Sergey Lavrov: In Russia we actively support development of NGOs internationally
One of the participants asked the head of the Foreign Service of assess the concept of “soft power” and tell about the main trajectories for expanding Russia’s soft power.
The minister said: “ Generally speaking, soft power is the natural manifestation of technological change around the world. Politics used to be limited to deciding matters of war and peace: someone invades the other, and then they talk, or they try to talk to each other before going to war. This is what foreign policy was all about in the days when technology like we have now did not exist. Today, you can promote your interests in various regions or countries by relying on methods that are far less destructive, without recourse to military power, that is by influencing the public opinion and using the whole range of the available opportunities offered by online resources and social media. I will spare you from a detailed review of all the ways in which we can convey our ideas, assessments and perspectives to anyone who wants to hear what we have to say.
The second important aspect in terms of soft power has to do with non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Here in Russia we actively encourage the development of NGOs in the sphere of international relations. We have built partnerships with non-profits interested in foreign policy, and have been maintaining our ties with them. Unfortunately, there are not so many of them. For example, just over sixty Russian organisations have been granted consultative status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It is not that we do not assist them in obtaining this recognition. We are always there for those of them who would like to be granted this status. Sixty is quite a good result. There used to be very few organisations of this kind. At the same time, there are thousands of Western NGOs that were granted this status by UN agencies. So Russia’s civil society has a lot of room for improvement. We are proactive in our efforts to encourage the NGO community to work on international matters. Foreign Ministry departments hold monthly meetings with the corresponding NGOs, and my deputies are holding meetings with representatives of NGOs on a more or less quarterly basis. There is also an annual meeting that I attend to sum up the results of these interactions and to discuss what the NGOs need and how the Foreign Ministry can assist them in their efforts.
The media have to be mentioned among the soft power tools. There are a lot of questions here. On a level playing field, Russian NGOs, even though they are not as numerous, are serious competitors and can effectively stand up for justice, truth and international law. Unfortunately, these are not the principles pursued and preached by many Western NGOs who do not shun away from various dirty tricks in order to promote the agenda of their sponsors. In so many cases these NGOs are established and financed by the state. Most of the leading American NGOs receive funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which in turn gets its funding from the US budget. The International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute rely on government support in one way or another. These structures provide funding to multiple organisations working on specific aspects of international affairs.
I believe that justice is on our side. We need to continue to defend it and expand Russia’s footprint within the international platforms. So far we are behind in terms of numbers. But let me repeat that if we are talking about the media, RT and Sputnik, just the two of them, created a situation in which they were referred to in the West as the main threat to the public opinion. By the way, London has recently hosted the Global Conference for Media Freedom. RT and Sputnik were not invited to attend under the pretext that they were propaganda mouthpieces rather than media outlets. What do you think about that? For this reason, when soft power is employed using principles and criteria of this kind, it looks like just another attempt to secure unilateral advantages through unfair competition.
We will continue to support all those in the Russian civil society interested in projecting our soft power on human rights, fighting poverty, environmental protection or any other problems that are discussed internationally. We will do everything to support your undertakings. If you are interested, if there are organisations that have not been involved with the Foreign Ministry thus far, please make sure to contact us. We will definitely support you.”
Source – MFA of Russia