Public Diplomacy

Russia in the News

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Despite its progression towards democratization and modernization, Russia has yet to create a widely-respected image that is free of Soviet-era stereotypes and untainted by Western culture and influence. According to a 2004 poll by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 16 out of the 33 countries surveyed had a negative view of Russia and its influence in the world.[1] Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian Federation has been mired in a series of obstacles such as: a fledgling market-economy, a highly controversial democratic system, and a large supply of loosely regulated nuclear materials. As a result, public diplomacy efforts have stalled. Although efforts are currently underway to project a more positive image, Russia still faces a number of challenges to overcoming its unfavorable reputation. Some of the key issues adversely affecting Russia’s pubic diplomacy efforts are a controversial crackdown on the media, involvement in Chechnya and Kosovo, opposition to NATO expansion, an increasing control on energy, and an allegedly authoritarian regime.

Vital Information

Courtesy United States Energy Association

  • Capital - Moscow
  • Population - 142,893,540 (July 2006 est.)
  • Government – Federation
  • President Vladimir Putin

Current Public Diplomacy Efforts


In 2005, the Kremlin initiated an extensive public diplomacy campaign in order to improve Russia’s image abroad. One of the first efforts made by the Russian government was the launching of an international broadcasting company, Russia Today. A year later, the Kremlin decided to hire the well-known U.S. public relations firm, Ketchum Inc. Encouraged by the G8 summit in 2006, which took place in St. Petersburg, Russia chose Ketchum for its reputable marketing and corporate communications expertise. Concerning its plans with the Russian Federation, Ketchum stated that “it aims to promote the three key issues of Russia’s G8 presidency: education, health, and – most importantly – energy security.” By hiring Ketchum, Moscow in turn “is hopeful that it will be able to convey its intentions more clearly and avoid any major scandals” through a series of media ventures, foundations, conferences, and non-governmental organizations.[2]


"Cracking the Myths: Geopolitics"


The most prominent goal of Russian public diplomacy is to project a more positive image of itself in the international community. The nation wants to be seen as civil and cooperative, rather than tyrannical and oppressive.[3] Russia aspires to show the world that it is a nation where “the economy is booming, […] democracy is developing,” and there are an abundance of “opportunit[ies] for its citizens."[4] Moreover, Russia hopes to educate foreign audiences on its stance on important issues such as security and energy.[5] With regard to security, Russia is constantly concerned about protecting its national interests. For the Russian Federation, its involvement in both Chechnya and Kosovo are matters of securing its power, stability, and citizens.[6] The West, conversely, views Russia’s role in these regions as Russian imperial ambitions.[7] In terms of energy, Russia’s oil and gas industries have been and continue to be critical components of its booming economy. Thus, with a looming oil crisis, Russia finds it mutually beneficial to “ensure energy security” to countries unable to adequately supply their own resources.[8] Nevertheless, entities like the European Union still argue the possibility that Russia may be using energy as a political and economic instrument.[9]

Furthermore, Russia’s public diplomacy campaign seeks to counter “unfair Western criticism” by portraying Russia free of stereotypes and prejudices.[10] Since the Russian Federation’s inception, the West has incessantly criticized its undemocratic policies and practices. Critics cite the declining political freedoms in Russia, especially the “withering of political competition” in the Kremlin.[11] Contrary to this accusation, a number of polls and reports reveal a side of Russia’s image that is more favorable than expected. A recent study by the Discovery Institute, a nonpartisan American public policy think tank, states that former President Vladimir Putin was elected with 71%of the vote in 2004, demonstrating that Russia does indeed possess some democratic characteristics.[12] Another source of criticism stems from the rampant corruption that continues to demoralize Russia society, politics, and business. Interestingly, both foreigners and many Russians themselves find that Russia is inundated with corruption. A 2006 poll by Gallup shows that 80% of Russian respondents believe that corruption is a widespread problem in their country that needs to be addressed.[13] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed his agreement on the issue and labeled corruption a “threat” to Russian society.[14]

In addition to the aforementioned goals, Russia also hopes to promote patriotism by ensuring the purity of the Russian culture and language.[15] One such problem that the nation looks to confront is the publication of Russian textbooks. Vyacheslav Nikonov, Executive Director of the Russian World Foundation, explains that “there are more than 70 Russian grammar textbook titles in the country, but sometimes it is possible to get the impression that these are textbooks of different languages.”[16] Nikonov states that public diplomacy initiatives, like the Russian World Foundation, are not only working to fix inconsistencies in teaching the Russian language, but also to “popularize Russian language and culture” by creating more study abroad and cultural exchange programs.[17]

By engaging in such a comprehensive and elaborate public diplomacy campaign, Russia ultimately seeks to create and maintain economic ties, foster good relations with international organizations, encourage understanding among itself and other countries, and to improves its predominantly negative image abroad.


