When protesters gathered in the Ukrainian capital Kiev in November of last year, few could expect that the sequence of events that unfolded there would lead to the worst crisis between Russia and the western world since the collapse of the Soviet Union over two decades ago.
The political crisis that has gripped Ukraine has revived Cold War-era suspicions that are most noticeable in media coverage of the situation there. Political commentators and analysts have by-and-large laid the blame for the unrest squarely on the shoulders of Russia, while downplaying or omitting facts on the ground that suggest otherwise.
When protestors began occupying the Maidan [Independence Square] in Kiev in November of last year, Ukrainian society was deeply polarized over a proposed association agreement with the EU. Citizens in the agricultural west of the country generally were supportive of efforts to integrate into the EU, while those in the industrialized east favored closer ties with Russia due to their Russian ethnicity and familial ties to Russia.
Ukraine was approaching near-bankruptcy when ousted President Viktor Yanukovich decided to reject the EU deal, which would have required painful structural adjustments of the Ukrainian economy and liberalization measures. Yanukovich instead took up Russia’s offer of $15 billion in loans and a sharp discount on natural gas prices.
Yanukovich’s decision to take Moscow’s loan emboldened demonstrators at Maidan as protests grew increasingly more violent in the weeks ahead. Ukraine was in utter chaos by February as Yanukovich received death threats and was forced to flee to the country. Representatives of the protestors in Maidan became the new government, while the heads of ultra-nationalist groups such as Svoboda and the Right Sector were integrated into high-level ministerial positions.
The transfer of power in Ukraine was entirely undemocratic and unconstitutional, as ragtag paramilitary groups armed with baseball bats and molotov cocktails occupied government buildings and ousted a democratically elected leader. Yet, leaders in Washington and Brussels showed no hesitation to immediately recognize the new government Kiev, which remains – legally speaking – an unelected putsch regime.
In geopolitical terms, Washington and Brussels were keen to see Ukraine break from Moscow’s sphere of influence, prompting the West not only to recognize the regime change in Kiev, but also to create conditions for it to be possible. American diplomats and politicians at the highest levels endorsed the protest movement. US Senator John McCain addressed protestors at Maidan and dined with right-wing extremists from Svoboda.
US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was photographed handing out cookies to protestors, and spoke on several occasions about how US government foundations donated some $5 billion dollars to Ukrainian opposition groups over the last decade. Nuland was humiliated when a phone call between herself and US Ambassador to Ukraine leaked to the media.
The American officials discussed who they thought should be in power once Yanukovich was ousted. It is no coincidence that Arseniy Yatsenyuk – handpicked by Nuland for the role of prime minister – now occupies that position in Kiev’s new leadership. The United States has essentially midwifed the new government in Ukraine while turning a blind eye to the abuses committed by ultra-nationalists groups allied to the new regime.
Svoboda and the Right Sector engineered the putsch by occupying the Maidan and attacking security forces. Members of these far-right groups openly espouse ethnic hatred against Jews and Russians and promote neo-Nazi ideals; their members wear symbols that include the Celtic cross, which has replaced the swastika for many modern white-power groups associated with the German Nazism.
Since seizing power, the putsch regime in Kiev has attempted to pass laws against the official use of Russian and other languages throughout the country, prompting outrage from eastern Ukrainians that culturally and linguistically identify themselves as Russian, who have now revolted to show their rejection of the new authorities, many storming government buildings and demanding a referendum on autonomy.
In geopolitical terms, Washington and Brussels were keen to see Ukraine break from Moscow’s sphere of influence, prompting the West not only to recognize the regime change in Kiev, but also to create conditions for it to be possible
Russia refused to recognize the legitimacy of the new government in Kiev, and so it created conditions for a peaceful referendum to be held in Crimea at the request of the region’s autonomous government – in other words, Moscow’s actions had some legal basis. The population of Crimea is largely ethnic Russians, many of whom feared for the future under an ultra-nationalist dominated Ukraine.
