MOSCOW (Russia), Aug 18, GNA – After two decades of extremely low engagement, Russia is now taking deliberate steps to intensify some aspects of soft power in its policy as a way of boosting diplomatic relations with Africa.
In a media briefing, Mr Artyom Kozhin, the Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry (MFA), said “the Russian Federation is successfully implementing programmes of cultural and humanitarian cooperation with various African countries, which include contacts in education, science, culture, art, the media and sport.”
These efforts were aimed not only at consolidating cooperation with the African countries but also helping to overcome some of the continent’s key problems - social inequality and the involvement of the youth in sustainable economic development.
“Education is a major priority in relations with Africa. Russian universities are open to African students. Apart from the main subjects, they have programmes oriented towards key areas of the region’s public and economic life,” he said.
He pointed to the importance of specialised knowledge that was growing in conditions of globalisation and the increasing use of information technology.
“Modern education projects are being created and will be carried out in this context.”
He added that African specialists educated in Russia would assist their countries use the advantages of high technology, to enter a new stage of scientific and technological progress.
“This area fully conforms to the key goals and tasks of Russian foreign policy”, Kozhin stressed.
In excess of 1,800 students from 50 African states were admitted to Russian universities in 2017. A total of about 15,000 Africans study in Russia at present, including about 4,000 whose education is funded by Russia. Other Africans study on a contract basis.
But Russian experts on Africa have said many other aspects of the soft power are missing on the policy agenda and should be pursued with African countries.
Professor Irina Abramova, the Director of the Institute for African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, who spoke to the Ghana News Agency (GNA) saidt during the Soviet-era, Africa was a high priority.
In the 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR, Russia has largely reoriented to western states. Currently, the Russian Federation does not have a comparable economic potential of the USSR to promote its influence in Africa.
She noted that “with existing resources, it is possible to succeed in business, if we focus on the right directions and actively develop cultural ties with African countries, to provide more scholarships to African students, to promote the Russian language and to carry out humanitarian projects.”
She asked that the media should actively inform Russians about the prospects for the development on the African continent, its history and culture.
“Unfortunately, the Russian man in the street does not know much about Africa. For Africans, so far Russia is associated with the Soviet Union - the majority of Africans, still have very warm feelings towards Russia. But in general, and the Russian Federation in Africa, and Africa in the Russian Federation are very poorly represented in the media,” Abramova said.
Similarly, Mr Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal and a Senior Member of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, said Russia's soft power had never been on the very strong side of its policy beyond post-Soviet era.
“To some extent, intensification of non-political contacts may contribute to an increased interest, but in Russia's case, the main drivers of any cooperation are more traditional, political interest of Russian state and economic interest of large business companies.”
In his article titled “Why Russia's Soft Power is too soft” published in Russia in Global Affairs journal, Lukyanov stated that “Moscow, which still believes in the decisive role of weapons and other traditional elements of power, is losing the information and image war.”
The Soviet Union had promised help and it had lavished on countries that accepted its ideological patronage.
But now, Russia with its “profit first” mentality has become more pragmatic in relations and, as a result, less attractive as a partner, he wrote.
In her email discussions, Dr Alexandra Arkhangelskaya, a Researcher on African affairs and BRICS, and a Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics, told the GNA that “the most significant feature in Russia's policy is that Russia has moved away from its low-key strategy to a more vigorous reactivation of relations and authorities have to seriously show readiness to compete with other foreign players on the continent.”
That step of pushing for economic cooperation had to be complimented with the soft power, and she added “the Kremlin and MFA have to acknowledge the fact that the foreign policy must necessarily incorporate aspects of soft power to reflect Russia's new engagement with Africa.”