“We live in an information society where mind control is an effective political instrument. The financing of this sphere runs into billions [of dollars] in many countries,” Natalia Narochnitskaya, member of the Civic Chamber Commission on Public Diplomacy, Humanitarian Cooperation and Maintenance of Traditional Values and President of the Historical Perspective Foundation, said in her opening remarks at the Public Diplomacy Focus on the CIS conference held at the Civic Chamber on November 18.
The participants discussed the forms, methods and capabilities of public diplomacy in the CIS.
First Deputy Secretary of the Civic Chamber and Hero of Russia Vyacheslav Bocharov
noted that during the past few years the Civic Chamber was more often invited to attend events in foreign countries than in the CIS member states.
“A long time ago, I came to the office of Rossotrudnichestvo [Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation] in Kiev and asked what we were doing so that we could strengthen ties between our states at the level of public diplomacy. The answer was, ‘Nothing.’ There were only commercial projects. This is why we have what we have today. When I was in Minsk in December 2018, I asked Mikhail Babich, our Ambassador to Belarus, what the embassy was doing to strengthen ties between people in Russia and Belarus. He replied that the main goal was to increase bilateral trade,” Bocharov said, adding that Russia might lose Belarus in this case.
Natalia Narochnitskaya supported this view. She pointed out that the success of Russia’s foreign policy initiatives ultimately does not depend on economic and trade factors, but on public opinion, with which we do not work hard enough.
“It is definitely not an easy job. Powerful machinery was working against us. The conceptual mission and responsibility of public diplomacy is to create a favorable social background for major foreign policy initiatives,” she said.
Interaction with post-Soviet states is a geopolitical and economic priority for Russia, said Oksana Gaman-Golutvina
, member of the Civic Chamber Commission on Education and Science, Head of Comparative Political Science Department at MGIMO University and President of the Russian Association of Political Science.
“This seems to be evident, but our society is not sufficiently aware of this. Regrettably, the post-Soviet states were down on our list of priorities in the first period after the Soviet Union’s dissolution,” she noted.
“Attitude to Russia in the post-Soviet space has changed radically. The agenda that has developed over the past few years and the belief held by many Russian politicians that our CIS neighbors have nowhere else to go are having an extremely negative effect on our relations. We used to look down [on the former Soviet republics] as on ‘little brothers’, thinking that they would always be there for us. Unfortunately, we did not notice how this huge space turned into an area of geopolitical and geoeconomic competition in which our remote neighbors – the global geopolitical players and regional powers – have become very active. The Russian media often publish items that sound accusing. How could we overlook this? This is our space, and we suddenly come across such activity there. Every country works in its own interests. There is no use in taking offense at countries that are strengthening their influence in this space. There is no one but ourselves to blame for this, because we were not active enough,” Gaman-Golutvina pointed out.
She added that we underestimate the importance of soft power: “There have been so many theses on this subject, yet we are still deliberating about the theory and have not done anything to apply it in practice. It was said on many occasions that we should enroll promising students from the CIS countries and work out joint programs in science, culture, media and other humanitarian fields. Much has been done recently, but this is not enough to fill the gaps created by our inactivity in the past, when the CIS disappeared from the political agenda of many. We are not doing enough now either, considering the far-reaching and multifaceted activities of dozens of players representing other power centers.”
Natalia Narochnitskaya noted that the Civic Chamber of Russia would continue to address these topics and that the reports and discussions held at the conference would be used to draft proposals on the development of public interaction within the CIS.