Crimeans voted overwhelming in favor of rejoining Russia (where it was historically part of until 1954) in a peaceful referendum that European monitors observed. Russia was perhaps motivated to create conditions for a referendum in Crimea because it has a strategic naval base on the peninsula, which housed Russian troops in accordance with an existing treaty signed with Ukraine in the 1990s – in other words, the presence of Russian military personnel in Crimea was technically legal.
Moscow was characterized in western media as invading Ukraine, which it clearly didn’t do. Washington and Brussels denounced and refused to recognize the Crimean referendum, despite enthusiastically supporting self-determination movements in Kosovo, South Sudan and elsewhere when it serves their economic and geopolitical interests.
Even if one doesn’t agree with the way Russia influenced events in Crimea in the midst of a legal vacuum created by the putsch, the peaceful referendum in Crimea was undeniably more democratic and legitimate than the overthrow of a democratically elected president.
Washington and Brussels are now backing the unelected government in Kiev to the hilt, as they deploy the Ukrainian army in the east to put down the popular opposition. One may disagree with how eastern Ukrainians are conducting their protests – their occupation of government buildings is clearly illegal – but they have undeniably legitimate social grievances and democratic demands.
Washington accuses Moscow of stoking protests in the east, but is unable to substantiate its claims with any hard evidence. Washington and Kiev are unwilling to admit that the protests in the east are grassroots opposition to regime change, so they would rather characterize their rebellion as the results of shadowy Russian interference.
Washington and Brussels championed the cause of pro-EU protesters occupying state buildings and denounced the elected government for sending in riot police armed with batons to disperse the crowds. Today, they denounce pro-Russian protesters as terrorists and endorse the unelected government’s deployment of tanks, soldiers, and ragtag paramilitaries to crush the rebellion.
Citizen movements in eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk have held autonomy referendums, which Kiev, Washington, and Brussels have denounced. Although the vote was hastily arranged, nearly 90 percent of voters in both regions have voted in favor of self-rule. Despite the peaceful nature of the polls, militias aligned to Kiev killed several unarmed civilians who were waiting in line to cast their votes.
Following the poll results, the Donetsk region declared its self-proclaimed independence and announced its intention to join the Russian Federation. The response from Moscow has been for Kiev to engage in dialogue with eastern regions. President Vladimir Putin initially recommended that the referendums in the east be postponed, although leaders in the east held them anyway.
As the recent events show, Russia has influence over eastern Ukraine, but not control. There is no evidence that Russia plans to ‘annex’ parts of eastern Ukraine. President Putin has called for conciliatory conditions to be created in the county ahead of the May 25 presidential polls scheduled to take place. Still, the Western world is reluctant to denounce an unelected regime using tanks and lethal force to prevent its citizens from engaging in a peaceful democratic exercise.
The double standards over Ukraine are overwhelming and show clearly how the Western countries have a very selective commitment to democratic principles. Referendums in the east have had an undeniably large turnout, and are in fact representative of the powerful mass movement. The so-called ‘free press’ of the West is more concerned with portraying Russian President Putin as a dictator rather than producing even-handed coverage of the conflict in Ukraine.
As relations between Moscow and the West hit rock bottom and NATO troops advance toward Russia’s border, there is a genuine danger that the events in Ukraine can spark a hot war if diplomatic avenues are not substantively pursued. The new Cold War in an undeniable political reality, but which side is behind the Iron Curtain this time around?
Nile Bowie is a journalist and photographer, currently residing in Kuala Lumpur, malaysia. He is also a Research Assistant with JUST
Global protests: Russia and China risk ending up on the wrong side of history
Widespread perceptions see Russia together with China as the rising powers in the Middle East as a result of America’s flip flops in Syria and US president Donald J. Trump’s transactional approach towards foreign policy as well as Russian and Chinese support for regimes irrespective of how non-performing and/or repressive they may be.
Russia has sought to capitalize in other parts of the world, particularly Africa, on its newly found credibility in the Middle East as part of its projection of itself as a world power on par with the United States and China.
African leaders gathered in late October in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for the first ever Russian African summit chaired by president Vladimir Putin. China has hosted similar regional summits.
Mr. Putin has proven adept at playing a weak hand well and for now, Russia alongside China, that has the financial and trading muscle that Moscow lacks, are basking in their glory.
