The Soft Power of India and Russia
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PhD Student at the Geneva School of Diplomacy, former visiting scholar at the MGIMO University and RIAC
Due to the changing world order, India is looking to be a global power and cannot ignore Russia as an old and trusted friend. Russia’s huge landmass spreading from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean is a source of military, political, technological power, and great mineral wealth. Thus, soft power can add new dimensions of cooperation in bilateralism between India and Russia and limit hard power to achieve the foreign policy goals. The post-COVID world thus creates a new world order and brings new opportunities for Russia to build its empire once again by taking Russian Indian ties to new heights.
India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar noted that the relationship between India-Russia is one of the most stable in IR, with both the countries being “all weather friends” on many geopolitical and global matters. The two sides should further strengthen their economic, cultural, political, and defence relations in the coming years. Putin’s visit to India in 2021 marked a new corner in its bilateral ties, and the Indian Prime Minister’s office (PMO) considers these ties as a “special and privileged strategic partnership”. The two countries held an Inaugural 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, consisting of both defense and foreign ministers. However, some challenges persist, such as India moving towards closer strategic ties with Western countries. The threat of China’s developments in Indo-pacific, has also led to a slight rupture in Indian Russian ties, despite their proximal bilateral ties and greater engagements in other multilateral organizations such as Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and BRICS. It is during such complicated times that soft power comes into the picture. This is why power cannot be avoided in IR and should be given more importance. Hence, soft power is not just here to stay, but rather to grow.
India and Russia need to expand partnerships in new areas such as nanotechnology, and biotechnology, as well as emerging technologies such as artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, and virtual reality (VR). As AI becomes increasingly significant in the 21st century, both the countries should consider establishing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in sectors such as health, education, culture, agriculture and diplomacy. In the energy sector, both the countries need to collaborate more and Russia should likewise consider becoming a member of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). Additionally, in March 2022, as India’s government released “India’s Arctic policy”, in which Russia can greatly aid India in various aspects of Arctic cooperation and energy resources. In the education sector, both the countries can work on improving the quality of their universities, both that suits the globalized world while avoiding “brain drain”.
With a weak global economy following the pandemic, a global trust deficit will likely push India and Russia to construct a mutually beneficial and reliable path forward. According to a 2019 report by McKinsey, “the rise of the Asian century” has arrived. India and China, both aspiring superpowers, with strong economies, can alter world order in the coming years. Due to this, a Western decline can pave the way to an alternate international system. This creates one of the greatest ”opportunities of the century” for Russia and India to expand their soft power ties through bilateral relations, participation in various regional organizations, establishing new regional institutions and building a new world order.
Power continues to play an important role within international relations (IR). Considering that military might and policies no longer sufficiently resolve certain political or economic issues, academics, scholars and policymakers have realized that today’s world requires a transformation in traditional IR theories and it has set definitions of what is “hard” and “soft” power (Bound, et al. 2007: 13). Towards the end of the 20th century, conventional ways of exercising power became less adequate in effectuating political goals; the use of armed forces became overtly high-priced for contemporary powers than it was centuries before. This left nations seeking other means to realize their political goals, paving the way for soft power. In a 1990’s study conducted in Foreign Policy, American political scientist Joseph Nye explained soft power as the ability of one nation to get “other nations to want what it wants", or has "the authority of commanding others to do what it wants" . Soft power moreover reshapes the legitimacy and status of the existing state boundaries drawn up previously by traditional economic or martial power. Nye clearly states that in the contemporary world, it is challenging for countries to accomplish their foreign policy purposes by merely employing hard power . This is why soft power currently plays a growing and vital role in IR.
India’s Soft Power
Why India Will Never Be Part of U.S. Alliances
India’s geographic position and surrounding natural factors have played a key role in the evolution of its history. India, being one of the world’s oldest civilizations, has influenced the West since ancient times showcasing itself as a novel civilization that is constantly evolving by both embracing and tolerating change. India is home to a vibrant culture and has maintained a complex traditional society, yet simultaneously has found its place in global popular culture. On whole, India had an extraordinary economic, intellectual, and cultural influence throughout ancient times. Medieval India gave way to the spread of the Bhakti movement and Sufism, which were known for their universal notions of peace. Also, India underwent various extensive transformations during competing Hindu and Muslim empires that ruled the country. This is manifested in the solidarity of the various religious groups seen in India today. Not only that, the diverse and numerous languages spoken in India (such as Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the distinct Dravidian languages) have aided in instituting India’s soft power and growing status in the world.
Further strengthening India’s soft power is the nation’s nourishment of individual spirituality. This gave birth to major worldly religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. This is also a reason why religious tourism has been such a vital constituent in India's IR. Furthermore, India is vividly conscious of the weight of its cultural engagement and soft power; though India requires putting in additional effort to present its culture as fascinating to the corners of the world . Distinguished individuals (like Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore), films, literature, music, yoga, dance, the software industry, and Ayurveda are just some of the extraordinary array of soft power assets that portrays India in an attractive light to the foreign audience . Also, epic masterpieces like Mahabharata and Ramayana, have been studied from generation to generation, further conserving and transforming the nation’s soft power . India’s appeal and charm likewise stems from its secular, democratic, and federalist institutional arrangements. Though problems such as corruption and caste-related are impediments to India’s soft power, the country still maintains a healthy democracy regardless of all its challenges. Furthermore, despite severe roadblocks caused by cultural disunity, India’s well-won independence from colonial rule is greatly praised for its endurance and influence in the global south.
