Russian soft power in the Baltic States through the lens of research: traditions, competition, confrontation
In this article, we aim to analyse the research discourse in the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) as regards Russian soft power, which is considered as hard power, and to compare the theses that dominate this discourse with the actual interactions between Russia and the three states in media, education, and culture. Each Baltic country has built a system of political and legal restrictions to diminish the effect of Russian soft power, which is considered in terms of hard power, i.e. as a threat to national security. The current forms of Russian soft power are becoming less productive in the region and their use in the negative political context of bilateral relations has the opposite effect for Russia – the country loses in reputation and image. The main factor at play is the information content of the Russian-language media space. At odds with the historical and political views of a significant part of the Baltic States’ ruling class, it is becoming the target of counteraction. At the same time, Russian high and mass culture and, partly, educational services are in demand from both Baltic Russian speakers and ethnic Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians. Our analysis shows that the views of Baltic researchers that Russian soft power is politics-driven and foreign to the region are exaggerated and biased. In its turn, Russian soft power in the Baltics retains the potential to aid the country’s foreign policy, being a complement to the latter rather than its direct tool.