Yet, Russia and China could find themselves in tricky situations with protests across the globe from Latin America to Hong Kong threatening to put the two powers on the wrong side of history.
Iran, Russia’s partner in supporting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and a strategic node in China’s Belt and Road initiative, is already struggling to come to grips with being in the bull’s eye of protesters.
Protesters in Iraq have denounced Iranian influence in the country while Iran’s Lebanese Shiite ally, Hezbollah, is part of the elite that protesters hold responsible for their country’s economic malaise.
Russia and China are well aware of the risk. Not only because of the resilience of protest in Hong Kong but also because of past popular revolts in former Soviet republics that constitute Russia’s soft underbelly and in some cases border on the strategically important but troubled Chinese north-western province of Xinjiang.
Recent protests in Kazakhstan were as much about domestic governance issues as they were about Chinese influence in the country and the crackdown on Turkic Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang.
Central Asia, moreover, is potentially for China a black swan. It is together with Southeast Asian nations Laos and Cambodia, home to countries most indebted to China.
A recent study by scholars at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, the University of Munich and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy concluded that about half of Chinese overseas lending remained unrecorded leaving Central Asian and other nations with no precise oversight of their debt.
“These hidden overseas debts pose serious challenges for country risk analysis and bond pricing,” the study warned.
The risk of ending up on the wrong side of history looms even larger with Russia seeing prevention and/or countering of popular revolts as one of its goals in attempting to stabilize the Middle East, a region wracked by conflict and wars.
Russia, as part of its stabilization effort in the wake of its intervention in Syria, has proposed replacing the US defense umbrella in the Gulf with a multilateral security arrangement.
“Russia is seeking stability which includes preventing colour revolutions,” said Maxim Grigoryev, director of the Moscow-based Foundation for the Study of Democracy, using the term employed to describe popular revolts in countries that once were part of the Soviet Union.
Echoing Kremlin policy, Mr. Grigoryev said Syria was “a model of stabilizing a regime and countering terrorism.”
Russian military intervention in Syria has helped president Bashar al-Assad gain the upper hand in a more than eight-year long brutal war in which the Syrian government has been accused of committing crimes against humanity.
Russia has denied allegations that its air force has repeatedly targeted hospitals and other civil institutions.
Russia’s definition of stability with Syria as its model is unlikely to go down well with youth-driven protests that have already affected twelve of the Arab League’s 22 members.
In some of the most dramatic incidents, this year’s popular revolts forced the leaders of Algeria, Sudan and Lebanon to resign. Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi is next in line.
Latin America and Africa, like the Middle East and Central Asia, home to often poorly governed, resource-rich countries with youthful populations, are in many ways not that different.
Some Latin American leaders, including Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie and Luis Almagro, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, have denounced what they see as interference in protests in Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia and Haiti by two Russia and China-backed countries, Venezuela and Cuba.
Ecuador’s interior minister, María Paula Romo, said last month that authorities had arrested 17 people at an airport, “most of them Venezuelans . . . carrying information about the protests.”
Policy analysts Moisés Naím and Brian Winter argued that irrespective of whether Venezuela and Cuba have sought to exploit continental discontent, “Latin America was already primed to combust.”
Messrs. Naim and Winter attribute popular anger to disappointing economic growth, stagnating wages, rising costs of living, mounting inequality, and corruption on the back of a commodity boom that significantly raised expectations.
Russian and Chinese support for embattled regimes at the risk of alienating protesters, who have proven in among others Chile, Iraq and Hong Kong undeterred by repressive efforts to squash their protests, will have paid off if it helps engineer the kind of stability Mr. Grigoryev is advocating.
Russian and Chinese leaders may be banking on a development akin to what Messrs. Moses and Winter describe as the emergence of repressive Latin American regimes in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of leaders’ failure to tackle slowing economic growth. The failure fuelled a decline of faith in democracy and the rise of populists.
“The same gears may churn toward mayhem and division, sown from within Latin American countries and without. Venezuela and Cuba may not be the main reason for the current protests. But if the region continues down its current path, it will be vulnerable to the next conspiracy, whether from Havana, Caracas, or somewhere else,” Messrs. Moses and Winter warned.
