summit, the 2012 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit, and the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, in an effort to improve the country’s image.
1. Russia’s Soft-Power Tools in the UK
The UK is not as exposed to Russia’s soft power as other countries, particularly those in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the Kremlin uses of a number of soft-power tools in order to improve its image in the UK, including: public diplomacy and public relations; well-equipped and Kremlin-aligned print- and broadcast-media outlets; Christian Orthodoxy; a raft of cultural and linguistic programmes; political allies on the left and right; and expert academic and policymaking communities. Owing to the presence of a significant ethnic-Russian diaspora, the Kremlin combines different tools designed to generate social goodwill and create economic and political incentives among various constituencies and audiences.
At the same time, prominent Russian businessmen invest in culturally popular projects. Roman Abramovich, an oligarch who is a close ally of Putin, bought Chelsea FC in 2003; Alisher Usmanov, another pro-Putin oligarch, bought a significant share in Arsenal FC in 2007; Evgeny Lebedev, son of former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev, bought the Evening Standard newspaper in 2009 and the Independent newspaper in 2010; Alexander Mamut, a billionaire businessman described as “probably the most powerful oligarch you have never heard of”, bought the Waterstones bookstores in 2011; and Andrei Filatov, a billionaire and president of the pro-Putin Russian Chess Federation, sponsored an art exhibition at Somerset House in 2014. In doing so, these individuals have increased the profile of Russia, as well as legitimised their own reputations.
Though it is easy to make light of these developments, elements of the British political (and social) elite have openly admired Vladimir Putin – for his assertion of Russian power and promotion of so-called ‘traditional’ values, and for his belief in the West’s double standards in the application of international law and its weak moral authority – and have been willing to turn a blind eye to the worst excesses of Putinism. In March 2014 – less than two weeks after Russia’s annexation of Crimea had led to the sharpest decline in relations between Russia and the West, since the end of the Cold War – Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), named Putin as the one politician in the world he “most admires”. The following month, Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), declared the same.16 While there seems little overlap between right-wing Farage and left-leaning Salmond, it is clear that the Kremlin has carefully cultivated ties with political communities whose interests overlap with its own, 17 regardless of political affiliation, with members of the SNP and UKIP receiving exposure on RT.
Yet, it is not just elected elites who have shown themselves to be highly susceptible to the roubles that have poured into London; those working in the real-estate market and luxury-service industry are similarly blithe –18 and it goes without saying that Russia’s large hydrocarbon-fuelled economy is highly attractive to the City of London. At least 70 Russian companies are listed and traded on the London Stock Exchange, and companies from the former Soviet Union have raised US$82.6 billion in London over the past two decades –20 and that is just the transparent money.
As it has made use of significant British business, cultural, financial, and political interests, Russia’s soft-power offensive has, with the exception of RT, largely gone unnoticed. Indeed, where it has been noticed, it is largely because pro-Kremlin initiatives have taken place in partnership with British institutions – which often have little real idea of their Russian partners – so as to give their activities the impression of neutrality and legitimacy and to raise their activities’ prestige.
The most important instruments of Russian soft power in the UK include the following:
Russia maintains an active and assertive public-diplomacy presence in the UK, with its representatives often expressing sharp disapproval of policies that conflict with Russian interests. Influence is used to advance Russian objectives, such as opposing Western economic sanctions against Russia – following its annexation of Crimea – and limiting the ‘expansion’ of NATO. The two focal points of Russia’s diplomatic strategy in the UK are the Russian Embassy and Rossotrudnichestvo. Russian Embassy Russia has invested heavily in modernising its traditional diplomacy over recent years, most notably by increasing its presence in social media, which has allowed the Kremlin to position its messages in the mainstream and to reach new audiences. At the forefront of this has been the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2011, the Ministry launched a new and more user-friendly version of its website (http://www.mid.ru/bdomp/sitemap.nsf), and, in June 2012, it launched its own YouTube account (https://www.youtube.com/user/midrftube), which currently has 6,845 subscribers and its offerings have received around 1.82 million views. The following month, in July 2012, Putin encouraged his country’s diplomats to engage with new technologies, such as social networks, as instruments of Russian soft power.
The Ministry actively uses Twitter, and one of its most prominent users is Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s Ambassador to the UK (@Amb_Yakovenko). Yakovenko tweets in both Russian and English, hosts regular Twitter conferences, and is one of the roughly 35,000 officially verified Twitter users. In a 2012 article published in Russia Beyond The Headlines (RBTH) and distributed in The Telegraph, Yakovenko explained his use of Twitter thus:
In a country like Britain, where two-thirds of adult internet users are on Facebook and a quarter on Twitter, one cannot ignore these media and should learn the logic of communicating through them.