However, under British rule, “drain of wealth” resulted in a poorer India whose nationalistic sentiments were constrained, and its people greatly divided by colonial “divide and rule” strategies. In the past, between 1 and 1000 AD, India’s high GDP gave it the name “Golden Bird” placing its economy further ahead of even ancient China . When the British first came to India, Britain had 2% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and India had 20% . By 1600, India’s GDP per capita was 60% of Britain’s . When India finally gained independence in 1947, India’s GDP was at the rock bottom . In fact, India was an incredibly poor nation following independence, completely swilled of its resources by an over three-century-old colonial power . However, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister stressed that India’s future would be founded by both the past and the present. Nehru also put forth the concept of “unity in diversity”, an important part of India’s soft power strategy .Furthermore, soft power can form impressions on different nations and its citizens through its policies and practices. In this regard, India’s Gandhian concepts of non-violence, Nehru's Five Postulates of Panchsheel (Peaceful Coexistence) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) played a crucial role during the cold war. This, as well as being a founding member of the United Nations (UN), made India an important international actor. With the arrival of the liberalization, privatization, and globalization (LPG) reforms in India, its interconnectedness with other nations across the world increased . Today, India exerts its influence as a member of several regional and international organizations.
Concerning regional cooperation, India’s “Gujral Doctrine” highlights the effectiveness of India’s soft power by supporting democracies in neighboring countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives . Also, policies such as the “Neighborhood First Policy”, “Act East Policy”, and the “Connect Central Asia Policy”, display vital components of India’s soft power. India’s thriving free media, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), human rights groups, and successful general elections, have thus made the country a unique example of triumphal diversity management in the developing world . Also, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), which acts as India’s cultural ambassador, has aided in spreading India’s soft power globally . Yet, by implementing unique, outside-of-the-box strategies more can be done to enhance India’s soft power.India’s current aims and traditions carry much hope for accommodating multi-ethnic communities, most notably in the emerging world. India is a distinguished nation whose values are broadly embraced and exemplified globally by today’s Indian diaspora. Since 2022, there are around 18 million Indian diaspora around the world, making it the largest diaspora in the world . Therefore, today Indian diaspora is considered crucial in promoting a positive perception of the nation. Additionally, many individuals from these diaspora have earned top leadership positions globally in various fields, boosting India’s image. In the last decade, India has also increased its public diplomacy (PD) through digital diplomacy (DD), bringing its soft power policies to action. India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) maintains a public diplomacy division (PDD) that is responsible for supporting and implementing soft power aspects. Through the MEA, India’s government has likewise planned to implement a soft power matrix to advance India’s foreign policy strategy .
The 21st century’s technological boom has also placed greater importance on international cooperation and maintaining an attractive international image. Soft power has thus become a crucial instrument in determining India’s foreign policy and strategic decisions. In this context, the country should further encourage national speakers, equipped with marketing skills to sell India's soft power assets overseas. However, the greatest hurdle for India is to generate the most persuasive approach to promote soft power reserves that also meet India's interests. Therefore, India should figure out its strengths if it wants to resurrect its national image.
Challenges to India’s soft power
India Will Continue to Be Neutral
Soft power is often perceived as an intangible aspect of a state’s source of power; it is difficult to measure its actual impact on a nation. Sometimes, soft power is exercised independently from government policies, existent without the backing of a certain policy or financial resources. Critics state that soft power cannot substitute hard power, and that it helps only if the country has built up its conventional sources of economic and military power. Being one of the oldest civilizations in the world, India could certainly become a global soft power, but the country must address certain challenges first. Importantly, India's soft power has been hampered due to major obstacles, including: deep-rooted and multilevel corruption, red tapism, poverty, intolerance, hate crimes and gender based violence, gender inequality, hostility to businesses, pollution in urban areas, bureaucratic barriers, Maoism, increasing separatist movements, growing credibility crisis in the media, caste-discrimination, and investment issues especially in cultural diplomacy (CD). Also, ongoing disputes between societies, faiths and several other interrelated issues have further damaged India’s global image. The combination of these problems has made India fare poorly in bolstering national attraction. A notable portion of the Indian community still lives below the poverty line (BPL). Likewise, in the last few years, Government of India (GOI) has implemented too many unnoticed schemes and policies resulting in more “quantity” than “quality” work. So, India should strive to assure that policies are put into action, rather than just remain on the paper.
Furthermore, in 2019, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy conducted a survey of the 30 top soft-power countries, noting India as a new addition to the list . However, according to the Brookings Institution India Center, any measure of soft power that compares nations based on per capita would always prove advantageous to developed nations over developing nations like India . Also, despite India possessing UNESCO world heritage sites, and more public policy think tanks than countries such as China, and the U.S, it still fares poorly on education and tourism on a per capita basis . Nevertheless, the country has a good track record of enhancing its political values, culture, and national foreign policy objectives . Following the end of the cold war, India has had a robust moral streak in IR . As a democracy with a rich culture and strong IR, India’s soft power has often proved advantageous in a tangible and real way .
