In an effort to improve Russia’s image abroad, Rossotrudnichestvo plans to unveil an expanded strategy on how to boost Russian soft power.

The Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Rossotrudnichestvo head Konstantin Kosachev at the meeting of the heads of Rossotrudnichestvo missions abroad. Photo: RIA Novosti.

The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) plan to present a draft version of Russia’s “soft power doctrine" (entitled “Integrated Strategy for Expanding Russia’s Humanitarian Influence in the World”) to President Vladimir Putin before the end of summer. In the words of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Moscow’s efforts in this area are focused on counteracting the “unprecedented measures to discredit Russian politics and distort Russia’s image.”

July 9 in Moscow saw a meeting of the heads of Rossotrudnichestvo missions abroad. The key topics of discussion included: strengthening ties with compatriots, Russia’s positive image overseas, international development aid, and the promotion of Russian culture and language. At the same time, Rossotrudnichestvo (which is part of the Russian Foreign Ministry) could be empowered to attract more foreign tourists to Russia.

At the meeting, Sergey Lavrov announced that work in the humanitarian sector had particular significance as never before. “The events in and around Ukraine have demonstrated that we face increasing, often unfair competition in matters of shaping public opinion,” complained the minister, “Unprecedented measures to discredit Russian politics and distort the image of our country are being taken."

According to Lavrov, “It is important to do everything possible to elucidate Russia’s position in international affairs, to convey truthful information to the public abroad, and to strengthen contacts not only with those inclined towards constructive engagement with us, but also with players still under the prejudiced influence of a bygone era.”

Rossotrudnichestvo head Konstantin Kosachev acknowledges that Russia is losing out to other major powers in the humanitarian sphere. He says that the main problem is lack of financing, pointing out that the agency's budget is a mere 2.7 billion rubles ($79 million). And he cites the Russian Federal State Statistics Service’s data, according to which Rossotrudnichestvo is in 83rd place out of all 85 Russian government structures in terms of salaries for employees.

“Our geopolitical competitors are ahead. They put together programs years and decades ago, and are now reaping the rewards,” stated Kosachev. “So when we try to show to the government and the Federal Assembly that more large-scale funding is required for this type of work, one of our arguments is that it is not a waste of money, but an investment.”

In this regard, Kosachev announced his department's above-mentioned draft document, “Integrated Strategy for Expanding Russia’s Humanitarian Influence in the World.” The document has already been discussed in the Foreign Ministry and is now “being prepared for further interdepartmental coordination."

Concealed behind the bureaucratic title is Russia’s soft power doctrine, which President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly called for to be applied more energetically. The Kremlin hopes to use it to dramatically improve Russia's image and strengthen its influence in the world. The Foreign Ministry and Rossotrudnichestvo are due to submit a draft strategy to the president by the end of summer. 

The meeting also unveiled that Russian scientific and cultural centers abroad could be empowered to promote Russia as an attractive tourist destination, as announced by Deputy Culture Minister Alla Manilova. 

She also explained that all developed tourist countries operate special departments in “large tourist market countries,” of which Russia is one, yet it has no such missions abroad. But Russian scientific and cultural centers are represented in 80 countries (with 11 more due to open soon). If the initiative is approved by the government, the money to implement it has been promised. Russia plans to use its “unique cultural heritage” to attract foreign visitors.

This is an abridged version of the original article that was first published in Russian in Kommersant daily.

Want to know more about the approaches to soft power in Russia and around the world? Read the RD report ‘Russian Soft Power 2.0’.