So successful has Yakovenko’s ‘digital diplomacy’ been that he boasts that Russia’s UK Embassy “is third[-most followed of all the London-based embassies on Twitter, behind] the US and Israel, which have invested heavily in this instrument of foreign policy over a longer period.” Yet, Yakovenko uses Twitter to push the Kremlin’s narratives, in an attempt to mislead the Western public.25 For example, on 19 January 2015, shortly after pro-Russian rebels attacked Ukrainian forces near Donetsk airport, Yakovenko tweeted, “All that is needed for heavy weapons [sic] withdrawal to start is #Ukraine’s decision. Instead, they started an offensive.”
Formerly part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rossotrudnichestvo was created in 2008, by thenPresident Dmitry Medvedev, as a means to advance Russia’s political and economic interests, by promoting its values in countries where it operates. To achieve this, the new-look agency took possession of Roszarubezhtsenter’s foreign activities, spanning 77 countries. The reason for the creation of Rossotrudnichestvo – according to its head, Konstantin Kosachev – was clear:
Russia is experiencing certain difficulties with forming its image right now. Sometimes in countries with a well-developed media environment, the attitude toward us is worse than toward certain dictatorships. We have no intention of altering or glossing up Russian realities, we are merely trying to deliver truthful information to everyone willing to listen.
Since its creation, Rossotrudnichestvo has received significant government financial support. According to a 2013 Presidential Decree, its budget will increase from 2 billion roubles ($60 million) in 2013, to 9.5 billion roubles ($300 million) in 2020.29 By 2020, it will receive 0.1 percent of Russia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Rossotrudnichestvo’s London offices are located in Kensington and were opened in March 2012, by Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s Ambassador to the UK.
Rossotrudnichestvo works closely with the Russian Embassy in London and collaborates with Russian-language media in the UK, including RIA Novosti. It also maintains active relationships with some of Britain’s leading universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and UCL.
Russia’s state-owned media manipulate the British media’s misunderstanding of the difference between balance and true objectivity, so as to present Putin’s assertions as neutral; this represents an effort to undermine the Western model of news reporting. The Kremlin initially invested in initiatives that were demonstrably Russian (RT), but then began to invest in initiatives where its footprint was more opaque (RBTH). At a time when major Western media outlets are facing tightening budgetary constraints, Russia is increasing its investment in this sphere. RT’s budget, for example, is estimated to have increased from US$ 30 million to US$ 300 million, since it was founded in 2005.
Because of the large Russian diaspora in the UK, other privately-owned Russian media have developed, such as Russian Hour, RussianMind, and the Angliya newspaper. Despite being privately-owned, however, these outlets often enjoy the support of the Russian government, the Russian Embassy in the UK, or Russian soft-power organisations, including Rossotrudnichestvo and the Russkiy Mir Foundation.
According to the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, which compiles UK viewing figures for television stations, between 2.25 million and 2.5 million Britons watched RT during the second half of 2012. This made RT the fourth-most watched rolling-news channel in the UK, behind BBC News, Sky News, and Al Jazeera English. Online, though, RT bills itself as the “Most Watched News Network on YouTube”, where it has more than 1.32 million subscribers and “over 2 billion views” for its videos. It is an impressive track record for an organisation only launched in December 2005 as an attempt to, according to Putin, “try to break the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on the global information streams”.
Funded by the Russian government, through its ‘Federal Agency for Press and Mass Media’ (Rospechat), RT has the same effortless appearance as other 24-hour news channels; but, watch it for a while, and it quickly becomes clear that this is not the case. Although RT initially produced global journalism, it soon developed a policy of broadcasting ‘alternative’ news that was overlooked by Western networks and often contradicted the mainstream. So strongly is RT critical of the West that it is known as the “anti-Fox News”.
Given that RT is a long-term funding priority for the Russian government, it plays a significant part in how Putin wishes Russia to be seen by the English-language West. In a 2013 interview, Putin admitted that the channel “cannot help but reflect the Russian government’s official position on the events in our country and in the rest of the world one way or another.”
