After breaking somewhat unexpectedly into The Soft Power 30 in 2016, Russia continues its upward trajectory, climbing one place to 26. Russia has certainly been a prominent fixture in the international headlines this year. US President Donald Trump started his tenure commending President Putin’s strong leadership attributes, only to end up hounded by allegations that his administration was back-channelling with the Kremlin, during the 2016 presidential election. And since the US Intelligence Committee publicly concluded that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 presidential election there has been further finger pointing in additional cases of election interference and state-supported hacking cases. On the flip side, Russian soft power has seen a boost with its handling of the Syrian peace process, having taken the driver’s seat in negotiations as Assad’s most powerful confidante and helped broker a cease-fire agreement. Outside of international relations, culture remains a strong point for Russia. Home to world-class institutions like the Bolshoi Ballet and Hermitage Museum, Russia’s projection of high culture can go toe-to-toe with any nation.
Russia holds onto its top-10 position in our Engagement sub-index, reflecting strong performances in its embassy network and permanent missions to multilateral organisations. Given the wealth of cultural assets Russia has at its fingertips, it’s possible to climb even higher in this sub-index with a greater emphasis on its cultural missions.
Russia narrowly avoids the bottom of our Government sub-index this year, sitting just above Brazil. According to Freedom House, “heavily flawed 2016 legislative elections further excluded opposition forces from the political process”, while the Economist Democracy Index notes that “authoritarian regimes such as Russia performed particularly poorly in the electoral process and pluralism category”. Russia does have a few redeeming government qualities, including number of think thanks.
With all eyes (and scrutiny) on Russia in 2018 as it looks to hold both presidential elections and host the FIFA World Cup, the country needs to be seen as much more welcoming than it is currently. It performs the worst out of all 30 countries for “welcoming to tourists” according to our international polling. In foreign policy terms, the West is likely to remain suspicious of Russia for some time. A grand gesture of co-operation would certainly help to reset the narrative.