Soft Power, Hard Times: Russian Influence in the Post-Soviet Space during Periods of Military Conflict

  • Connell Beggs

Student thesis: Phd


Russia's assertive foreign policy since 2004 has caused much concern in the West. Since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, many Western commentators have claimed that Russia has adopted a new military strategy called 'hybrid warfare', in which the country's main cultural organisations that have a presence in neighbouring post-Soviet states are mere tools at the disposal of the Russian government. In response, these cultural organisations deny such accusations, with many of Russia's state representatives arguing that they simply engage in public and cultural diplomacy and, as a result, are agents of Russian 'soft power'. To understand the nature of Russia's activities on the international stage, this thesis investigates the role of two main cultural organisations, the Russian Orthodox Church and Fond 'Russkii Mir', in support of the Kremlin's policies during two major cases of Russian military intervention in the so-called 'near abroad' - the Russo-Georgian War (2008) and the Ukraine crisis (2013-present day). To address this issue, conflict representations disseminated on the media outlets of these organisations were assessed and compared to those on the state-controlled, Kremlin-aligned television channel Pervyi Kanal. A content analysis, thematic analysis and frame analysis were conducted in order to evaluate the outlets' narrative framing of these two military conflicts. Whilst concluding that neither the concept of 'hybrid warfare' nor 'soft power' are useful analytical tools for understanding the activities of Russia's cultural organisations during these military conflicts, this research reveals a significant difference in the activities of the ROC and FRM. Despite organisational autonomy being restricted in times of crisis, the Russian Orthodox Church expressed significant agency, which was evident from its deviation from the Kremlin-preferred line on issues of direct relevance to its own interests. Conversely, no such deviation occurred with Fond 'Russkii Mir'. Consequently, this thesis demonstrates that the specific agendas and agencies of Kremlin-affiliated actors within Russia are dependent on the nature of such actors' relationships with the country's political leadership.
Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorYoram Gorlizki (Supervisor) & Vera Tolz-Zilitinkevic (Supervisor)


  • media
  • Russian World
  • Russian Orthodox Church
  • information warfare
  • Ukraine
  • soft power
  • hybrid warfare
  • Russia
  • Georgia

Cite this