Putin’s words have certainly rung true for the Ukraine crisis, during which RT has reflected the Kremlin’s baseless narrative of events (otherwise known as ‘disinformation warfare’). The most blatant lies that RT has propagated include: a report that 400 elite US mercenaries were fighting, on behalf of the Ukrainian military, against pro-Russian separatists; Putin’s assertion that there are no Russian military personnel in south-eastern Ukraine and that “there never were any”; and consistent claims that Kyiv is beset by violence, fascism, and anti-Semitism. In light of RT’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis, Ofcom, the UK’s media monitor, launched four investigations into the channel’s behaviour; RT was found guilty, in each case, of breaching broadcasting regulations on impartiality.
So bad did RT’s propaganda become that it led to an on-air rebellion. On 03 March 2014, Abby Martin, the host of RT America, condemned Russia’s invasion of Crimea in a broadcast. Days later, Liz Wahl, one of the network’s anchors, resigned on air, saying, “I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin.” In July, meanwhile, Sara Firth, a London-based correspondent, resigned because of RT’s lies about the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.
Russia Beyond The Headlines
Russia Beyond the Headlines (RBTH) is an international information project funded by Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Russian government’s newspaper of record. RBTH maintains a ‘.co.uk’ domain website, an English-language iPad app, several English-language digital magazines, and an English-language “analytical resource for expert communities”, called Russia Direct. Its main product in the UK, however, is the monthly supplements that are distributed as pull-outs in the influential The Telegraph newspaper. The newspaper has a circulation of around 500,000 readers, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (which provides independent verification of circulation figures for UK national newspapers).
Much like RT, on first glance, RBTH is just another newspaper supplement: its glossy pages are reader-friendly and its format apes Western-conventions. Most of its articles are written by Russian freelance authors; but a significant amount of RBTH’s material is taken from other Russian state-owned newspapers (such as Vedomosti, Kommersant, and Rossiyskaya Gazeta) and reflects the position of the Russian government. In addition to content, there is also an overlap of personnel between media: Eugene Abov, RBTH’s Manager, is Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Rossiyskaya Gazeta and enjoys a prominent position at the Kremlin-backed Russian Guild of Press Publishers.
RBTH was especially active in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. In early February 2013, for example, it published a piece by Gevorg Mirzayan, an author identified as a research fellow at the Kremlin-operated Russian Academy of Sciences. The article reiterates Putin’s claim that the “huge expense” which Russia had made in hosting the Games was an “investment in national consciousness”; however, not once in the 500-word piece does the word ‘corruption’ appear. This is rather a large oversight, given that reports suggest that as much as half of the Olympics’ US$50 billion budget was lost to corruption.
2.3 Culture and Education
Russia has an extensive programme of cultural and public diplomacy in the UK, where tours of the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theatres are sell-out occasions, West End theatres play host to critically-acclaimed Russian stage plays, and British galleries (often with the sponsorship of Russian state-owned companies, which are euphemistically called ‘strategic partners’) provide the backdrop to exhibitions of Russian artists. An important strand of Russia’s cultural diplomacy in the UK is undertaken by the Kremlin-aligned Orthodox Church, which works closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One of the Church’s main aims outside Russia is to foster international Slav Orthodox unity through its ‘Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia’ initiative. The Orthodox Church, which was resurrected by Putin in the early 2000s and has been central to his consolidation of political power in Russia, has over 50 churches in the UK.
Maslenitsa, the Russian pagan spring festival, has been celebrated in London since 2009. Organised by Ensemble Productions, a London-based firm specialising in promoting cultural events in Britain and internationally, the festival was initially held in Potters Fields Park, near Tower Bridge and close to City Hall. In 2011, it moved to Trafalgar Square, and, the following year, the one-day festival was expanded into a week-long series of events.
Since its introduction to Britain, the festival has enjoyed the patronage of Russia’s Ministry of Culture; it also counts the Russian Embassy in the UK, Rossotrudnichestvo, the Russkiy Mir Foundation, and Mayor of London Boris Johnson amongst its benefactors. (Johnson, who has been an ardent supporter of the festival since he was elected in 2008, claims to have Russian roots in his family history and speaks Russian in his annual Maslenitsa greetings.) The festival also boasts significant financial backing. In 2011, the pro-Putin oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov’s Onexim Group sponsored the event, and, in 2014 it was the turn of Russia’s state-owned oil giant Rosneft.