Since its commencement in 2005, Russia’s public diplomacy campaign has produced limited signs of success.

The Russian World Foundation

Courtesy Russian World Foundation Official Website

The Russian World Foundation, which began its work in early 2008, has yet to produce significant results, but according to one article the foundation is already making Russians “feel more Russian.”[18] Aimed at preserving the Russian language and culture, the Russian World Foundation is dedicated to spreading awareness of Russian values and traditions to non-Russians.[19] Further, the foundation wants to reach out to Russians living outside of Russia and to create a sense of community among them.[20] It hopes to achieve these goals through the establishment of cultural centers, particularly in the former Soviet Republics. On June 12, 2008 one cultural center opened up in Tajikistan and two in Kyrgyzstan, while plans are already underway for a center in Lithuania.[21] Through its efforts to get in touch with Russians abroad, cultivate a true Russian identity, and promote a rich Russian culture, the foundation is steadily uniting Russians around the world.

Russia Today

A Russia Today bus in New York City

Russia Today (or RT after rebranding) is a 24-hour English-language channel that broadcasts to millions of viewers across six continents.[22] The TV network is sponsored by the state-funded Russian news agency, RIA-Novosti. Television programs including “Russia Close-Up” and “XL Report” provide an insider’s view into Russian traditions, lifestyles, and values. The channel’s pursuit to showcase a uniquely Russian culture is already proving to be effective. According to the company’s website, it has surpassed both the Cable News Network (CNN) and Bloomberg Television in audience share in Moscow. Consistent with Russia’s public diplomacy goals, the domestic popularity of the channel shows that Russia’s endeavor to purify the Russian culture and language is in fact producing encouraging results. Also, in January 2008, Russia Today launched its own channel on the popular video sharing website, YouTube, with a total number of over three million viewers.[23]

The Valdai Discussion Club

A panel discussion with Russian Gas Company, Gazprom

The Valdai Discussion Club – a forum for journalists and privileged foreigners to have discussions with the President and government and business elite– is slowly opening up the Kremlin and Russian businesses to international audiences by providing an inside look into the mind-sets of some of Russia’s most powerful citizens. Organized by RIA-Novosti in 2006, the conference is an annual gathering where guests have the opportunity to discuss major issues pertaining to Russia. The 2006 conference, entitled “Global Energy In the 21st Century: Russia’s Role and Position,” was held in Moscow and attended by representatives of the Kremlin as well as executives of major Russian energy companies. One reporter has praised the event as “really smart PR.” For example, at the 2004 conference, Former President Putin received foreign guests at his own residence, giving the meeting a more personal and friendly atmosphere.[24][25]

Russian Language

A third indication of the campaign’s limited success is the growing interest in the Russian language. Since the collapse of the U.S.S.R, the prevalence of Russian has decreased – most notably in the former Soviet Republics. In countries such as Latvia and Estonia, people are reading less books and newspapers in Russian and are also less likely to watch TV in Russian.[26] Despite the significant decline in knowledge of Russian in the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltic states, “evermore foreigners are getting attracted to Russia.”[27] One country where the popularity of Russian is slowly growing is China.[28] Today, Russian remains the world’s fifth major language behind Spanish.[29]



Russia’s recent crackdown on the media is one of the major impediments to its public diplomacy campaign. In Russia, the government’s tight control is “making it more difficult for international broadcasters to work with local stations” and the high advertising rates imposed by the Kremlin are hindering international broadcasters from attracting new viewers and listeners.[30] The increased censorship has led to the demise of many newspapers and journals, one of the most recent ones being The Exile – an independent newspaper that shutdown due to fears of inspection by the government.[31]