However, a major drawback to India’s soft power is its tense relations with its neighbors. India’s big brother attitude in South Asia, particularly with Pakistan, has reached an all-time low. Also, India’s implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the 2015 Nepal blockade resulted in China’s increasing presence in the region. Likewise, despite the "Neighborhood First" policy, not much has been done to enhance the ties with the country’s neighbors in the last few years . Therefore, the South Asian countries should look towards reviving the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) by having leaders to adapt a proactive approach in resolving bilateral and internal matters through peaceful negotiation; this is indeed a key to achieving greater economic integration, peace and harmony in South Asia. Also, India’s “Look East Policy” (now known as the “Act East Policy), which is one of its most important contemporary strategic and diplomatic initiatives, and seeks to strengthen ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and generally East Asia . There has likewise been an increase in trade and enormous economic benefits between India and the South Asian nations, as well as for nations outside the region . In the east, India and Japan developed robust economic and strategic ties; Similarly, China continues to be one of India’s largest trading partners. Nevertheless, India’s role as a key player in the region has been limited to just the east, as its influence in other countries is constrained . Therefore, India should consider an “Act West” policy, changing its approach to other countries in different cultural, strategic and geopolitical ways .
Furthermore, in the context of Indian diaspora presently, there are three main reasons why the country’s diaspora has become so large: some search for a source of remittances; some seek education and employment; and others desire to become vibrant voices in their host country’s policies . Nye also notes that diaspora are important in supporting multilateral cooperation among States and political actors . However, India has not sufficiently utilized its soft power resources to mobilize global Indian diaspora for its cause . In 2015, former spokesperson for the Indian Foreign Ministry Syed Akbaruddin stated that “India’s soft power diplomacy now goes beyond books, culture and cinema” . Therefore, diaspora are key players in enhancing India’s soft power. In the last few years, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to several countries, he tried to woo Indian diasporas, urging them to be a part of India’s development by investing in the Indian economy . Looking ahead, Indian policy makers should design strategies to attract global Indian diaspora. However, it is also the moral duty of Indian diaspora themself to contribute to India’s development by utilizing their economic position, knowledge, and political influence at the international level .
Looking at democracy in India, the government should focus on various issues that erode democratic values. In recent years, India's score declined significantly in the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Democracy Index; in 2022, it ranked 46th place globally . Likewise, India witnessed a significant drop in its rank in “Freedom House”, “Varieties of Democracy”, and “Reporters without Borders”. This has raised concerns on whether India truly remains a democracy in spirit. The foundational checks and balances of any healthy democracy is found in the cooperation between the media, civil society, and the state. Therefore, India’s democratic system can prove to be an immense soft power resource only if it is enhanced efficiently.
Regarding diplomatic might, the strength of the Indian diplomatic force abroad has been limited. According to the Pillai Committee, the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) is not large enough and lacks professional experience; poor coordination between the MEA and other ministries dealing with foreign policy initiatives, as well as inadequate professional training, has damaged diplomatic work in India . . According to the Economic Times, the 2016 MEA Parliamentary Standing Committee showed dissatisfaction over the ministry “doing little” in projecting India as a soft power. According the MEA, the “turf war” amongst the ministries and “lack of funds” are reasons responsible for such failure in productivity . Consequently, the dissatisfaction felt by Indian diaspora when visiting the unfriendly, inefficient, and bureaucratic-laced Indian embassies have not served well in enhancing India's soft power .
As Nye himself admitted, "drinking coke or watching a Bollywood film does not automatically convey power for the U.S. or India” . Whether the possession of soft power resources produces actual, favorable outcomes depends on the context . Also, soft power is one aspect in a country’s security sphere, rather than an all-purpose panacea . India could become a stronger nation by further complementing its hard power with greater soft power, creating tangible benefits for the overall nation. Nevertheless, the GOI should focus on building harmony within the country, by devising a proper strategy to build a healthier democracy, and harmonious state-civil society relationship in various spheres. Lastly, if India’s is able to convey its own perception of the nation to the world through soft power, it should be effective in delivering the desired state outcomes, not just outside India but also within India itself.
Russia’s Soft Power
Though Russia has only recently accepted soft power as an official aspect in its policies, the country has existed in various areas since Soviet times. Russia’s modern soft power approach was first implemented during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2012 reelection campaign. It then became more clearly articulated in the 2013 Presidential Address , in which Putin stated that Russia would safeguard “traditional values” . As the idea of soft power becomes increasingly common in official Russian discourse, officials have taken steps to encourage and maintain a more direct hold over it to modernize Russia’s foreign policy using soft power as an effective instrument . This includes measures such as establishing and reorganizing state financed agencies that are responsible for funding, facilitating, and training globally oriented NGOs activities, making traditional diplomacy more Internet friendly, and supporting and assisting NGOs . Such measures are intended to improve Russia’s image overseas, diversify its foreign policy aims, while also networking Russia’s soft power resource base .
Power is defined as the capability of actors to meet the objectives they set for themselves in IR . In this regard, Russia has portrayed that it is a powerful state, capable of efficiently utilizing its power . The country has constantly been punching above its weight, having an influence on the international system through economic, technological, and demographic capacities . Within global politics, Putin’s foreign policy strategy currently places Russia in a league of its own with its highly centralized political system, state-centric domestic and international informational machinery, and its consistency in supporting its allies . This differentiates Russia from a “typical” Western democracy and also makes Russia more powerful because of its uniqueness . Being a nuclear superpower with military capabilities matched only by the U.S, Russia’s risky way of magnifying its global power should not be underestimated . Likewise, Russia is considered an international leader in cyber warfare and other futuristic weapons. It is also a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) with veto power, as well as a member of various other global bodies . In order to increase its soft power, Russia should consider diversifying its foreign policy elements with an emphasis on soft power instruments . The sooner the country moves towards this direction, the more secure its role, as a global leader will be in the long-term future . For years now, Russia has been investing in soft power infrastructure. Additionally, it has built instruments to ensure political ideological dominance in its near abroad, including a new way of thought known as “sovereign democracy” . At the forefront of the country’s new soft power ambitions is its domestic focus on promoting its own set of democratic values . . These values emerge from Russia’s unique historical experiences and are different from what the West considers democratic. In this context, Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s defense minister noted that, “If there is western democracy, there should be an eastern democracy as well” . The Russian idea of sovereign democracy functions to support Putin’s authoritarianism with a respectable democratic cover, molding it internally while shielding it from global criticism . Also, Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a role here to further ensure what issues can be tackled, their purpose, and what activities they can engage in .