Russkiy Mir Foundation
Established on President Putin’s initiative in 2007, the Russkiy Mir Foundation is supported by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Education and Science and oversees a network of so-called ‘Russia Centres’ in the UK. Its four main initiatives are: a Russian-culture centre at Durham University; a Russian-language centre at Pushkin House, London; an educational programme at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford; and the Princess Dashkova Russian Centre at Edinburgh University. These Centres mainly run Russian-language courses and cultural programmes, but also organise events explaining Russia’s position on global issues.
UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014
Russia’s use of culture as a soft-power tool was especially visible last year, which was officially the ‘UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014’. Agreed in March 2013, by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, the initiative sought to raise the profile and improve the image of Russia in the UK, by providing “an unprecedented showcase of Russian culture.” Overseen by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister (Olga Golodets) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and supported by Russia Beyond The Headlines, the initiative arranged over 250 artistic, sporting, and, scientific events throughout the UK. These included an exhibition of the artist Kazimir Malevich’s works, at the Tate Modern, and performances by the Stanislavsky and NemirovichDanchenko Moscow Music Theatre and the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra. In June 2014, in a show of frustration over the ongoing Ukraine conflict, UK ministers announced that they would boycott all events set to be held as part of the Year of Culture.
2.4 Public Relations
Putin cares a great deal about how Russia is viewed in the West, and the Kremlin has invested significant amounts of money in public-relations campaigns, working with a number of London-based PR agencies in the process. In 2006, Russia employed GPlus – as well as the Washington D.C.-based Ketchum, Inc. – to provide support to the Kremlin during the G8 Summit of that year. The following year, in 2007, the state-owned energy giant, Gazprom, also signed a deal with GPlus, for help with media handling and government advocacy. The same year, Gazprom also contracted Gavin Anderson & Co (now Kreab), a financial PR firm with offices in London. Through its London-based subsidiary, Portland Communications, GPlus also offers advice to Russian oligarchs, including Putin-ally Oleg Deripaska.
Though Russia has spent heavily on PR, it has not relied solely on this; based on shared ideological affinities, influential forces in the UK political establishment advocate pro-Russian positions on policy issues. Russia’s political allies in the UK include parliamentarians from all of the major political parties, as well as parties on the populist left and nationalist right. British intellectuals, meanwhile, are just as prone to the Kremlin’s enticements, participating in proMoscow events.
Conservative Friends of Russia / Westminster Russia Forum
Launched in mid-2012, at the Russian Embassy in London, Conservative Friends of Russia (CFoR), was the brainchild of PR consultant Richard Royal. The group, which aimed at “strengthening relations between the British and Russian communities and informing political decision-making within both countries”, featured several notable parliamentarians on its board (including Sir Malcolm Rifkind as its Honorary President). The group was an effort, by the Kremlin, to deepen its ‘co-operation’ with the Conservative Party, in an attempt to rebuild relations between London and Moscow following the murder – widely accepted to be by the Russian security services – of Alexander Litvinenko in 2005. In September 2012, the group went on a 10-date trip to Russia, paid for by Rossotrudnichestvo, 62 and at least one member of the group appeared on RT.
In late 2012, however, the group published a homophobic attack piece on Chris Bryant MP, a member of the Labour Party, and accused him of “ineffectual” leadership of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Russia, which had been critical of Putin and the Kremlin’s human-rights record. As a result, CFoR lost all of its Conservative MPs amid allegations of being too close to the Kremlin. Shortly afterwards, the organisation was re-launched as Westminster Russia Forum, with the same chairman (Richard Royal) and the same Kremlin-friendly aim.
Positive Russia Foundation
In July 2013, the Positive Russia Foundation was launched in London, with the aim of improving Russia’s image in the UK. Behind the initiative was New Century Media, a PR firm that had spent the previous two years working to position Moscow as an international financial centre. According to press reports in Russia, however, the initiative was conceived after close talks with Vasily Shestakov, a Russian MP who was made an honorary freeman of the City of London in May 2013 and who is an old friend of Putin. The same press reports note that the Positive Russia Foundation was “approved by Prince Michael of Kent and British Prime Minister David Cameron”. In an interview with a Russian news website, Shestakov described the Foundation “as a new variant of Russia Today, but under the patronage of English aristocrats.” In June 2013, Shestakov hosted a Sambo event at Kensington Palace and delivered a message from Putin to the event’s guests, including Prince Michael of Kent. Shestakov began working with the Positive Russia Foundation in order to organise a major London-based Sambo tournament (the President’s Cup, named after Putin) in 2014, which the Foundation would arrange and promote. Putin, it was envisaged, would hand the cup to the winning team, as well as headline a black-tie evening reception. For its part, the Foundation promised that members of the British elite would attend, including the Prime Minister and members of the Royal family. Some boast that may be, but the Foundation certainly is well-connected; it was able to invite guests to the Conservative Party’s summer ball for several years, including in 2014 – at which a game of tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson was auctioned for £160,000, to the wife of Vladimir Chernukhin, Putin’s former Deputy Finance Minister.