Contract Killings

Murdered Journalist, Anna Politkovskaya

Besides the closure of allegedly dissident publications and channels, a number of high-profile murders continue to stir suspicion and debate among Russian critics. Frequent reports of prominent journalists, politicians, and businessmen being killed have been appearing throughout the press for at least the past twelve years.[32] An illustrative case that is still making headlines is the murder of the distinguished journalist, Anna Politkovskaya. Politkovskaya was known to be an openly harsh critic of the Kremlin and its policy in Chechnya. Following her murder in 2006, international condemnation poured into Russia from Europe and the United States. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev commented on the tragedy and called it “a true political homicide, a vendetta.”[33]


Along with its tightening control of the media, the Russian government has placed restrictions on non-governmental organizations operating in the country. According to a law passed in January 2006, the government “imposes heavy bureaucratic control over NGO finances, monitors foreign grants they receive, and bans them from participating in political activities.”[34] These limitations are seen to be yet another Russian attempt to “suppress freedom of speech and democracy,” while “Russian authorities say the legislation is needed to prevent foreign governments and organizations from using NGOs to undermine Russia's security.”[35]

British Council Controversy

One concrete example of the Russian government’s controversial actions is the closure of the British Council in Russia in 2007. “The Russian Foreign Ministry said [this morning] that the Council, which promotes British culture and offers English language lessons through its 15 regional offices in Russia, had no legal basis for its operations and should close down its regional offices by the new year.”[36] As revealed by the BBC, “Russian officials have said the move was a retaliatory measure in the ongoing dispute over the London murder of Russian exile Alexander Litvienko.”[37] However, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the closure, calling it “totally unacceptable” and stating, “I think it’s very important to recognize that the British Council is doing valuable work in Russia. We wish this action to be desisted immediately.”[38] Despite the Kremlin’s demands to end its activities, the British Council claims that its program will continue. In defiance of the government’s order, the British Council reopened its offices in Russia and has since been given a controversial tax bill, which claims that the cultural organization has a large unpaid balance.[39]



Courtesy Pew Research Center

A number of polls, including one by Angus Reid Global Monitor, reveal that former President Vladimir Putin enjoyed a great deal of popularity with the public, scoring as high as 80% in approval ratings.[40] The polls further bring to light the high amount of confidence the Russian public has not only in one of its main leaders, but also in his policies. In a study by RIA-Novosti, one of Putin’s achievements was the “consolidation of state institutions and formation of a common legal space.”[41] For Russia, which had suffered from a loose and inefficient legal system, this was a significant accomplishment that improved the legal integrity of the country. While many Russians support Putin and the Kremlin’s public diplomacy campaign, some believe that the current efforts remain insufficient. Marat Gelman, a “well-known Russian political consultant with close ties to the Kremlin,” argues that “Russia must do more to battle its negative image abroad, particularly in neighboring countries."[42]


In the West, Russia has received a great deal of criticism for its efforts to improve its image. Countries in Europe and especially the United States see Russia’s campaign more as a form of propaganda rather than legitimate public diplomacy.[43] Aleksandr Grigoryev, editor-in-chief of the news and information agency Washington Profile, claims that reasons for the West’s criticisms lie in the fact that Russia’s external change, must first come from a change within.[44] Many western scholars agree and believe that Russia’s Anti-Western and Anti-American attitudes are not helping the situation, but further fueling the tensions.[45]

Unlike the strong reactions emanating from the West, the rest of the world’s response to Russia’s public diplomacy efforts have been more subtle. Energy and security diplomacy seem to be taking precedence over Russia’s image-enhancing project in critical regions such as: the Balkans, the Baltic States, Eastern Europe, Central Europe, The Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

Russia’s flourishing energy industry is increasingly taking its toll on the energy-rich countries surrounding Russian territory, both positively and negatively affecting relations. Controversy over the monopolistic Russian gas company, Gazprom, and the creation of multiple pipelines throughout Europe and Asia are continually sparking disputes about over-dependence on Russian resources as well as fears of Russia’s growing influence.[46] Two major initiatives in progress are the Nord Stream pipeline and the South Stream Pipeline. The Nord Stream, which will pass from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, is both a sign of hope for the Baltic region’s economic aspirations, but it is also a concern of Russia’s allegedly re-emerging sphere of influence.[47] The South Stream, passing through the Balkans into Italy, is evoking similar worries in countries like Bulgaria and Serbia, who nevertheless have agreed to become transit states for the pipeline.[48]


