Friday, May 19, 2017

Book Watch: Russia and the World: Understanding International Relations

John A. Pennel,
image from article

Russia and the World: Understanding International Relations, edited by Natalia Tsvetkova, is an accessible volume of essays by scholars from St. Petersburg State University in Russia. The volume, written for postgraduate students, offers Russian perspectives on a range of theoretical and practical topics in international relations (IR). Given the current controversies surrounding Russia’s role in Ukraine and Syria, and its interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, the book has been published at an opportune time. While the authors offer solid analyses of traditional and contemporary IR theories and methodologies, and Russia’s role with regard to key policy debates in global affairs, at various points throughout the book an inherent bias toward official Russian Federation thinking is revealed. As such, the collection lacks sufficient critical analysis of Russian views as compared with Western ones. ...
In the chapter on soft power and public diplomacy (PD), Natalia Tsvetkova provides a solid overview of PD, how it’s defined, the difference between soft and smart power, the various theories (neoliberalism, realism, constructivism) used to describe it, and the contrasting understandings of soft power and PD between the West and Russia. She correctly points out that the Cold War was the “golden period” of PD but asks a question, echoing official Russian Federation sentiments as to why U.S. soft power and PD efforts have risen after the Cold War, and especially in FSU states, unless the purpose was to foment regime change via “color revolutions”? She then provides an interesting case study of U.S. foreign assistance to Ukraine just prior to the 2004 Orange Revolution which, in her view, enabled the U.S. to build a cadre of pro-Western politicians and NGOs espousing pro-Western values (e.g., democracy, human rights, rule of law) who collaborated to foment the revolution. At the same time, however, she makes no mention of Ukraine’s 2014 Revolution of Dignity for which Russia often blames the West. Regarding the 2004 Orange Revolution, Tsvetkova unfortunately omits any reference to the role that Russia played in supporting the conditions under which Ukrainians revolted and she completely ignores Russia’s hybrid warfare in Ukraine since 2014. Nevertheless, she rightly recognizes the important part that the internet and social media play in influencing and shaping public opinion, especially with regard to the anti-U.S. bias of global Russian-backed media outlets such as “RT.” She also acknowledges that Russia’s PD approach has been too short-term focused and ineffective as a tool of “attraction.” ...

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