ERR in Moscow: Russia Expanding Soft Power ({{commentsTotal}})

Vladimir Putin, Russia's next president Source: Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

Russia has geared up its wield of soft power to influence people abroad, says ERR's correspondent in Moscow, Neeme Raud.

The state-owned Russia Today media company, now called just RT, which opened a news website in the United Kingdom last week, is part of the new drive. Although it focuses on local news in the host country, pieces about Russia from a Russian perspective do creep in, Raud said.

RT, which saw its budget increased by 41 percent for 2015, said it will also soon begin broadcasting in French and German.

Vyacheslav Danilov, project leader at media agency TASS Political Analysis Centrer, said the use of Russian soft power is not yet a fully functioning machine, adding that the first step is to make contact with the elite, the people, civil society, and business circles.

Raud said that Russian state-media propaganda is just one method among others - NGOs, civil rights groups and, in case of Estonia, business contacts are also used as part of the soft power initiative.

“Business contacts, especially with Estonia, are very strong with Russia and Russian businessmen. I would say that, in regards to Estonia, business interests are top of the agenda for Russia. NGOs and Russian-language civil groups come far behind in second,” said Pavel Danilin, the head of TASS's Political Analysis Center.

A press conference on Russia's soft power, held by the center last week, brought up that Russia is also playing with another card, supposedly as the last bastion of high morals and values.

Danilov explained that Russia is trying to offer an alternative point of view, and not only on political subjects, but also on morals, family values, same-sex marriages and other similar topics.

“Russia is the barer of traditional values in Europe. If a 100,000-strong protest against same-sex marriages is taking place on the Champs-Elysee in Paris, protesters hold signs with slogans such as 'Putin for President! No to same-sex marriage,” Danilin said.

“Putin reflects those values, he is an expression of those values, and he does the job very well, very loudly and with great focus. Putin offers the state his vision, not vice versa,” he added.

Russia expanding intimidation policy

Estonian foreign policy expert Illimar Lepik von Wiren added that Putin's policies frightened not only the Baltics, but also the Nordic countries, the US, UK, and even Portugal.

According to Lepik von Wiren, Russia's excursion into Swedish waters a few weeks ago was a wake-up call for Sweden. He said that Sweden sold off equipment which could have been used for searching for the missing vessel in 2008, and thus lacked the equipment this time around.

“It is no longer a Baltic problem, but a problem for the entire Europe, and luckily Russia has displayed its dangerous nature to others,” von Wiren said.

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