Contemporary Russian Soft Power in Ukraine
Supervisors: Dr Derek Averre, Dr Natalya Rulyova
Russian engagement with former Soviet republics is often framed in diplomatic and media commentaries in terms of neo-imperialism and the use of ‘hard’ coercive instruments of security. Yet as Russia has gained political and economic stability, members of the Moscow policy community have become increasingly aware of the limitations of such approaches and have striven to accompany Russia’s self-positioning as an assertive global leader with soft power to better achieve foreign policy goals.
Soft power, as formulated by Joseph Nye, relates to the ability of political actors to shape the preferences of others through attraction and cooptation, rather than coercion. Opportunities for cooperation are strengthened by shared culture and values as well as ‘hard power’ economic incentives. An ESRC-supported Overseas Institutional Visit at the Alexanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, helped develop a sophisticated conceptual framework of soft power which draws on post-structuralist discourse theory and communication theory to offer an understanding of how soft power works, and how this feeds into political practice.
Exploration of Russia’s approach is informed by expert interviews in Moscow and Kyiv. Based on this research, a multi-facetted understanding of how soft power is conceptualised and implemented has emerged. Examination of texts articulating the Russian soft power messages for consumption abroad allows the identification of certain core narratives, which represent the essence of Russia’s cultural, value-oriented and politico-ideational offerings. These mutually complimentary discursive elements draw intertextually upon pre-existing Russian cultural narratives, re-evaluating, re-framing and re-articulating the best of them to serve contemporary demands. The extent to which Russia – and indeed any other aspirant polity - can be said to have soft power depends upon how its discourses are negotiated by a target audience.
Thus, soft power emerges as a result of the effective use of tools of communication, such as the media, educational initiatives, religious institutions, cultural centres, diaspora organisations and public diplomacy, which all play an important role in diffusing ideas, values and key assumptions among a target audience. Yet in modern, information-rich societies especially, in order to successfully generate soft power, it is not sufficient to merely disseminate a message. Rather, the communication process is affected by a complex range of factors that influence the audience’s negotiation of the intended message.
Hence, this study has aimed to evaluate the success of contemporary initiatives to foster a sense of identification with Russian cultural and ideational narratives among the leaders and opinion-multipliers of tomorrow; higher education students. Surveys and focus group discussions have thus been used to gather data on the reception of these ideas among this post-Soviet audience, with case studies focusing on four cities (Kyiv, Lviv, Donetsk, Kharkiv) in order to capture some of Ukraine’s regional diversity.
I am grateful to the ESRC and BASEES for their material support of this fieldwork.
Having written a Bachelor dissertation comparing the French and German intellectual 'New Right' and a Master's thesis on neo-conservatism in American foreign policy at the time of the Iraq war, I spent three years working in a research capacity at a UK national agency. During this time I developed an interest in Russia, which led to me spending an immensely enjoyable year teaching English in the oil town of Nizhnevartovsk, Western Siberia. Upon my return, I took up an MA in Russian Studies at the University of Birmingham, which also provided a solid grounding in both quantitative and qualitative research methods. I was delighted to subsequently be awarded a CEELBAS / ESRC +3 studentship to pursue PhD studies. In the first quarter of 2011, I participated in a very successful ESRC-sponsored Overseas Institutional Visit at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki.
MA Russian and East European Studies, University of Birmingham (2008)
MSc Security Studies, Aberystwyth (2003)
BSc German and European Studies, Aston University. Birmingham (2002)
International Politics and Security Studies
Russian and Ukrainian domestic and foreign politics
Soft power, international norms
Identities, nationalism and nationalist thought
Discourse theory, communication and media research
BISA (British International Studies Association)
BASEES (British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies)
Foundations of Politics, Year 1 (2012/3)
Russian Translation, Year 2 (2012/3)
Democratisation of Russia, Year 2 (University of Leicester, 2009/10)
Guest lecturer, Nizhnevartovsk State University, Russia (2007)
Hudson, V. (2012): ‘Unmasking Soft Power’s Softness: A Critical, Relativist Perspective on Nye’s Concept of Cultural Attraction’ at IR and Security Theory Reading Group, 27th November.
Hudson, V. (2012): 'Soft Power po-Moskovskij: A Review of Contemporary Russian Approaches to Cultural Influence Abroad' at BASEES Annual Conference, 2nd April.
Hudson, V. (2011): ‘Russian soft power: notions, development, chances’ at Finnish Institute for International Affairs, 14th March.
Hudson, V. (2011): ‘”Russian World” Foundation: Contemporary Russian Soft Power in Motion?’ at Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, 3rd March.
Hudson, V. (2010): ‘Researching Russian ‘Soft Power’ in Ukraine: A Study of Empire by Other Means?’ at CREES Current Affairs Seminar, 17th November.
Hudson, V. (2010): ‘Russian Soft Power and the 2010 Presidential Elections in Ukraine’ at BASEES Annual Conference, 29th March.
Hudson, V. (2010): ‘Russian soft power in Ukraine: Renewing influence by other means’ at CEELBAS Postgraduate Conference – Russia and Eastern Europe in the 21st Century: Looking Back, Looking Forward, 17th March
Hudson, V. (2010): ‘Researching Russian soft power: an Ambitious agenda’ at
CEELBAS Postgraduate Conference – Russia and Eastern Europe in the 21st Century: Looking Back, Looking Forward, St Anthony’s College Oxford, 17th March.
Hudson, V. (2009): ‘Russian soft power: reintegrating the empire by other means?’ at ‘The Sky’s the Limit in Postgraduate Research. An Interdisciplinary Conference’ at
Keele University, 25th November.
Hudson, V (2009) "Sovereign Democracy as a Discourse of Russian Identity" in Philipp Casula and Jeronim Perovic(eds.): Identities, Discourses and Politics: The Foundations of Russia's Stability, ibidem-Verlag, Stuttgart.