Russia Takes a Hard Approach to Soft Power

Jan 22, 2020 | 11:00 GMT

Russia's Maria Butina arrives at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport on Oct. 26, 2019, after her deportation from the United States for failing to register as a foreign agent.

Maria Butina arrives home at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Oct. 26, 2019, after her deportation from the United States for failing to register as a foreign agent. Butina's engagement with U.S. conservative groups is just one example of how Russia tries to exploit societal fissures overseas.



  • In exerting its soft power, Russia is not only trying to portray itself in a good light but also spread illusory fears, phobias and hatred in countries it sees as a threat.
  • Moscow, however, cannot sow discord out of thin air; instead, it seeks to exploit existing divisions in Western countries.
  • If Western nations are going to try and popularize their values in Russia, they would do well to consider whether their efforts will be immediately discredited by Kremlin propaganda.

For all its prodigious hard power, Russia's soft power is no trifling matter. In recent years, the Kremlin has resorted to plenty of channels to undermine Western democracies by spreading propaganda -- including false-flag operations and other "information operations" -- bribing officials and politicians, cultivating corrupt ties through business lobbies and immigrant organizations, targeting specific (often radical) segments of the population with carefully tailored ideologies and making special attempts to sow friction, disagreement and conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his propaganda machine have successfully convinced the population that any intimidation and crimes by authorities are justified by the unprecedented "external threat" facing Russia. They claim that the United States is to blame for all that Russia does today because they have organized color revolutions along the Russian border, developed fifth columns and so on. Russia, accordingly, is merely trying to prove that its actions are a "mirror image" of Western...

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