NATO: Russia's Perspective

Security is the other issue dominating Russian relations with the international community. Disputes involving Chechnya and Kosovo and the possible admission of Ukraine into NATO are further straining relations between Russia and the West. Russia’s imperial image appears to be resurrecting itself in the eyes of these regions, though Russia claims protection of its interest and citizens is the main concern.[49] Despite the apparent primacy of energy and security issues, Russia is determined to improve its image in the “near abroad.” In Serbia, the Russian TV channel, Vesti 24, seeks to continue “warming relations” between the two countries. Russia hopes to cultivate ties amidst the conflict with Kosovo and recent energy agreements by providing accurate reports of events and opinions concerning Serbia, untwisted by critics outside of the country.[50]

Another example of Russia’s continuing efforts is the promotion of registering internet domains in Cyrillic – a family of Slavic alphabets. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has stressed the importance of such a move and has urged the creation of Cyrillic addresses in order to “reinforce the role of the Russian language in the world.”[51] One of the countries following suit is Bulgaria, which states that registering internet domains in Cyrillic script is “part of efforts to boost national pride amid a growing influence of English.”[52]

Outside the Balkans, the Baltic States and Ukraine are attempting to rewrite the history of World War II. The revised view would say that “their (Baltic and Ukrainian) nationals suffered from Soviet as well as Nazi oppression.” Strong condemnations of the proposal are already coming from the Kremlin, who oppose the revision which they say is aimed at Russians. Belarus backed Russia’s position on the issue and by doing so, hopes to form a “greater union” between the two countries. Debates are ongoing, but issues such as these appear to be adversely affecting Russian efforts to foster good relations with its neighbors.[53]

Further Research Questions

  • What are public opinion polls outside of Russia concerning Russia’s current public diplomacy efforts? (Particularly in the countries where Russian initiatives are geared towards)
  • What are the reactions of other governments to Russia’s project to improve its image?
  • What are the TV ratings of Russia Today and other Russian channels both inside and outside of Russia?

Government Agencies

Important Legislation

Private Organizations (NGOs, Foundations, Think Tanks, etc.)


