Thursday, July 20, 2017

Russia Today has Far Less ‘Soft Power’ than the Soviet Union Did, Armenian Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 20 – “The Soviet Union was more attractive for the world than is the Russian Federation,” Armenian commentator Anna Mkrtchyan says; and thus is far less able to use “soft power” to promote itself because such power is based not on armed force and economics but on “culture, political values, and a legitimate and moral policy.”

            Countries that are attractive to others can use “soft power” to good effect, she continues; those which are not either lose their positions by alienating others or are forced to turn to “hard power” in the pursuit of their goals (Աննա-Մկրտչյան/1809217; translated into Russian at

            “Despite its totalitarian character, the USSR with its communist ideology had more followers than does the Russian Federation which positions itself in the role of a defender of conservative values,” Mkrtchyan says. No disputes “the greatness of Russian culture,” but “Anglo-Saxon values including the American dream and the British way of life” are dominant.

            Indeed, the Armenian commentator points out, “Russian ‘force’ cannot attract even the countries of the post-Soviet space. In the near abroad, it is possible that many are delighted by the strong hand of the leadership of Russia, but few of them if given a choice would want to live like a Russian ‘peasant.’” 

            The reasons for that are not far to seek: all too often, “the Russian spirit” is clothed “in chauvinism with a great power mentality that looks on the world from imperial heights.”  That offends other nations even if they have good reason to want to cooperate economically or politically.

             According to Mkrtchyan, “the best manifestation of antipathy to everything Russia is that those who know Russian refuse to acknowledge that they can speak this language,” a phenomenon that she says “one can encounter in many countries.”

            “In Armenia, Russian civilization is viewed positively on the whole, and sometimes we Armenians are embarrassed that we don’t speak Russian or speak it poorly. But never the less, people are more pleased with Russian ‘hard power’ – rockets, submarines and fighter planes – in a country surrounded by enemies and having security problems.”

            Thus, for Armenians, “being a friend of ‘the Russian bear’ seems attractive. But being in the embrace of even a friendly bear, it is naïve to expect ‘softness.’”  That is something Armenians and others discover anew every time Moscow does something that violates accepted morality or law.

            The latest such case affecting Armenia is Moscow’s “’taactless’ proposal” that Yerevan should make Russian an official language of the country.  Armenians have been in general outraged, and from this, Mkrtchyan says, “two important conclusions” flow:

            On the one hand, “Russia must increase its investment in ‘soft force,’” not be increasing its propaganda even more but by taking the opinions of others into consideration, something Moscow isn’t doing now.  And on the other, Armenians among others need to learn how to respond to Russian actions in a “proportional” way.

            In this case, the Armenian commentator says, “they must be able when necessary to be capable of saying ‘no.’”

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