In his 2012 prelection article, ““Russia and the Changing World”, Putin noted that soft power is considered a matrix of tools and methods that reach foreign policy goals without the use of arms. Specifically, this is done by disseminating information and other ways of influence . One of Russia’s significant foreign policy objectives is to consolidate the Russian Federation’s position as a center of influence in the contemporary world . Other objectives include: increasing world awareness of Russia’s cultural achievements and national historical legacy, consolidating and promoting the position of the Russian language in the world, consolidating the Russian diaspora and cultural identity of Russian people, supporting Russian research and education, and to reinforce the standing of the Russian mass media and communication tools in the world’s information space to convey Russia’s perspective on issues to a wider global community . Moscow thus aims to create a multipolar global system where it can perform a more important role . Similarly, Russia desires to advance its influence, renovate its image and assert itself on fundamental global matters where Western powers have dominated the space . Russia has also been utilizing new opportunities in the digital arena to advance narratives in social media favorable to Russian interests such as new educational, cultural, traditional, entertainment programs . Within Russia, there are many Soviet-era soft power elements that have been further developed including youth movements, media outlets, Internet websites, conferences and even publishing houses . Furthermore, Russia has welcomed and financed NGOs and think tanks, establishing them in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and even in secessionist entities . After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russian government created “Russia House”, a network of more than 50 global “Russophone centers” to advance the Russian language, its language and ethnic identity, generating a dialogue between Russians overseas and their historical motherland . Gradually, the newly independent Russian Federation decreased its presence throughout the globe in the 1990’s . Recognizing this mistake, Russia currently engages in the process of reappearing in PD through various non-state actors, such as NGOs etc. 
However, when discussing Russia’s soft power, scholars point out that the concept is quite new in modern Russia and there is little research on the topic. Especially, there is limited research on Russian historic viewpoints which links Russian policies of today with the Soviet Union or the pre-revolution era . However, there are some policy-focused publications, which emphasize Russia’s soft power as a way to describe it without engaging in a comprehensive analysis . There are also scholars who examine whether the Russian interpretations of soft power diverge or correspond to the original concept put forth by Nye. However, since this research is new and limited in both Russia and abroad, Russia’s PD is increasingly attracting research interest . Western observers usually analyze Russian PD through the lens of strategic communication and hybrid warfare, while in Russia; PD is nonetheless seen as an element of dialogue, not containment . According to state documents, some of Russia’s soft power elements include: information and communications technology (ICT), civil society organizations (CSOs), humanitarian outreach programs and other methods that differ from classical diplomacy . According to Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko, Russia also joined the club of “Twiplomacy great powers” .
Moreover, the Russian Foreign Ministry also invented a term known as “innovative diplomacy”, which is considered a Russian foreign policy tool to exert influence on public opinion by utilizing ICTs . Modern Russia has been doing especially well in DD. In 2012, President Putin stated that DD is one of the most effectual foreign policy instruments . The president further instructed diplomats to use new technology in multiple platforms, including social media, to explain the state’s position on certain matters . Digitalization being one of Russia’s top priorities, particularly in the economy and education, therefore positively impacting the development of Russia’s soft power in the future . There are also organizations that promote Russian PD, including: The Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Foundation, The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), The Ministry of the Russian Federation for Civil Defence, Emergencies, and the Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters etc. .
Besides CIS and Baltic states, Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) member states (including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) are also prioritized in Russian PD . Furthermore, Russia's relations with the Middle East are also of special interest. According to Professor Vladimir Morozov from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), as U.S influence wanes, Russia has been successful in taking advantage of these specific circumstances by projecting itself as a consistent, reliable and dependable actor, willing to stand by its allies and partners. Also, Russian culture is known to be a powerful resource for PD and humanitarian cooperation, yet it has much-untapped potential. The major problem of Russian PD is its lack of strategic planning . Thus, it needs to undergo a thorough audit by well-informed, critical scholars and experts, who are capable of making useful suggestions to decision-makers .
