Skip to main content

Understanding Russian soft power

Vincent C. Keating and Katarzyna Kaczmarska

Were you fascinated by Homeland’s last season featuring Russian influence in the US? Do you want to learn more about the strategies developed by the Kremlin? Vincent C. Keating, associate professor at the CWS, offers you two useful resources on the matter.


First, listen to the podcast Vincent recorded with Pål Røren on Russian soft power to learn more about the spread of an ideology, the strategies of influence, US reactions as well as Vincent Keating’s future projects on the issue.


Second, read the whole argument by Vincent Keating and Katarzyna Kaczmarska in their recently published article “Conservative Soft Power: Liberal soft power bias and the ‘hidden’ attraction of Russia” in the Journal of International Relations and Development here.


In the past few years we have been inundated by fears of Russian influence in the West. Individuals working for, or at the behest of, the Russian government have flooded social media with false and confusing messages (have a look at Flemming Splidsboel Hansen’s analysis of Russian influence operations over at DIIS). This has led to confusion among Western publics over what the truth is, leading to either support for Russian policies or resignation over the political process – both of which benefit the Russian regime. There are even claims that the President of the United States and his advisors could under the influence of the Russian regime, either through the promise of economic gains or the threat of compromising information. But is this the best way to characterize Russian influence? (On these issues, see for example Michael Crowley’s work on Trump’s Russia ties; Marshall Cohen and Tal Yellin’s contribution on the promise of economic gains linking Trump and Moscow; as well as Adam Davidson’s article on Putin’s strategy of threatening to spread compromising information about Donald Trump).


Vincent Keating and Katarzyna Kaczmarska argue that the critical missing element in our understanding of Russian influence is their soft power capabilities. Russia does attempt to confuse and distract through their propaganda and disinformation campaigns, but equally, they champion a number of conservative values that has found increasing admiration among populist leaders and their followers across the West (see Vincent Keating and Katarzyna Kaczamarska’s article “Feared for all the wrong reasons? The workings of Russia’s conservative soft power”). Where and when these leaders find these values to be attractive, they also tend to support controversial Russian foreign policy. Thus, we need to not only think about Russia’s ability to confuse and distract, but also their ability to be an ideological leader of conservative values that find global resonance. Our reaction to Russian influence cannot just be about controlling information or correcting fake news, it needs to recognize that the problem is fundamentally ideological (see Keating Vincent C. and Katazyna Kaczmarska, “Russia’s influence is much more than propaganda and fake news”).

Editing was completed: 15.03.2019