Events elsewhere in the world may well unfold differently. Yet, Russia and China could ultimately find themselves on the wrong side of history in an era of global breakdown of popular confidence in political systems and incumbent leadership and increasingly uncompromising, determined and resourceful protests.
Said Timothy Kaldas, a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, commenting on the protests in the Middle East: “This isn’t a revolution against a prime minister or a president. It’s an uprising demanding the departure of the entire ruling class,” the very people Russia and China would like to see remain in place.
Russia-Africa Summit: walking hand in hand through history
The first-ever Russia-Africa summit held from 23-24 October in Sochi, Russia, marking the culminating point of the return of Russia to Africa, with more than 50 African leaders and over 3,000 delegates invited. This convening is only another illustration of the recent increase in economic, security, and political engagements to foster Russia-Africa relations.
The summit is expected to deepen relations between the Russian Federation and countries of the African continent at both bilateral and multilateral levels; forge closer collaboration on regional and international issues of common interest, raise strategic dialogue between Russia and African countries to a qualitatively higher level, and contribute to peace, security and sustainable development on the African continent. The Russia-Africa Summit will also contribute towards the overall objective of addressing the aspirations of African countries as encapsulated in Agenda 2063. As the continental development blueprint, Agenda 2063 calls for a people-centered developmental process that ensures, inter alia, economic diversification and growth in order to eradicate poverty, unemployment and inequality
On 16th of October, a seminar under the theme “Discussion in the Run-Up to the Russia-Africa Summit” was held in South Africa, unique strategic partner of Russia in BRICS organization, at the University of Pretoria. The main speaker at the event was the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to South Africa Ilya Rogachev, who delivered a comprehensive speech, which described in detail the essence of the upcoming historical event.
Following is his presentation:
This will be the first event of such scale and magnitude marking an important milestone in the history of relations between Russia and the African continent. All eyes are on us now. I would like to remind that Russia, in all of its incarnations, and the peoples of Africa have always walked hand in hand through history.
We share a common and eventful past, where as allies we strived together for a better world. The Soviet Union was the only global power that has never pursued colonial policies and had never had a detrimental presence in Africa. The very idea of colonialism has always been an alien concept to us, one that to our mind should be abolished from the face of the Earth in all its forms.
The Soviet Union was most heavily involved in the rise of the African continent to independency. Among the most important cornerstones of the Soviet foreign policy was bringing an end to the colonial era, supporting national liberation movements, providing all kinds of assistance to young African nations: economic, infrastructural, military, humanitarian and educational. These pages of history cannot and shall not be rewritten, this friendship will forever be embedded in the history of relations between Russia and Africa.
USSR’s involvement and interest in Africa were guided by the imperative to «protect the interests of the oppressed nations and their right for self-determination and creation of sovereign states». Next year marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples of 1960. This historical document was drafted on the initiative of the USSR, who had been championing the cause of a free and independent Africa on the global arena for many years.
Needless to say that this enormous and, I would like to stress – selfless – support that the Soviet Union rendered the people of Africa throughout the XX century won over many hearts on this continent.
Sadly, the collapse of the Soviet Union put our partnership on halt. The 1990s were a time of hardship for my country and its people. Even after the resurgence of the 2000s it took us some time to gather and re-establish ourselves as a global leader on the international arena and a prominent economic and technological power. I would not necessarily call these years a time of neglect towards Africa, as some try to put it, but admittedly, to a certain extent we lost the pace and intensity in our cooperation. Speaking in plain terms, now we have some catching up to do.
This is what the upcoming Russia-Africa Summit is meant to achieve: to put our partnership back on track, giving it new dimensions, pertinent to the XXI century, and providing dynamics for further growth. It is designed to set ambitious goals and look for areas of fruitful and practical cooperation. Intergovernmental and business opportunities clearly attract attention from both sides, our mutual interest in deepening cooperation is evidently high. This is why if you look at the expanded programme outlines you would fine nearly every possible topic on the agenda: from the role of media on the African continent to the importance of peaceful conflict resolution.
