The Elements of Russia’s Soft Power: Channels, Tools, and Actors Promoting Russian Influence in the Eastern Partnership Countries
Soft power can be exerted by a variety of actors using different channels and tools. This paper focuses on actors and channels transmitting Russian messages and discourses in the Eastern Partnership countries. It contributes to enhancing our understanding of Russian influences in the region in two ways. First, it maps the network of influential actors who have the potential to transmit Russian messages and target various audiences. Second, it offers a detailed analysis of the coverage of Russia (and the European Union (EU)) in one important channel for dissemination of information about Russia and the EU: popular TV stations in Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. The analysis shows the presence of a wide variety of actors focusing on ‘compatriots’, religious bonds, and Russian-language speakers in the region, which reflects the key ideas of the ‘Russian World’ narrative. These actors promote Russia’s role as a centre of gravity and aim to appeal to Russians, Slavs and Orthodox Christians. This image of Russia, however, does not dominate the news programmes in any of the three countries. In Moldova and Ukraine, Russia is most often mentioned (negatively) in the context of security, while in Belarus it is covered more often than the EU in economy-related news items. Moreover, a large portion of the news about Russia and the EU has no positive or negative tone or is presented in a balanced way. In general, apart from what was conveyed by Russian TV channels, Russia does not have a more positive image than the EU in the news programmes in the countries we monitored.