In a speech earlier this year at the Russian Academy of Military Science, Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, discussed the changing environment of modern warfare. Noting the rise of hybrid conflicts such as color revolutions, General Gerasimov highlighted the importance of, “leading military theorists and specialists as well as the defense industry and the government to jointly develop a “soft power” strategy to counter the potential threat from ‘color revolutions.’” The importance of this speech is two-fold. First, it demonstrates that while some have come to believe that Russia has developed a unique and profound soft power strategy, this is not the case. Second, this speech may indicate a trend towards a greater reliance on the use of soft power, though its use is framed as a defensive measure. Rather than using soft power to project values and appear more attractive as countries such as the United States attempts to do, this speech highlights the importance of countering foreign efforts directed against the Russian Federation. Though Russia traditionally relies on hard power to ensure state security and project power, the country may begin a revitalized effort of utilizing soft power to help achieve this, an effort not seen since the Cold War era.
When US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Moscow in March, looming over his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin was a statue of Russian Emperor Alexander II (1855-81). Known as the ‘Tsar-Liberator’, Alexander freed the serfs, introduced trial by jury, relaxed press censorship and created elected regional assemblies that might, but for his assassination, have laid the foundation for bolder constitutional experiments.
But isn’t Alexander the wrong autocrat? Russia, we are told, is in the grip of Stalin-mania. Over the past 12 months, The New York Times, The New Statesman, The Independent and Foreign Policy have reported on an unspoken Kremlin policy to rehabilitate the Soviet tyrant.
Dubbed ‘re-Stalinisation’, its alleged aim is to return Russia to the fear and suspicion that characterised life until Stalin’s death in 1953 and to secure what are asserted as having ever been Putin’s twin goals: the consolidation of absolute personal power and restoration of the Soviet Union (or something like it) in Eastern Europe.
Dimitrios Triantaphyllou | Professor, Director of the Centre for International and European Studies (CIES), Kadir Has University, Istanbul
As if out of the blue, but not really a surprise at all, Turkey has in the last week announced both a rapprochement process with Israel and an attempt to mend relations with Russia. It has also made overtures to Egypt to improve bilateral commercial and economic ties, though its relations with the Sisi regime remain politically complicated. The flurry of diplomatic activity on the part of Turkey’s government indicates that the situation before diplomatic overtures was becoming increasingly unfeasible, and that Turkey’s isolation was growing. This isolation found Ankara increasingly at odds with its neighbours and partners, threatening Turkey’s self-cultivated image as a soft power. This image has been eroding with the escalation of the Syrian crisis, the surge of violence in the country’s southeast in the state’s fight against the PKK, and the series of bombings both by Kurdish militants and the Islamic State across the country. In other words, Turkey was becoming an unreliable and ineffectual contributor to the region’s security.
Reaching out to Israel and Egypt implies that the AKP government is turning away from its proclivity for ideology-laden foreign policy. It also suggests a realisation by Ankara that, based on a power politics assessment, its continued ambivalence toward the Islamic State was further marginalising Turkey and weakening its ability to shape and influence the future of the region, especially the eastern Mediterranean (including the resolution of the Cyprus problem), together with the other relevant stakeholders. The latest terror attack at Istanbul’s main airport, although planned and orchestrated before diplomacy took centre stage, suggests that the policy reversal in now complete. Although further attacks are a very real possibility, Turkey is bound to expect more empathy and support from its allies. The reopening of the airport the day after the attacks indicates a degree of state and regime resilience that it will not easily be broken. The turn toward Tel Aviv and Cairo also suggests an understanding that Turkey has potentially much to gain from a developing Western regional security complex in the eastern Mediterranean, which should also include Greece and Turkey together with Israel and Egypt. The opening of a new chapter in Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU during the same week is also indicative of its enhanced status.
This article was originally published by the Carnegie Council for Ethincs in International Affairs on 9 June 2016.
In this transcript, journalist Arkady Ostrovsky discusses his recent book, The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War, which recently won the 2016 Orwell Prize for political writing.
As has been said, in December of 1991—you may remember that day, the Christmas Day of December 1991—Mikhail Gorbachev addressed the Soviet people on television, 5:00 to 7:00 in the evening, and said the following:
Destiny so determined that when I found myself at the helm of this state, it was already clear that something was wrong in this country. We had a lot of everything—land, oil and gas, other natural resources, and intellect and talent in abundance—but we were living much worse off than people in other industrialized countries, suffocating in the shackles of the bureaucratic command system. All the half-hearted reforms fell through, one after another. This country was going nowhere and we couldn’t possibly go on living the way we did. We had to change everything, radically.
The following is and interview with Ian Lustick, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.
LUSTICK: The basic point is pretty obvious. If a person is too thin, gaining weight is a good thing, but not if the weight gain is all in the stomach. To take a more extreme example: If a person is overweight, losing pounds is a good thing, but not if it is achieved by decapitation or sawing off one’s right arm. “Right-sizing” a state is the idea that—although it is dangerous and usually wrong to change a country’s borders when those borders have been settled and have taken on a sense of stability and naturalness—there are circumstances when it can be entirely appropriate to alter the size and shape of a state for the state’s own good and for the welfare of the nation, people, or population that identifies with it.
MOTYL: If the theory makes so much sense—and I agree that it does—why isn’t it practiced more often? What are the main obstacles to right-sizing?
LUSTICK: States commonly seek to get bigger, but more often than not they “wrong-size” themselves by doing so. Except for perhaps a temporary boost to the popularity of the leadership that promises that expansion will yield a bigger pie to divide among their followers, the costs of maintaining rule over far-flung territories and exploited and unhappy indigenous peoples usually vastly outweighs the benefits that can be sustained over a long period of time. That means, however, that many states are bigger than they “should be,” raising the question you have asked: why don’t more states shrink strategically? The reason is that getting smaller is almost always perceived as shrinking the size of the available pie and diminishing the prestige of those who identify with the state. So it is always more difficult to contract rather than expand, even if, strategically, it is likely to be very advantageous to do so. As you can imagine, it is far easier to label a leader who favors withdrawing from a territory a coward or a traitor to the national (or imperial) cause, than it is to challenge the patriotism of a leader embarking on a “glorious” campaign of expansion—one that would typically be characterized as being demanded by the historical (or divine) rights of the nation or its security requirements.