May 21, 2015
The concept of the “Russian World” is often invoked by Russian officials to describe a unique civilization caught between East and West. But it remains an ambiguous idea even within Russia itself, raising questions about the Kremlin’s intentions toward Russians abroad and to Russia’s neighbors in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
In “The Russian World: Russia’s Soft Power and Geopolitical Imagination” author Marlene Laruelle, Director of the Central Asia Program at George Washington University, discusses the origins of the term and how it fits into contemporary Russian foreign policy.
The author argues that rather than a tool of revanchism, the Russian World is a public diplomacy effort that aims to engage Russia’s voice in the global dialogue. However, Moscow has yet to find a way to promote the Russian viewpoint in a sustainable and non-coercive manner.
- The “Russian World” is a concept rooted in the 1990s and based on an updated version of the ancient notion of a civilizational space. Developed and expanded by a group of scholars and public relations specialists over two decades, the Russian World is characterized by the dual aspects of marketing and messianism.
- The concept became a Russian public diplomacy effort after the Kremlin perceived that it was defeated in its neighborhood and revived its interest in soft power. As part of this effort, Moscow reaches out to compatriots and non-ethnics alike through cultural and language promotion, state-sponsored media, repatriation programs, and citizenship policies under the umbrella of organizations such as the Russian World Fund and Rossotrudnichestvo.
- The Russian World concept interacts with Russia’s three main foreign policy goals, with varying success. The concept is poorly articulated vis-à-vis the Eurasian integration project, and does not seem to take into account the competing influence of China. However, it functions in almost complete harmony with the Kremlin’s promotion of a conservative agenda in the West.
- The ultimate goal of the Russian World is to project Russia’s voice on the global stage. In this sense, it is not a unique project and can be compared to French, British, and U.S. public diplomacy efforts. But Russia’s challenge is to adopt policies of engagement that can be successful, sustainable and non-coercive in regard to its neighbors.