PROJECTING SOFT POWER: AMERICAN AND RUSSIAN PUBLIC DIPLOMACY IN POST-SOVIET CENTRAL ASIA

Alexey FOMINYKH


Alexey Fominykh, Ph.D. (Political Science), Assistant Professor at the Chair of International Relations and PR, Mari State University (Yoshkar-Ola, Russia)


Introduction

The April 2010 coup in Kyrgyzstan and the ethnic clashes in the south in June attracted a lot of media and academic attention.

Laymen and experts alike associated the events in Bishkek and Osh with the interests of external actors: extraterritorial criminal/terrorist structures, neighboring countries (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, China, and Afghanistan), and Russia and the United States in particular. The very fact that Washington and Moscow recognized the interim government of Roza Otunbaeva was interpreted as its legitimization; once more the U.S. and the Russian Federation (a global and regional power, respectively) showed their determination to remain key players in Central Asia.

China, another important regional power with vast economic interests in the Central Asian Soviet successor-states, was very much concerned with the flare-up on its northwestern borders: in 2009, the region was shaken by riots among the local Uighurs.

The European Union and the medium-sized powers (Iran and Turkey) likewise have certain interests in Central Asia.

This has created a competitive regional milieu in which cooperation and mutual support are intermingled with rivalry, misunderstandings and apprehensions.

In the new conditions, the Great Game is being waged not merely for multimillion-dollar contracts, shares in fuel production, and military bases, but also for the minds and hearts of the local people, the target audience of public diplomacy.

Public diplomacy relies on explaining the states foreign policy aims to the foreign public, promoting values, national culture, and education through the media, and holding exhibitions and exchange programs to create a long-term favorable climate in its relations with other countries.

Worldwide experience has demonstrated that it is much less expensive and much more effective to softly draw the youth, political, business, and cultural elites of foreign countries into the sphere of influence than to count on economic pressure or projecting hard military power.

The Stiff Rivalry of Soft Powers

The highly competitive nature of the Central Asian international-political environment is amply confirmed by the public diplomacy the external actors are using in the region. The Russian political elite looks at Central Asia (Central Asia and Kazakhstan of Soviet times) as a traditional sphere of influence where Americas attempts to gain a toehold are inevitably interpreted as a threat to Russias interests.

Maxim Starchak explains the problems of the Russian language in the Central Asian countries by the fact that American information and propaganda undermine Russias interests in the region more than anything else. Americans respond with accusations of imperialist ambitions; they never fail to say that Russian diplomats and political strategists in Central Asia are..


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