To the Kremlin and Back Again

What Western Commentators Don’t Get about “Russian Soft Power”

24 February 2020

Aliaksei Kazharski

Visegrad Insight Fellow

Journalists and think-tankers adopt the Kremlin’s take on the term, speaking of “Russian soft power” when they really mean manipulation practices and disinformation. This corruption of a valuable IR concept has serious ramifications for the freedom of speech.

The Kremlin’s disinformation activities produced an unfortunate mutation of the term “soft power”, not only in Russia itself but also in the West. Like many other Western concepts, “soft power” was appropriated by Russians – and misunderstood in the process.

Nye’s original definition referred to the non-military power of attraction that stemmed from a country’s culture and political values. In Russia “soft power” was reinterpreted in much more sinister shades, as an information war weapon, meant to destabilise societies and bring down governments.

Following the Ukraine crisis of 2014, the Western policy community has paid increased attention to the Kremlin’s subversive operations, and “propaganda and “hybrid war” became buzzwords.

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Aliaksei Kazharski

Visegrad Insight Fellow

Visegrad Insight Fellow. Researcher at the Institute of European Studies and International Relations of the Comenius University in Bratislava and a lecturer at the Department of Security Studies of Charles University in Prague

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