We envisage both the Summit and the Forum as a prospective platform for regular contacts, governmental and business. It is supposed to be a mechanism, which will allow us to give the much needed impulse to our cooperation, keep track of the progress already made and explore new opportunities. We consider it a platform where equals meet and where every voice is heard.
It is no coincidence that the Summit is hosted jointly by the Russian Federation and the African Union. There is great significance to this fact: unlike some other powers, which are used to looking down at Africa from their high horse, we do not consider Africa and African nations as junior partners. In fact, Russia strives for an equal cooperation based on mutual respect for the interests of all the involved parties.
I would like to draw your attention to this particular aspect, as it is purposefully misrepresented in some of the clearly biased publications and articles that appeared recently in South African press and elsewhere. These experts keep describing Russia’s return to the continent as a premise for a struggle for influence and resources among the global powers.
I would like to discourage that line of thought and tell the analysts, that they are wide off the mark. Some might still be looking at Africa through the lens of a colonial eye. Frankly speaking, this is an outdated and historically void way to behave on the global arena and in international relations. This is not our way. We do not develop and conduct foreign policy and international cooperation from such assessments. Our Western partners keep returning to the concept of a zero-sum game, where one’s gain means another one’s loss – imprinting this crooked assumption on the minds of experts and journalists.
Our mindset is different, we say: let’s cooperate and grow together. Africa is the most dynamically developing continent with rapidly growing economies that shouldn’t be regarded as a mere resource base. It is time to build long-lasting partnerships rooted in the principles of trust and equality. This stance resonates with our African partners. No wonder that our positions on the global arena are largely aligned. We share similar values defined by respect for national sovereignty and international law, as well as similar approaches to tackling current global challenges and threats. The world and the African continent need to find sustainable solutions for pressing issues. It should be done not through a dictate of a group of ‘elite’ countries and the rules that they impose on everyone else, but through the balance of interests and respect for all viewpoints. International law, based on the UN Charter and the existing legal framework, not some new «rules-based order» concepts, should serve as the basis for building relations.
We have always been adamant supporters of the formula «African solutions to African problems», including in the United Nations. It is our firm believe that nations and peoples themselves should resolve their problems, with the expertise and advice of the international community if required. In the past decade we have seen all too well what blatant interference in other countries affairs leads to, the results of the attempts to push for regime change is evident as well – North Africa and the Middle East are still dealing with the fallout from the so-called Arab Spring.
Today Russia enjoys strong bilateral relations with many African countries, South Africa included. The cooperation encompasses many spheres including infrastructure projects, space industry, telecommunication, healthcare, education, tourism, mining and others. The total volume of Russia’s investment in Africa has exceeded 20 billion dollars. The overall trade volume of has increased by many times since the 1990s.
One of the key issues that the African continent faces and that Russia has the expertise to assist with is the energy crisis, a growing shortage of generating capacity that holds back economic development. In 2008, Russian diamond company “Alrosa” finished the construction of Chicapa hydroelectric power plant in Angola; in 2010, Tanzania and Russia signed a deal to build the Rumakali hydropower plant. There are ongoing negotiations on the cooperation in the energy sector with such countries as Sudan, Ethiopia and the DRC.
Russia is helping more than 20 countries in Africa to develop their nuclear industries for energy and medical purposes. In 2014, Russia and Egypt signed an agreement on the construction of El Dabaa nuclear power plant – Russia will provide a $25 bln loan to Egypt for the construction that will create 50’000 job opportunities and add 4,8 GW generation capacity to the grid. In 2017, an agreement on the development of atom energy projects was concluded with Nigeria. A nuclear research centre is to be built in Zambia.
One of the most promising projects in infrastructure development is the establishment of Russian industrial free trade zone in Egypt, which will focus on manufacturing agricultural machinery and hardware. We are also considering participating in the ambitious project of the Trans-African railway connecting Dakar and Djibouti, spanning across the continent.
Russia, and the Soviet Union previously, have always assisted African nations in skill development and education: millions have received highest quality degrees in the past decades, over 15’000 students from African nations are currently studying in Russia. A decision has already been made to substantially increase the number of scholarships in the next few years.
