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Hudson, Victoria

The Many Faces of Russian Soft Power: An Analysis of the Aspirations and Obstacles to Renewed International Cultural Attraction

That Moscow is looking to develop its cultural attraction on the international stage is by now well recognised in both the scholarly and policy-related literature. This paper will aim to contribute to this body of knowledge by providing a systematic overview of Russian initiatives to rekindle soft power, as well as clarifying factors impeding progress on this front.  At the outset, a brief discussion of the theoretical background will provide a working definition of the contested concept of soft power that will be referred to in the empirical analysis.  It is argued that the diverse range of activities undertaken under the rubric of Russian soft power might usefully be clustered into different, albeit sometimes overlapping, approaches; including nation-branding, humanitarian cooperation and compatriot policy, civilisational discourses and the promotion of an ‘objective image’ in the world. This differentiation is useful to facilitate a coherent analysis since not only do these approaches represent the ambitions of different elite groups close to the Kremlin, they accordingly pursue different objectives and employ different methods. Hence assessing them en bloc may lead to some confusion.  However, in spite of the evidenced engagement with soft power issues, Moscow faces a range of significant obstacles in this sphere that hamper realisation of the strategic goal of renewed cultural leadership. Such issues, it is argued, are in many cases linked into difficulties facing the wider modernisation agenda.  Overall, an analysis of both the pursuit of soft power and the hurdles impeding Russia’s resumption of cultural attraction on the international arena offer profound insights into the wider dynamics at play on Russia’s domestic front.