Valdai Discussion Club
Established in 2004, by RIA Novosti and the Moscow-based, state-supported think-tank Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, the Valdai Discussion Club is an annual gathering of leading Russian and international intellectuals. At Valdai, prominent attendees ask pre-approved questions to leading Russian politicians, including Putin, and, in doing so – to quote the analyst Lilia Shevtsova – participate in a “Kremlin-orchestrated show”. In 2013, as Syria descended into civil war and Russia stood by President Assad’s regime (in the face of growing international condemnation for suspected war crimes), a British attendee praised the Kremlin for “its achievement for bringing about a deal which looks as though it could lead to the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria”, before noting that the achievement was all the more noteworthy, “given that the Syrian government didn’t admit it had them until very recently.” Years earlier, in 2008, shortly after Russia had gone to war with Georgia, a well-known British expert at the meeting with Dmitry Medvedev declared that Russia’s “western partners still subscribe to the old stereotypes in terms of relations with the Soviet Union.”
By participating in these meetings and relaying their observations to the Western media, British intellectuals legitimise the Kremlin’s ideas and transmit them to Western audiences. Often, these ideas contain little in the way of critical assessment, instead simply rehashing justifications for authoritarianism and Moscow’s geopolitical ambitions.
With its access to the world’s financial markets, its rule of law, and its proximity to Moscow, London has long served as a propaganda mill for individuals seeking to have their share of the Kremlin’s dirty money, and as a home for Russian oligarchs and state officials who wish to educate their offspring at elite schools and socialise with aristocrats. In many respects, the UK has welcomed Russia’s increasing influence with open arms.
The Kremlin has taken advantage of the openness of the UK and its system: Russia’s state-owned media were taken at face-value; its anti-Western cultural activities were seen as a reflection of the freedom of speech; and its pro-Putin public-relations exercises were understood as being legitimate. Russia did not create this system; but it does seek to exploit it. This makes Russia’s understanding of soft power very different to the West’s: Moscow seeks to take advantage of the weaknesses of others, rather than persuade others of its strengths.
While there is nothing illegitimate about Russia using soft power to advance its policy objectives, the problem is that Russia’s manner of pursuing these objectives undermines some of the UK’s core values, based on democracy, freedoms, and the rule of law.
There are a number of policy recommendations which emerge from the conclusions that this paper draws:
- Highlight Russia’s Influence. Any cultural and educational events in the UK, organised by the Kremlin, should be advertised as such, rather than being obscured behind Kremlinfunded or Moscow-allied organisations. While citizens should, of course, be able to freely access such events, they should do so knowing who is supporting it and making it possible. This would make explicit the connection between going to an art gallery or music festival, for example, and supporting the Kremlin, thus highlighting the extent of Russia’s influence in the UK.
- Expose Russia’s ‘Useful Idiots’. One reason why Russia’s soft-power approach to the UK has been successful is that the Kremlin has co-opted expert communities who collectively echo its message. Those academics, commentators, and policymakers who receive financial, logistical or other support from the Kremlin should be held to account. In the same way that individuals who publish opinion-editorials in newspapers are required to declare ‘conflicts of interest, actual or potential’ in their taglines, so too should members of these communities disclose their affiliations, in public statements. This would begin to expose Russia’s ‘useful idiots’ in the UK.
- Use Existing Regulations to Combat Russia’s Lies. RT promotes itself as providing a necessary antidote to the ‘mainstream’ news agenda of large media networks, and is the fourth-most watched rolling-news channel in the UK. Yet, the channel is nothing more than a vessel for pro-Putin propaganda. While some of the stories that RT covers are controversial, others are pure fiction; four times in 2014, RT was found to be in breach of the broadcasting code for impartiality by the media regulator, Ofcom. Ofcom should continue to be vigilant; enforcing existing regulations and rules is an important part of the effort to combat the Kremlin’s lies in the UK.
By Dr Andrew Foxall, Russia Studies Centre of The Henry Jackson Society