Literature review and conceptual framework The concept of "soft power" formulated by political scientist J. Nye, opened a new page in theoretical and practical studies of the phenomenon "power" in international relations. By the figurative expression of J. Mattern (2005), the concept of "soft power" has mastered the imagination of both scientists and politicians all over the world.
Russia’s soft power concept is a relatively new theme in the academic literature and remains noticeably under-researched. The studies in this field can be contingently divided by several groups.
The first group is devoted to the study of Russian soft power through the prism of historical factors that formed the basis for the formation of modern Russian propaganda (Tsygankov, 2013a and 2013b).
Second, there are publications – with more of a policy focus than an academic focus – that simply point out the rise of Russia’s soft power strategy and attempt to describe its major features without engaging in deeper analysis (C´ wiek-Karpowicz, 2012; Sergunin, 2014).
Third, there are scholars who wanted to analyze the theoretical framework of soft power, namely, to what extent does the Russian understanding correspond or deviate with the concept offered by Joseph Nye (Lukyanov, 2009; Nye, 2013; Troitski, 2011). This group may also be supplemented with such equally well-known names as Kisileva (2015), Morozov (2015), Zahran G. and Ramos L (2010). In particular, this category of the researchers having different approaches and using various methods made a great contribution on the addressing problems around the concept. Lebedeva (2017) reiterates this point stating that, “fundamental difference of Nye’s “soft power” concept is in attractiveness instead of pressure and manipulation, in voluntary and informed choice as opposed to coercion. However, this is a certain convention and an attempt to “semantic hide and seek” - undoubtedly, in “soft power” propaganda can also take place”. In response to the critiques of Ramos and Zahran, Nye (2010: 217), provides some contradictory points by stating that “Even if Zahran and Ramos are correct that under hegemony, coercion and consent are complementary, that is not the same as saying that soft power is always rooted in hard power. Sometimes it is and sometimes it is not.” Continuing this debate, we want to emphasize Van Herpen’s (2015) work, in particular, his comprehensive explanatory book “Putin's Propaganda machine”, where he makes one important point that this work also intend to proof: “the Kremlin gradually transformed its “soft power” into a "velvety hard power Gloves" to launch a truly radical information war against the West, where Central Asia also plays a significant role”.
One more important aspect of controversial issue, which has to be mentioned is how soft power is implemented: passively or actively? To a large extent, Nye (2003) regards hard power as active and soft power as passive source of how for instance, state “B” can act in a favor for state “A. However, this is not always so in practice. Therefore, all this above mentioned can be pointed that soft power has a great ability to affect the external orientation of small states that might, for instance, find political arrangements or economic capacities of certain state quite successful and attractive to follow with its models as well as the rules of policy, where internal mechanisms, such as elites’ decision and actions also matter.
In terms of application of Russian Soft power on Central Asian states, there are negligible number of works, which scarcely provide with explanation and justification regarding the effectiveness of such policy. Most of the works, like Gusarova’s (2017), Omelicheva (2018), Ospanova (2018), Oztertem (2009), Muratalieva (2014), Saginday (2017), Bogdanova (2016) focused on the evaluation of the Russian institutes and instruments called upon create the attractive image of the state. The core reason of their critique lies on absence of direct work with the youth and presence of Soviet model of soft power, which still defines the Russian compatriots as a main source of attaining desired results in the targeting country (the sort of Russian 5th column). Their works have basically concentrated on critical judgement of the Russian soft power strategy in the region and emphasized some of the key issue that have to be fixed for effectiveness of measures. Unfortunately, domestic researchers could not dare to elaborate comprehensive theoretical work on the issues of Russian soft power in Central Asia in terms of geopolitical motives. Interestingly, there are numerous of domestic works on China-Russian rivalries over the region including cultural influence, but almost no works dedicated to Russia-West ideological confrontation. But amidst this scarcity of literature in this field, nevertheless, one thesis work is worth to be noted- “Is Soft Balancing the Driving Force Behind Sino-Russian Cooperation in Central Asia?” by Magnus Jerneck, where researcher using neoclassical realism approach for explaining Sino-Russian cooperation in Central Asia tries to test if soft balancing applicable to the case of China and Russia to resist USA’s influence in the region.