Public Diplomacy in Russia’s Near Abroad: The Cases of Ukraine and Georgia

Past Principal Investigator:
Iskra Kirova, CPD Research Fellow, 2009-2011

Related CPD Publication
Public Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution: Russia, Georgia and the EU in Abkhazia and South Ossetia CPD Perspectives on Public Diplomacy, August 2012.

This research examined the use of public diplomacy strategies by the Russian federation and the West in order to extend or maintain a soft-power presence in what has become known as the "Russian near abroad" or Russia’s sphere of "privileged interest." The study analyzed the different approaches to public diplomacy carried out by two nations, Ukraine and Georgia, as both retaliated against Russian influence yet also harbored large pro-Russian enclaves. The study allowed us to examine the role of public diplomacy in addressing some of the region’s intractable conflicts, as well as look at the role of social, cultural, linguistic and religious affiliations as central elements in the public diplomacy toolbox.

The political implications of the public diplomacy approaches on the issues - economic influence, information and media, passport diplomacy, religion, and tourism - carried out by Ukraine and Georgia were the primary objects of analysis in measuring Russian influence in these regions. Their stance on foreign policy - or their ambiguous position between Russia and the Euro-Atlantic space - as well as their competing soft-power appeals from both sides provided the framework of discussion. Broader conclusions were made on the success, or failure, of European Union policies, such as the European Neighborhood Policy and the recent Eastern Partnership initiative, designed specifically to balance Russian influence in the region. Thus, the two case studies provided an opportunity to discuss public diplomacy issues in a dynamic international context framed by Russia’s assertive role and ambitions in its "near abroad," or its role as a regional and global player and NATO’s ongoing reevaluation of its strategic vision.

The final paper of this 2009-2011 CPD Research Fellowship project focused on the scope for public diplomacy to promote conflict resolution and reconciliation in the context of Georgia’s secessionist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It looked at Russia’s hard and soft expansion in the two break-away entities after the August 2008 war with Georgia that has increasingly taken the shape of a de facto annexation. It then examined Tbilisi’s belated public diplomacy overtures to draw the territories back into its orbit, and the West’s policy of engagement without recognition aimed at providing a foreign policy alternative to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In its analysis, the paper portrayed the role of public diplomacy as the principal track in conflict resolution and reconciliation that is in essence geared towards generating social capital through confidence building, often in hostile environments. It further drew conclusions with regard to the advantages and limitations of public diplomacy as a platform for engagement in situations of frozen conflict, particularly the versatility of its approaches that can be implemented in complex international settings where legal and political constraints can exclude other types of relations such as formal diplomatic engagement.