А. Паизова, Г. Р. Дадабаева, Д. В. Парк

The implementation of Russian anti-western soft power in Central Asia: new approach and new tools

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The implementation of Russian anti-western soft power in Central Asia: new approach and new tools
Similar to USA, Russia has been developing its own normative vision and is attempting to promote it abroad. She consistently promotes her visions in forums such as United Nations and in regional organizations such as the SCO. She has taken a more assertive foreign policy since the U.S. entry into Central Asia after the 9-11 attacks and the resulting influence of Western NGOs. In response to increased Western exposure in the region, Russian has trained its own youth organizations, restricted the activities of western NGOs in Russia and warned the United States against interference with Russia’s domestic developments. Russia’s soft power strategy was articulated in a Foreign Ministry report called “A Review of the Russian Federation’s Foreign Policy.” Commissioned by the Kremlin and released 27 March, 2007, the report advocated for a “more equitable distribution of resources for influence and economic growth” and defended the notion of collective leadership and multilateral diplomacy as an alternative to unilateralism and hegemony in international relations. Russia has taken a greater role in developing its own version of democracy as well. The Kremlin’s former leading ideologist, Vladislav Surkov, defined sovereign democracy as “the need to defend an intellectually determined path to political development and to protect economic prosperity, individual freedom, and social justice from potential threats … [such as] ‘international terrorism, military conflict, lack of economic competitiveness, and soft takeovers by ‘orange technologies’ in a time of decreased national immunity to foreign influence.” (Tsygankov, 2005) Increasing Russian soft power is deemed a vital national security interest and one that is necessary to offset the United States’ hegemonic ambitions. “We view the appearance of a powerful military bloc on our borders … as a direct threat to the security of our country,” Putin said of the Western promotion of “Color Revolutions” after a 2008 NATO summit.
The illiberal paradigm of democracy is attracting smaller states to the Moscow axis. For example, “the Central Asian states, finding the American liberal democracy a price too high, followed the Russian model … in which states, through the vote of their people, can choose the social system they feel best for them. Unlike liberal democracies, with institutions committed to upholding liberties through a system of checks and balances, the Russian model is conceived of a strong elected executive who coordinates institutions of national power.”(Hiro, 2010) This magnetic appeal is not limited to the Central Asian members of the SCO, but also is gaining traction in other regions of the world, where democracy is a tertiary concern to social justice, economic security and stability. In this way, Russia reflects the language of democracy used in the West while refracting its usage to correspond with her own interests. Such a strategy shifts the narrative in her favor because, although she adopts the language of the norm, she encodes it with her own meaning.
In high governmental level, Russian soft power impact is expressed in copycats of legislatives. For example, Russia’s normative agenda has also influenced Kazakhstan’s and Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary discussions on their own versions of Russia’s anti-gay and anti-NGO laws. Both governments submitted anti-gay bills; Kazakhstan’s did not pass, Kyrgyzstan’s did. Kazakhstan did pass a foreign agent law and laws restricting NGO activities and unsanctioned protests. Kyrgyzstan’s Parliament refused legislation against NGOs as foreign agents or unsanctioned protests, but validated a law defending the religious feelings of believers against any kind of ‘offense’ or ‘blasphemy’. All these legislative efforts are explicitly based on Russian laws. The Kyrgyz homosexual propaganda bill was widely seen as an effort to gain support among the conservative electorate. In Kazakhstan, even if the bill did not pass, it appears that the interparty links between Nur Otan and United Russia inspired the copycat mechanism; a Kazakh MP noted “the geostrategic position of Kazakhstan” among other moral and cultural justifications for the nature of the bill and its timing. (Laruelle, 2017)
To sum up, it can be concluded that this strategy of anti-westernism enjoys with quite popularity in the region and serves a kind of legitimizing justifications for the leaders of authoritarian states, who constantly striving for consolidation of their power.
Concerning the unique instruments of soft power that Kremlin use in region in order to affect the integrational process there, we can mention economic tools, military diplomacy, cultural mechanisms, as well as elites’ ties.
Economic tools. Although the Ukrainian crisis has shown that the Kremlin continues to trust primarily military force, it usually proceeds from the principle that co-optation is more effective than coercion, and that is why resorts to several interconnected strategies: maintaining interconnectedness that has remained from Soviet times (and earlier) in response to globalization promoted by the West and external competition - significant technical assistance; the employment of millions of labor migrants whose remittances are essential for the survival of some regional economies (in particular, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan); strengthening ties between the interests of business elites.
Moscow continues to have big hopes for military diplomacy. This is most evident in the presence of a significant Russian military contingent in Tajikistan and the existence of large Russian military bases such as Kant in Kyrgyzstan and Aini in Tajikistan. The objectives of this presence are radically different from those that prompted Russia to use troops and bases in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova to exert pressure on Kiev, Tbilisi and Chisinau, respectively. In Central Asia, the presence of Russian troops is not aimed at undermining, but on the contrary, at supporting existing regimes and demonstrating Russia's need for this process. Military assistance programs have a similar function and serve to strengthen interdepartmental ties.
Cultural diplomacy remains an important means of promoting Russian interests. Emphasizing “civilizational unity” and shared values is in line with the more global goal of Russia-led Eurasia. Through the communication of mass culture (television shows) and news broadcasts to a wide regional audience, the Kremlin expects, in essence, to create The Moscow Consensus is similar in its effect to the famous (albeit fictitious) Beijing Consensus. The main idea of the Kremlin is that Russian culture and values are much better suited to Central Asia than the destructive ideas of the West.

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