Russia furthermore has fared well in “academic diplomacy” and following the cold war. Russia’s academic society also took an active role in promoting PD dialogue. This can be seen not only with the Warsaw Pact, but also with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) member countries . Moscow has likewise hosted several academic conferences and in the past, and Soviet scholars were known as the USSR’s goodwill ambassadors . The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also promotes new PD formats including new networks consisting of Eurasia, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS), and the European and the Young Diplomats Forum . Russian scientific achievements have further developed, with the country being home to one of the seven leading nations in terms of its number of Nobel Prize winners . Post-2006 Russia has yet again become a major international donor. Until 2014, Russian aid was given through global U.N-affiliated structures such as the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the World Bank.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the West used soft power in former Soviet nations to fuel protests and movements, hoping to funnel Western democratization in the region . Russia, however, uses its version of soft power to link Russia to the former Soviet nations through constant cultural, academic and expert dialogue an effective response to the West’s westernization attempts . Though Russia has traditionally depended on hard power to ensure the country’s security, it now has started to use soft power to help accomplish this, an effort that has not been seen following the cold war period . The principle aim of Moscow’s foreign policy is to restore the country as an important regional power . Russia supports multipolarity over multilateralism . In the latter, its voice becomes diluted in several multi-national formats but in the former, its role is raised as a significant international player . Russian foreign policy therefore aims to foster the growth of constructive partnerships and dialogue, with the hope to foster peace and mutual enrichment within diverse civilizations and cultures . The Russian Orthodox Church has likewise actively partnered with the country’s power institutions, particularly in interacting with compatriots and promoting the idea of a Russian world . Russia has also made some efforts to use Orthodoxy to forge cultural and religious links as part of its wider campaign to place itself as the defender of Orthodox Christianity .
Furthermore, Russia’s soft power-focused federal agency, “Rossotrudnichestvo”, was established in 2006, partnering with organizations such as the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation, the general international community, and members of the Commonwealth of Independent States . The agency showcases contemporary Russia’s soft power to the world promoting the Russian language and culture while also reinforcing cooperation and friendships with other nations . Additionally, the Russian Center of Science and Culture (RCSC) is currently present in 77 countries globally . The Russkiy Mir Foundation (established in 2007), provides financial aid as support for Russian projects and to promote the Russian language around the world . Another soft power instrument, Russia Beyond the Headlines, which publishes leading newspapers globally , while also acts as a platform for expressing Russia’s interests .
Today, President Putin’s foreign policy strategy sees a departure from Soviet ideology and Russia’s power constraints in the post-Cold war period. Putin has increased his efforts to challenge the power of the U.S and Western dominance . Russia’s soft power is apparent in its foreign affairs, but it is not based on presenting an attractive image of itself like the U.S does. Rather, Russia’s version of soft power is more focused on providing “information” and “engagement” . Today, Russia has its own information-broadcasting channel, Russia Today (RT), where it disseminates Western information and provides an alternative perspective on what goes on in the world .
As briefly mentioned earlier, Russia’s notion of soft power varies from the U.S. . The latter’s perspective is based more on the notions of “freedom and democracy”, while Russia’s concentrates more on the Russian unification . Fiona Hill from the Brookings Institution states that, “Russia has the capability to accomplish the same cultural and economic dominance in Eurasia that the U.S has in the Americas .” John Sipher (former head of the United States Central Intelligence Agency) stated that Putin further follows a policy in which, “where there are Russians, that is where Russia is ”. Thus, Russia’s wishes to revive the soft power it once enjoyed during the Soviet era, started to materialize only after Putin came to power .
Since the 2000s, Russia has made important strides in being heard and acknowledged by the international community . Russia’s version of soft power plays a significant role in this . . As mentioned previously, Russia’s approach to soft power is quite different from the initial concept explained by Nye . According to Nye, there are three ways to influence power and accomplish an actor’s goals: coercion, payment, or attraction. Nye associates soft power with attraction , which is why countries such as China and Russia, who have soft power to some degree, but lack attraction from global audiences, makes them not great soft power states . . It is one of the three possible ways. However, since 2008, Russia has implemented several soft power elements in its foreign policy, forcing global actors to reckon with its increasing impact in global affairs . Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov and the then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev referred to soft power as an effective tool to advance Russian visibility in world media and improve its image at the world stage .
One of the major Russian soft power aims is to intrigue international audiences, especially younger people and students, to “discover Russia” for themselves . Even during the COVID pandemic, Russia tried leveraging its soft power by creating its own vaccine, which had been registered in more than 55 nations and received recognition in the virtual world, being the only vaccine to have its own Facebook page, YouTube channel and a Twitter handle . Generally, Russian political leaders believe that the country holds great soft power capability , however, it is often used ineffectively or misused . Firstly, Russia should consider increasing its soft power in Eastern European and Anglo-Saxon countries ; secondly, it should give more attention to countries who’s attitudes towards Russians are considered favorable ; thirdly, Russia needs to broaden its partnerships with neutral countries, especially in the Middle East, Latin America, and Southeast Asia where Russian culture has been considered exotic and distant ; and lastly, Russia should develop a comprehensive strategy to spread soft power in Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries .
Nye’s theories of soft power relies on two fundamental assumptions: first, that soft power exists for nations mostly with liberal systems and universalistic values; and second, that the U.S is the yardstick for measuring its influence . Just because Russia does not match the orthodox Western understanding of soft power does not mean that it does not hold attractive elements in its own version . Russia’s reinterpretation of the Western soft power is in of itself an exercise of discursive soft power . Practically anyone can use soft power to influence others, if they are able to convince them of the significance of its goals and aims . Russia and the West are residing in entirely different, oftentimes diametrically opposed spaces, where “black is white” and “white is black”, depending on one’s angle . These contradicting views are altering the notion of the soft power to the point where it is possible to speculate whether there are other forms of soft power (notwithstanding Nye’s negative perspectives on such speculations) . However, Russia is still unable to provide viable alternatives to many Western aspects such as “popular culture”; the West dominates the popular culture market, while Russian popular culture, including its music, remains mostly unknown throughout the world . Similarly, Russian films go unnoticed throughout the world, compared to other countries like the U.S, whose films are known everywhere . But, Russia understands the significance of its own high culture resulting in Russia’s position sounding something like, “we Russians have had a glorious past, we were great, and this is the significant reason why we are great today” .
