Maris Cepuritis: Double Standards in Russian Foreign Policy



Maris Cepuritis, researcher at Centre for East European Policy Studies, candidate for a doctoral degree in political science at Riga Stradins University

According to the decree, issued by President Vladimir Putin, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to develop and present a new conception of foreign policy till this December. Although the full content of the document will become available only after publicizing the document, even now separate elements of the conception have been included in Russia’s official documents and speeches of higher officials. Strengthening of the dimension of soft power is one of such elements which will draw Russia’s special attention in the nearest future.

Even for a number of years Russian foreign policy implementers have been speaking about a multi-polar world, and they insinuate that, along with the US, EU, China, possibly also India and Brazil, Russia is one of the great players in international policy or the system’s power poles. Trying to be the participant of such level, Russia tends to use the available instruments for increasing its power thereby protecting its national interests. According to Joseph Nye, author of the concept of soft power, a state can protect its interests most effectively by implementing instruments of both the hard power and soft power thus creating its smart power.

Pronounced expressions of soft power and hard power can be observed in the US’s policy. The EU member countries are intensively developing their soft power instruments, trying to regain their hard power within the framework of NATO reforms, and China continues to invest billions both in strengthening the military capacity of its People’s Liberation Army and developing its image of peaceful regional and global player. Considering itself as the member of this group of superpowers, Russia also is trying to activate all kinds of power in its foreign policy.

As regards Latvia’s position, it would be ambivalence to reproach Russia for its wish to increase its soft power and make itself more attractive in the eyes of international community, for it would imply the necessity to use the same criteria in evaluation of the expressions of soft power also of the US and China. Simultaneously, bearing in mind that soft power is still a kind of power or the ability to achieve carrying out particular activities, it is necessary to be quite cautious towards this expression of power and study manifestations of this power.

Russia’s view of implementation of soft power can be illustrated by the recent Russian officials’ decisions on activities of non-governmental organizations, foreign foundations and aid agencies, for example, the law stipulating that all non-governmental organizations, including the mass media which are receiving foreign sponsorship, will have to be registered as “foreign agents” subject to scrupulous control on the part of governmental institutions. Also the denounced Russia – US treaty regulating the USAID’s activities in Russia with the following interruption of its operation beginning with this October, indicates that Russia wishes to reduce maximally the other countries’ soft power impact on Russia.

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov explains the interruption of the USAID’s operation by lack of legal basis for activities of the organization, because the treaty, regulating the USAID’s operation, has been denounced. In its turn, the treaty has been terminated because Russia has already become itself the donor-country, besides, the treaty of 1992 being obviously disadvantageous for Russia. At the same time, S.Lavrov maintains that the other foreign organizations, such as British Council or German Goethe Foundation, will continue their operation without any limitations.[1] It should be mentioned that in 2007 – 2008, the activities of British Council in Russia were considerably restricted when Russian authorities demanded liquidating all the representations of British Council with the exception of its central office in Moscow. Such decisions, placing strict limits on implementation of the other countries’ soft power tools in Russia, reveal Russia’s concern about the possibility that the other countries, with the help of these tools, may persuade Russian public that their values are more interesting and attractive than the ones propagated by the present Russian regime. In his decree on developing the new conception of foreign policy, V.Putin has included the task to Russian foreign policy implementers to carry out intensive activities for protection of human rights, act against such policy which is using the conceptions of the rights protection as a tool for influencing countries and interfering in countries’ internal affairs.[2]

While applying limits to activities of the organizations sponsored by the foreign countries, Russia is trying to protect its sovereignty. Sovereignty as one of the main elements of international system, which is included also in the basic documents of UN, is mentioned by Russian officials also in their speeches in support for Russia’s position on Syrian issue. At the same time, Russian interpretation of sovereignty is quite flexible, for, while protecting its foreign policy interests, Russia readily uses the instruments which are disallowed for use inside the country.

V.Putin’s decree on developing the new conception of foreign policy instructs Russian authorities to secure protection of the general rights, freedoms and legal interests of Russian citizens and compatriots living abroad; carry out activities aimed at expanding consulates of Russian Federation abroad and increasing budgetary allocations for the projects within the competence of Government Commission for the Affairs of Compatriots Abroad and non-profit organization “Foundation for Supporting and Protecting the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad”.

This and the previous chapter illustrate Russia’s approach to soft power – to restrict the other countries’ soft power in Russia (also the “different” interpretation of human rights), although simultaneously strengthening Russian soft power instruments outside Russia. This approach can serve as the explanation of the use of human rights, mentioned in the document, for interfering in country’s internal affairs – if any country raises the issue of observation of human rights in Russia, it is regarded as implementation of soft power unwelcome by Russia, on the other hand, if Russia protects the interests and rights of its “compatriots”, for example, stressing the violations of human rights in Latvia and Estonia, that is considered as the acceptable expression of soft power.

One more illustration of Russian interpretation of soft power can be observed in the activities of Russian “compatriots” in Latvia, supported by the “Foundation for Supporting and Protecting the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad”, mentioned in Russian presidential decree, for example, the seminar held on October 4 in Moscow House in Riga where possibilities of public organizations to influence governmental institutions were discussed. The fact is of interest that the proposed by the organizers seminar’s main questions, such as “Whether civic society can evaluate state power, state, political regime? Which agencies, organizations in Latvia are involved (or can be involved) in studying the state, governmental and political regime?”[3], are similar to the questions put by Russian Presidential Administration in its tender for purchase of research works on domestic policy of several post-Communist countries. This tender has been announced in early August. Considering Latvia, the Presidential Administration is particularly interested in the issues of impact of business groups on state administration and politics, “Eastern” and “Western” orientation of institutions and political elite members and the ways of influencing the decision making process in Latvia.[4]

While analyzing the elements of soft power in Russian foreign policy, one can involuntarily discover internal contradictions and so called double standards, where one policy is protected in the public, while a completely different one is implemented in practice. Although such double standards can be observed also in foreign policy of the other countries, mainly superpowers, nevertheless that raises the question whether these Russian foreign policy instruments meet the concept of soft power, or, in fact, they are much “harder”?