Public Opinion Polls


Further Reading

Useful Links


  1. “BBC Poll: Attitudes towards Countries,” British Broadcasting Corporation, GlobalScan Incorporated, and The Program on International Policy Attitudes, October 2005-January 2006
  2. “Russia: Kremlin Hoping to Speak West’s Language,” By: Claire Bigg, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 9 June 2006
  3. “Russia – The Empire of Tyranny,” By: Askar Askarov, Front Page Magazine, 19 May 2005
  4. “Russia Pumps Tens of Million Into Burnishing Image Abroad,” By: Peter Finn, The Washington Post. 6 March 2008
  5. “New Era For EU-Russia?,” By: Spasena Baramova, The Sofia Echo, 4 July 2008
  6. “Russia Compares Chechnya with Kosovo,” By: Jonathan Marcus, British Broadcasting Corporation, 29 September 1999
  7. “Containing Russia,” By: Yuliya Tymoshenko, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2007
  8. “Russia and the European Union: An Outlook for Collaboration and Competition in European Natural Gas Markets,” By: Michael D. Cohen, BNET, 2007
  9. “Defuse Russia’s Energy Weapon,” By: Keith Smith, International Herald Tribune, 17 January 2006
  10. “Russia Spends Heavily to Buff Up Its Image for Western Nations,” By: Peter Finn, Washington Post, 9 March 2008
  11. “Russia Pumps Tens of Million Into Burnishing Image Abroad,” By: Peter Finn, The Washington Post. 6 March 2008
  12. “10 Western Media Stereotypes About Russia: How Truthful Are They?,” By: The Real Russia Project of Discovery Institute, Discovery Institute, 19 September 2006
  13. “Corruption in Russia: Greasing the Wheels to Get By,” By: Sergei Gradirovski and Neli Esipova, Gallup News Service, 14 November 2006
  14. “Poverty and Corruption Threaten Russia: Medvedev,” By: Janet McBride and Michael Scott, Reuters, 25 June 2008
  15. “Vyacheslav Nikonov: Delivering the Russian Language to the World,” By: Dmitry Bulin, Moscow News. 16 August 2007
  16. “Vyacheslav Nikonov: Delivering the Russian Language to the World,” By: Dmitry Bulin, Moscow News. 16 August 2007
  17. "Centers of Russian Culture Open In Post-Soviet Republics,” The Voice of Russia, 12 June 2008
  18. “Reaching Out to the Russian World,” Interview By: Andrei Zolotov Jr., Russia Profile, 1 April 2008
  19. “The Russian World Is Really Worldwide,” Diplomat, Issue 10/2007
  20. “Russian World Gets Down to Work,” The Voice of Russia, 11 January 2007
  21. “Centers of Russian Culture Open In Post-Soviet Republics,” The Voice of Russia, 12 June 2008
  22. "Russia Today TV." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 5 Jul 2008, 13:40 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9 Jul 2008
  23. Russia Today Official Website
  24. “Russia Pumps Tens of Million Into Burnishing Image Abroad,” By: Peter Finn, The Washington Post. 6 March 2008
  25. [Valdai Discussion Club
  26. “Russia: UN Draft Resolution Seen to Target Estonia, Latvia,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 8 November 2006
  27. “Lost in Translation,” By: Sergei Balashov, Russia Profile, 19 June 2008
  28. “Russian Language Still Needs Protection,” By: Alexei Peskov, The Moscow News Weekly, 19 June 2008
  29. “Most Widely Spoken Languages In the World,”
  30. “Putin Tries to Block VOA and Other Foreign Broadcasts From Russian Audiences,” By: Alvin Snyder, USC Center on Public Diplomacy, 12 August 2005
  31. “Russia: Irreverent English-Language Tabloid Closes Down,” By: Brian Whitmore, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 13 June 2008
  32. “Russia: High-Profile Killings, Attempted Killing In the Post-Soviet Preiod,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 19 October 2006
  33. “Russia: American Writers Honor Politkovskaya’s Memory,” By: Nikola Krastev, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 07 December 2006
  34. “Russia: NGOs Uneasy As Deadline Passes,” By: Chloe Arnold, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 19 April 2007
  35. “Russia Closer to Controlling NGOs,” British Broadcasting Company News, 27 December 2005
  36. “Russia Orders British Council to Shut Down,” By: Jenny Booth, Times Online, 12 December 2007
  37. “Russia to Limit British Council,” British Broadcasting Corporation, 12 December 2007
  38. “Brown Condemns Russia’s British Council Ban,” By: Megan Levy and agencies, Telegraph, 17 December 2007
  39. “Russia Sends ‘Punitive’ Tax Bill to British Council, By: Luke Harding, The Guardian, 18 June 2008
  40. “Putin Still Above 80% Mark In Russia,” Angus Reid Global Monitor, 10 March 2007
  41. “Russia’s Domestic Policy Under Vladimir Putin: Achievements and Failures,” RIA Novosti, 29 February 2008
  42. “Analysis: Russia Gears Up to Improve its Image Abroad,” By: Victor Yasmann, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty. 31 March 2006
  43. “Analysis: Russia Gears Up to Improve its Image Abroad,” By: Victor Yasmann, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty. 31 March 2006
  44. “Russia’s Botched Efforts At Image Building,” World Security Institute, 17 November 2006
  45. “Russia’s Botched Efforts At Image Building,” World Security Institute, 17 November 2006
  46. “Europe Must End Energy Dependence on Russia: ex-IEA Chief,” Yahoo News, 5 July 2008
  47. “Baltic Leaders Stress Energy Need, Russia to Oblige,” By: Patrick Lannin, Reuters, 4 June 2008
  48. “Gazprom Aims to Be World’s Biggest Company With $1 trln Market Cap,” Nina Chestney, Thomson Financial News, Forbes, 6 October 2008
  49. “The Economic and Political Situation in Eurasia,” By: Alina Tourkova, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 21 April 2005
  50. “Russian TV Hits Serbian Homes,” Balkan Insight, 20 May 2008
  51. “Russia to Create Internet Addresses in Cyrillic,” Yahoo News, 29 June 2008
  52. “Bulgaria Moves to Register Cyrillic Internet Domain,” Reporting By: Anna Mudeva, Reuters, 23 June 2008
  53. “Russia Condemns Rewriting of World War Two History,” By: Denis Dyomkin, International Herald Tribune, 23 June 2008