Russia continues to provide humanitarian assistance to those who request it in Africa. In 2017 alone, Russian aid exceeded 1 billion $. Russian Federation is the 5th biggest sponsor of the UNIDO Industrial Development Fund, a top-tier contributor to the UN World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation.
Another important area of cooperation is the assistance in fighting epidemics and diseases that scourge the African continent. For example, the recent outbreak of Ebola virus in the Western African countries prompted Russian doctors to develop not one but two groundbreaking vaccines. The Russian-made vaccines were the first to be tested and to have reach the patients. The vaccines are now being shipped to the Republic of Guinea, the DRC and other countries.
The issues of peace and security are also in the focus of attention. Fighting terrorism, drug- and human-trafficking and other criminal activities are among Russia’s priorities in the international security area. Making certain that conflict resolution in Africa is carried out without the use of violence and within the framework of political dialogue is another keystone of our approach. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has repeatedly extended the country’s full-fledged support to the African Union’s initiative ‘Silencing the guns by 2020’. Last September the Russian Federation as the Chair of the UN Security Council convened a UNSC Meeting on ‘Peace and Security in Africa Partnership to Strengthen Regional Peace and Security’ to give Africa an additional platform.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg whereas Russia-Africa interaction is concerned. So to round it up, the summit has high hopes, but it can already be said with confidence that the event will go down in history as an important milestone in cooperation between Russia and the countries of the continent.
From our partner International Affairs
Reminiscence of Soviet soft power and the way it influenced the “Global South”
The exact meaning carved by Joseph Nye in coining his notable concept “Soft Power” referred to a strong influence over states whereas governments cannot totally get rid of its influence. Because, unlike the hard power which pushes states to the edge, the influence of soft power brings more sentimental effects to targeted states as their national consciousness is solidly smitten by its approach. In a changing world where many state actors arise from military and economic dimensions, the gravity arises from soft power plays a bigger role in shaping the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. In fact, such a smart use of power inevitably brings more constructive results than triggering the fire arms. Today emerging super powers like India and China have been much driven by the idea of using soft power as an indispensable strategy in the realm of their regional and international geo political space. However, the soft power strategy used by Soviet Union during Cold War as a decisive factor in its ideological and political expansion towards the Global South has left an interesting legacy as it could successfully accomplish its mission in Third World countries. In particular, the countries gained their independence from Western powers began to woo the ideological whims propagated by Moscow in early 50’s and 60’s. The anti-colonial sentiments spread across newly independent states boosted their rapport with Soviet Union and this was much strengthen when Moscow provided ample funds to Third World countries in order to galvanize their national economies which was perceived by Soviet Union as an action of necessity. Stalin’s successor Nikitha Khrushchev showed a great zeal in influencing Third World states against the struggle against imperialism.
Nevertheless, the growth of Soviet soft power towards the Global South was mainly an offshoot from its grand cultural and intellectual heritage and the apt way it was used by Soviet Union to twist the arms of those Third World states. As an example the indomitable expansion of Russian literature among the young university students and intellectuals in post-colonial countries became prevalent as a counter narrative against much dominated Anglo American literature. For instance, the growth appeared to bloom in South Asia towards Russian literature was much notable as its attracted and aspired the young generation in Indian sub-continent in a time when the nation emerged after long colonial movement. The characters portrayed by prerevolutionary Russia authors like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Gogol invoked Asian sentiments to think about their own conditions under social inequality. It was such an incredible phenomenon how and why citizens from far distant countries like India and Sri Lanka in South Asia were fascinated with Russian literary ideals. From 60’s till the dissolution of USSR in 1991 Soviet Union spent a heavy amount of money on translating their great literary classics into local languages in South Asia, Africa and Latin America as a great cultural tool, which resulted in producing a class of citizens obsessed with Russian ethos in those regions.
