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Conservative soft power: liberal soft power bias and the ‘hidden’ attraction of Russia


The study of soft power in international relations suffers from a liberal democratic bias. Throughout the literature, liberal concepts and values are assumed to be universal in their appeal. This bias has led scholars to underestimate Russian soft power by instrumentalising it, that is, to see it purely as the effect of government-sponsored programmes, and to focus primarily on the cultural pillar of soft power. This paper argues, alternatively, that Russia’s conservative values and illiberal governance models generate admiration and followership, even outside of what Russia claims to be its post-Soviet sphere of influence. Crucially, this admiration and followership perform the traditional function of soft power: generating support for controversial Russian foreign policy decisions. Admitting that soft power can be based on conservative values is necessary not only to understand Russia’s foreign policy potential, but also the ability of non-Western states to challenge successfully the Western liberal order.

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The authors would like to thank Sten Rynning, Peter Viggo Jakobsen, Chiara de Franco, Olivier Schmitt, Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen and Amelie Theussen at the Center for War Studies, University of Southern Denmark, for their insightful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. The authors would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive engagement and comments, which we have acknowledged in the text.

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Correspondence to Katarzyna Kaczmarska.

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Keating, V.C., Kaczmarska, K. Conservative soft power: liberal soft power bias and the ‘hidden’ attraction of Russia. J Int Relat Dev 22, 1–27 (2019).

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  • conservatism
  • liberalism
  • russia
  • soft power