Challenges to Russia’s Soft Power
Russia has suffered many major blows during the 1990s, especially due to the economic and political chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the wars in which Russia was involved in overseas. Domestically, these issues made it incredibly difficult for the country to engage in the increasingly converging global economic and political processes . Russia also acknowledged that it lagged behind other main global actors who had already constructed and started to implement their soft power strategies . Insufficient soft power in the post-Soviet space is also most likely due to its net-imperial attitude towards neighboring states . Throughout its history, Russia has been through times where its citizens felt drawn towards foreign ideals . Due to its integration into international and regional economic and political institutions, Russia has strengthened its position in the global arena, however, it still lacks inclusivity regarding its closest neighbors and its ties with former Soviet countries . These countries mostly remain outside the scope of Russia’s active foreign policy . If Russia desires to increase the capability of its foreign policy, it must first and foremost improve its ties with the former Soviet Republics and implement a proper strategy to ensure strong relations . . With the help of soft power diplomacy, Russia may promote economic, political and socio-cultural integration in the post-Soviet space . A good example of this is in higher education. Recently, cultural exchanges between ex-Soviet states and Russia have increased since the Russian higher education system is more attractive for students from the former Soviet republics than their national universities. Universities in St. Petersburg, Moscow and other cities provide international students with more, and better training opportunities in various fields .
Russia-India Summit: Is the Strategic Partnership Still Afloat?
Regarding the attractiveness of the Russian political values, as many international experts maintain, the country still struggles to harmonize its traditional values with globally recognized democratic standards and values . The lack of transparency is considered another important shortcoming of Russia’s soft power policies . Russian understanding of soft power also greatly diverges from both Nye’s version, and those recommended by other Western practitioners and academicians . Nevertheless, insufficient theoretical understanding of the soft political impact is not the sole reason behind its ineffective exploitation by Russia in the contemporary years . Soft power is still considered a newly adopted political idea, which is not yet well formulated. For example, soft power in Russia comes from state sponsored institutions like the Russkiy Mir and Rossotrudnichestvo, rather than NGOs or other sources . After the implementation of the “Foreign Agent Law” in 2012, which severed ties between western institutions and Russian NGOs, Putin recommended a threefold increase in the federal budget’s share to Russian NGOs . In the rapidly changing political environment of the 21st century states require both soft and hard power for being successful in their foreign policy and Russia has been effective in greatly implementing hard power to achieve its aims on the global arena .
Russia is neither a status quo that aspires to keep the main global system rules intact, nor a revisionist one that aspires to radically change those rules . Russia is considered a reformist state that prefers to act on the basis of existing norms and rules rather than to challenge them . For example, new Russian political thought is based on the notions of multipolarity and coexistence. This position was first delivered first by President Putin’s famous 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference . Despite its assertive tone, Putin’s speech did not seek to undermine the present global order , but rather it accused the U.S, NATO, and its allies of having revisionist intentions and called for global reforms in the international system to make it more secure and stable . Putin also suggested a multipolar model based on international law, as an alternative to the unipolar world based on the rule of force .
Russia thus has a profound and a deep history with a distinctive culture; some Russians would even go so far to call it a different “civilization” . Russia’s contributions to world advancement greatly support such a position, including the scientific accomplishments of its Soviet Space program, putting the first object (Sputnik) and the first man (Yuri Gagarin) in space . Russia’s cultural contributions in various fields have also been immense, especially in literature. For instance, Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is still one of the best-known novels in the world . With so many achievements, it is surprising that Russia’s soft power has been so constrained . But, Central Asia, which should have been an innate ground for Russia’s soft power influence, has recently become new terrain for China’s “derussification” .
Laying a solid foundation for utilizing soft power is vital for its success . If a government and its leaders are not attractive, or if there are internal issues and limited development, then it is very hard to use any instruments of soft power to progress that government on the global podium . Russia has been facing problems such as an economic slowdown, corruption, and social inequality issues . . Contemporary Russia managed to establish a fairly stable system of centralized federalism , however, there is no guarantee that it will remain so . Attitudes to Russia are as vast and different as there are nations and social groups . The Soviet past still occupies a major part in Russia’s version of soft power, making it challenging to form ties in both the west and east, particularly, with the younger generation . The number of Russian speakers mentioned earlier are dropping, and the effectiveness of Russia’s power will continue to suffer if the country does not achieve a planned socioeconomic breakthrough, and perhaps more importantly, becomes more open as a society to the outside world . Lastly, Russia’s modernization is impossible without the collective force of “civil patriotism” from the future generation . From the experience of several other nations, it is notably patriotism that aids a country to overcome hardships and losses, to cope with the hurdles of economic and social modernization .