The higher education assistance was another feature of Soviet soft power over third world countries. In African and Asian contexts, most of the ruling elites were products of either British or French higher educational institutes. Yet, most of the masses in rural areas with many economic deprivations had no access to privileged western universities, that went on to hinder their aspirations of pursuing higher studies beyond their states. Since the dawn of Cold War the factor regarding higher education as a strategic tool was considered by both Soviets and Americans with greater importance. When the necessity of higher education was emphasized by African leaders at Addis Ababa Conference of African States on the Development of Education in Africa in 1961, Soviet leader Khrushchev declared the foundation of the People’s Friendship University in Moscow, especially for students from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Addressing 3,000 students at Jogjakarta University, Khrushchev affirmed that the Soviet government ‘wished to help the [developing] countries to train their national workforce, engineers, agronomists, doctors, teachers, economists’ and at the same time give a chance to ‘many talented young people coming from poor families’, who otherwise were ‘deprived of the possibility of realizing their wish to study in the Soviet Union.
As a matter of fact, the establishment of People’s Friendship University in Moscow was a greater achievement in Soviet soft power over the Third World States as it’s much promised ideals of the awakening of the East attracted many young students coming from decolonized states. Nourishing the socio cultural ties with non-Communist countries on the basis of idealizing the anti-imperial values intended to intensify the waves of communism in those countries with the eventual expectations of seizing the state power by workers. Another assumption held by Soviets of establishing a higher academic institute for the students from developing world was focused on two goals. Firstly, Soviet Union believed that the knowledge transfer to backward Asian African societies would accelerate their progress and secondly Moscow considered the graduates hailing from Soviet education would have a paternal gratitude towards their authority. The Soviet soft power alliance with the Third World reached its symbolic culmination, when People’s Friendship University was named after nationalist leader in Congo Patrice Lumumba, which was an indication of Moscow for their solidarity with non-Communist states in their struggle against imperialism.
The aftermath of the establishment of People’s Friendship University crated a much conspicuous platform for Soviet Union to execute their soft power and its outcomes became much effective as most of the students studied in People’s Friendship University excelled themselves fields like academia and diplomacy in their own countries. Nevertheless, it is true to admit that Soviet soft power strategy was not always successful, particularly the degrees awarded by People’s Friendship University were discriminated when pro-Western governments came into power in non –Communist states in Asian and African countries. For instance, the pro-Western government in Sri Lanka from 1965 to 1970 marginalized Soviet graduates from employment opportunities, labeling them as leftists. On the other hand, there were situations Moscow expelled Asian and African students, when they professed their dissenting opinions about Soviet system.
The soft power strategy adopted by Soviet Union to approach Third World countries was predominantly confined to higher education, yet the outcomes emerged from such investments brought long term results to Soviet Union. Especially, increase of alacrity to learn Russian among students in the Global South saw a great Slavic cultural infiltration into those Russian speaking countries and its influences continued to grow in many ways. The in 60’s Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, New Delhi established a center for Soviet and Central Asian studies which attracted many Indian scholars and with its growing political influence Russian language became quite a popular. However, the chaotic economic stagnation of Soviet Union in late 80 and its immediate effect resulted in the disintegration of Soviet Union brought the very end to Third World’s romanticism with Soviet culture. The idealistic slogans on world communist society and dictatorship of proletarians were faded into oblivion at the ebb of Soviet decline and the emergence of Russian federation had no time and space to persist their soft power in the Third World as a result of the wave of economic and social instabilities they faced in the 90’s.
Today, more than 25 years after the collapse of Soviet Union, Russia again stands as a strong nation and its recent geo political expeditions have given a palpable sign the Russia yearns to restore its lost glory in the global arena. In fact, Moscow is well aware of the great importance of using soft power in 21st century power politics. Yet, the pivotal question appearing from post-Soviet era is how would modern Russia locates her soft power before growing expansion of Indo-Sino soft power contest in Global South. The steeping increase of Confucius centers and Indian cultural hegemony through its most colorful culture would always mar the idea of restoring Russian soft power beyond Ruski Mir. But, we should not easily forget still there is a nostalgia been pervaded in the memories of the old generation bureaucrats, diplomats, statesmen and academics in the third world countries, which always would pave the path to restore its soft power in diplomacy at least to a certain extend.
*Prof. Sanjay Rajhans is the deputy chair at Department of Public Policy at Faculty of Social Sciences in Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia.
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