Soft power diplomacy of India and Russia
India and Russia’s historic strategic partnership has managed to stand the test of time in a world of instability and security issues . In the heart of India’s foreign policy of “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence ”(Panchsheel), relations between the two nations have advanced the establishment of a peaceful, predictable, and stable multipolar world order . There are small yet vibrant Indian diaspora residing in major cities of Russia such as Moscow, Sochi, Kazan, and St-Petersburg which have been greatly proactive in engaging with its government and the Russian public in boosting its ties with India . The Indian diaspora has, overtime, become an important element for leveraging and showcasing India’s soft power . At the beginning of the 18th century, Indians would travel to Moscow, selling jewelry such as diamonds, as well as fabrics and medicines . There has also been a strong and deep-rooted spiritual connection between Russians and Indians; several theories have stated that these two cultures came into immediate contact with each other, creating a deep bond . Historical experiences have therefore led to goodwill between Russia and India, as well as both countries establishing robust ties with one another . . The Gujarati Traders of India settling down in Astrakhan, Mahabharata’s (a famous Indian epic) translation into Russian, Russian scholars such as Nicholas Roarich and Gerasim Lebedev travelling to India to study philosophy and culture, Afanasy Nikitin, visiting India even before Vasco-Da-Gama exposed it to the West, and Kolkata’s welcoming of the Russian theater are but a few of the historic connections that has built a closer relationship between India and Russia . Russian literature and thinkers such as Pushkin, Tolstoy and many others have had great impact on Indian literature and thought . Also, since the 1980s, yoga in Russia has become greatly popular, especially in urban areas and big cities . Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated, how every child in India knows that Russia is India’s greatest friend and has always stood with the country during hard times .
Can BRICS Make a Contribution to International Security?
Presently, soft power ties between India and Russia are most visible in education, tourism, culture, the collective approach to multilateral organizations, and people to people exchanges. Another key area of soft power collaboration includes joint research and development (R&D) projects. In the age of DD, where social media has taken the center stage, the goodwill expressed by both the countries towards each other shows the strong soft power diplomatic ties between them. India considered the Soviet Union as a natural ally, significant to India socially, diplomatically, and militarily . The Soviet economic development model, 1917 Revolution, and Russian geopolitics had a profound impact on India’s worldview in the twentieth century . But, Russia’s relations with the West have entangled India in its IR . . Soft power fosters diplomacy, collaboration, and harmony between countries. For its success, advancing collectiveness, confidence and trust between nations is important in maintaining bilateral ties. In this regard, the 1971 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Soviet Union and India may have been military and strategic in nature, but also revealed a perfect instance of soft power diplomatic ties. Prior to the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s good rapport with the Soviet Union led to the signing of the “India Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation” . This treaty provided India both the arms and diplomatic support it required for the brewing war Indira Gandhi soon expected with Pakistan. It also symbolically showed the Soviet support for India over Pakistan . The following treaty is considered the most seminal foreign policy arrangement India entered in the 20th century. It later had a deep impact on South Asian geopolitics as well, leading to India’s preeminence in the region .
Also, the exchange of ideas and viewpoints between Indira Gandhi and Soviet leaders at the Indo-Soviet summit had a profound influence on the relationship between India and the Soviet . The Indian embassy prepared briefs on nearly every issue to discuss for Leonid Brezhnev and Indira Gandhi, who were mutually known to be admiring architects of one of the stablest friendships of the contemporary era . Indira Gandhi therefore took Indo-Soviet ties to a great new level, giving it a robust strategic note. Proof of such is the Soviet Union’s support for India and during its 1971 War with Pakistan . Even though the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi meant that the Soviet Union lost one of its closest partners, a 1984 declassified Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) document revealed that Moscow maintained its friendly relations with Delhi . Both countries have stood as pillars of support to each other in both, the good times and the bad . Also, Russia has periodically helped India veto any adverse UNSC resolutions concerning Kashmir and the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War . Both the Soviet and Russia have, in fact, used veto power many times to protect India. A major reason for India's close relationship with Russia following the cold war involved India countering the U.S strategic ties with Pakistan . India is also greatly dependent on Russia for weaponry and the majority of India’s conventional arsenal is either Russian or Soviet . Both the countries have nevertheless developed close military manufacturing relations, in addition to coproducing the highly versatile BrahMos missile, and jointly designing and developing the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, SU-30 aircraft,T-90 tanks, and many other weapons . India has also acquired the S-400 missiles , showing that India and Russia have upgraded their friendship not just in soft power but also in hard power. Furthermore, India's energy sector is inseparably tied to Russia, and India invests in Russian gas and oil fields .
Currently, India considers Russia an important partner in Prime Minister Modi’s “Make in India’” campaign fields . Even in space diplomacy, Russian-Indian cooperation remains a shining frontier with its continued cooperation on the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), and other important projects fields . The joint statement on “Reaching New Heights of Cooperation through Trust and Partnership” signed by both the countries in Vladivostok in 2019 further showcases the growing importance of soft power fields . The Indian embassies in Moscow, ICCR, MEA and Joint Working Group on Culture have taken several initiatives to spread soft power in Russia fields . Presently, several PD programs are being organized in collaboration with many NGOs fields . The Moscow Durga Puja Association, All Moscow Malayalee Association, Indian-Russian Friendship Society, and Ramakrishna Moscow Society Vedanta Centre, are considered some of the NGOs that foster India’s soft power assets fields  besides the ISCKON.
Russia has a strong tradition of Indology studies in several Indian languages, which are being taught in Russian universities. Also, Russians are very fond of Indian traditions, spices and food, family values, and cultural traditions fields . such as tolerance, religious, and language diversity, Russians who came to India in the medieval times described the country as a “fairyland”consisting of wise sages and extraordinary wealth fields . Likewise, between the 12th and 13th century, one of the first Russian books on India was published, known as “The Story of India, the Rich” fields .
For generations Russians have danced to the tunes of Bollywood songs and Indians reciprocally showed their interest in Russia through Anna Pavlova’s ar fieldst  and so on. A recent example of India-Russia soft power is Vladimir Tolstoy’s 2021 visit to India. Being the great grandson of Leo Tolstoy and cultural adviser to the Russian president, his visit symbolically emphasized the strong soft power of both nations, to each nation fields . . Tolstoy noted that in order to advance the special and strategic ties between the two countries, humanitarian relations needs to be expanded given the rich history of the shared bilateral ties fields . . He also spoke about the Russian language studies in India and ways to boost collaboration between the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) and Yasnaya Polyana fields .
Be it at regional, bilateral or global levels, current Indo-Russian relations show a substantial level of consensus fields . India has accepted a greater global role for Russia and Russia has in turn continuously recognized India’s dominance in South Asia by supporting India as a surging Asian and global power. From Russia’s perspective, maintaining a strong relationship with a democracy like India whose international influence is progressing is enticing . Similarly, Russia’s autonomy on the world stage offers India a better maneuvering position, as India does for Russia. But, Russia does not want weak allies, as was the case in the 1990s, and is thus finding a path to reassert itself and its allies . Unsurprisingly, there are few opposing voices in India regarding its ties with Russia; the same cannot be said about India-China or India-U.S relations . .
Due to the changing world order, Indi a is looking to be a global power and cannot ignore Russia as an old and trusted friend . Russia’s huge landmass spreading from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean is a source of military, political, technological power, and great mineral wealth . Thus, soft power can add new dimensions of cooperation in bilateralism between India and Russia and limit hard power to achieve the foreign policy goals. The post-COVID world thus creates a new world order and brings new opportunities for Russia to build its empire once again by taking Russian Indian ties to new heights.
Conclusion and way forward
India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar noted that the relationship between India-Russia is one of the most stable in IR, with both the countries being “all weather friends” on many geopolitical and global matters. The two sides should further strengthen their economic, cultural, political, and defence relations in the coming years. Putin’s visit to India in 2021 marked a new corner in its bilateral ties, and the Indian Prime Minister’s office (PMO) considers these ties as a “special and privileged strategic partnership” . The two countries held an Inaugural 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, consisting of both defense and foreign minister s . However, some challenges persist, such as India moving towards closer strategic ties with Western countries . The threat of China’s developments in Indo-pacific, has also led to a slight rupture in Indian Russian ties, despite their proximal bilateral ties and greater engagements in other multilateral organizations such as Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and BRICS . It is during such complicated times that soft power comes into the picture. This is why power cannot be avoided in IR and should be given more importance. Hence, soft power is not just here to stay, but rather to grow.
India and Russia need to expand partnerships in new areas such as nanotechnology, and biotechnology, as well as emerging technologies such as artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, and virtual reality (VR). As AI becomes increasingly significant in the 21st century, both the countries should consider establishing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in sectors such as health, education, culture, agriculture and diplomacy. In the energy sector, both the countries need to collaborate more and Russia should likewise consider becoming a member of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). Additionally, in March 2022, as India’s government released “India’s Arctic policy” , in which Russia can greatly aid India in various aspects of Arctic cooperation and energy resources. In the education sector, both the countries can work on improving the quality of their universities, both that suits the globalized world while avoiding “brain drain”.
In the media, India has oftentimes received criticism from the west on various aspects. A report from India’s Institute for Mass Communication shows that several media outlets in the U.S and U.K have been biased about reporting events concerning India . Like India, the media outlets in the West have also criticized the Russian government. So, in a way, both countries need to extend their media presence abroad to disseminate authentic news to the foreign audience. For instance, Russia’s “RT” and India’s “WION” have been doing a great job in this aspect, but this must be expanded in the coming years. Indian media usually depends on the West to cover Russia related issues, which is greatly critical of Russian policies. Both Russian and Indian media outlets that have little footing in in each other’s countries, and should consider increasing their presence in each nation. Also, the Russian government and affiliated NGOs should work together towards myriad goals which includes: bringing a wide range of actors to support Russian media overseas, maintaining NGO diplomacy, and fostering linguistic and cultural cooperation Specifically, both countries should promote tourism through “Incredible India” and “Welcome to Russia” campaigns.
In regards to diplomacy, India’s recent abstention from a vote concerning Ukraine proves that India considers Russia as a very important partner . India is hopeful that it has Russia’s support (or at least neutrality) in its long-standing territorial issues with China, as well as receiving further support for the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and a seat at the UNSC.
Furthermore, “Para-diplomacy” (or state or sub-national diplomacy), a contemporary soft power approach in India’s IR can be a great way in enhancing soft power and foreign policy (Amaresh, 2020). For instance, Moscow can collaborate with Bangalore, a top metropolitan city in India in establishing Russian cultural centers or even an additional Russian consulate in Bangalore. Known as the “Silicon Valley of India”, Bangalore can similarly collaborate with Moscow in the software and ICT domain. This would certainly be a win-win situation for both countries. Also, both need to exert their soft power to neighboring nations to preserve their soft power. Though often excluded from soft power global ranking reports, both the countries should leverage soft power using their own methods, rather than focusing on Nye’s Western concept of soft power.
With a weak global economy following the pandemic, a global trust deficit will likely push India and Russia to construct a mutually beneficial and reliable path forward . According to a 2019 report by McKinsey, “the rise of the Asian century” has arrived . India and China, both aspiring superpowers, with strong economies, can alter world order in the coming years. Due to this, a Western decline can pave the way to an alternate international system. This creates one of the greatest ”opportunities of the century” for Russia and India to expand their soft power ties through bilateral relations, participation in various regional organizations, establishing new regional institutions and building a new world order.
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(votes: 24, rating: 5)
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