Cablegate: Soft Power in Action: Moscow Promotes Russian

DE RUEHMO #2658/01 1561550
P 051550Z JUN 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: Moscow has ramped up its efforts to
promote the Russian language in both the former Soviet Union
and throughout the world. Observers say the program is aimed
at using "soft power" to maintain Russia's dominance in its
neighborhood and underline that Russia remains a great power.
At a May 29-30 MFA-hosted conference on the status of the
Russian language abroad, participants -- including ethnic
Russians from Moldova and Ukraine -- announced plans to
appeal to the European Union to protect the rights of Russian
speakers in member states. Experts believe the GOR effort
could cause friction with some of its neighbors, given
political sensitivities over the use of local languages in
the post-Soviet space. Economic and social factors are the
key elements in promoting and maintaining a language, and the
GOR's efforts might not be enough, said critics. At the same
time, the economic dependence on Russia of many of Moscow's
neighbors, as well as a significant Russian diaspora, will
aid Moscow's efforts. End Summary.

2. (SBU) With much fanfare and continuing highly visible
participation by President Putin, Mrs. Putin, First Deputy
Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev and FM Lavrov, the Russian
government is commemorating 2007 as "The Year of Russian
Language." The goal of the program is to promote usage of
the Russian language in former Soviet republics and
throughout the world, as a way to foster a positive image of
Russia abroad and increase Moscow's influence -- particularly
in neighboring states with significant ethnic Russian
populations. Russian literature, poetry, language and
culture are being promoted through a series of book fairs,
seminars, poetry readings, and round table discussions. The
GOR plans to hold about 900 Russian language-related events
and projects in 76 countries, in the areas of culture,
science and education, according to Deputy Foreign Minister
Aleksandr Yakovenko. One of the highlights of the year thus
far was a May 29-30 conference hosted by the MFA on the
status of the Russian language abroad. Conference
participants -- including ethnic Russians from Moldova and
Ukraine -- announced plans to appeal to the European Union to
protect the rights of Russian speakers in member states.

3. (SBU) Yuriy Ivanov, Deputy Director for the MFA's
Department for Compatriots, explained to us that the primary
focus of the program was on the countries of the former
Soviet Union, but stressed that events would also take place
in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere. The MFA
has the lead in organizing the events, but the Ministry of
Education will assist by printing and distributing school
textbooks at Russian educational centers in the former Soviet
Union. In addition, the GOR is establishing cultural and
information centers in many neighboring states. "One of our
goals is for Russian to remain the primary language of
communication in the former Soviet Union," Ivanov said.
Observers we spoke to characterize this effort as a another
means to capitalize on the soft power inherent in the
widespread use of Russian in the former Soviet Union to
maintain Moscow's influence in the region.

4. (SBU) Moscow's effort to revive Russian language use has
been driven by concerns about the decline in the number of
Russian speakers abroad since the collapse of the Soviet
Union, according to experts. Former Warsaw Pact countries
quickly shed Russian language requirements in schools. Many
countries in the developing world that once had close ties to
the Soviet Union no longer encourage Russian language study,
and the number of foreign students who received scholarships
to study in Russian universities dropped off precipitously.
In many former Soviet republics, use of the local language
was promoted as a symbol of independence and Russian is often
no longer a state language. Many of the elites in these
countries now opt for English as a more useful second
language for international business and discourse.

5. (SBU) Demographics is also a factor in the number of
Russian speakers worldwide, with about 700,000 Russian
speakers dying each year. According to GOR figures, there
are an estimated 160 million native Russian speakers in the
world, plus another 125 million who use Russian as a
secondary language. For now, Russian is perhaps the fifth
most spoken language in the world, behind Chinese, English,
Spanish, and Arabic, according to the MFA's Ivanov, but by

MOSCOW 00002658 002 OF 003

2025, it could slip to 10th place. (Note: Language rankings
are notoriously difficult to determine, and other sources
place the number of Russian speakers behind those of Hindi,
Portuguese and Bengali, as well, but no source suggests much
growth in the number of Russian speakers.)

6. (SBU) Fears about the declining use of Russian and what
that represents for Moscow's influence is most acute when the
GOR looks at Russia's neighborhood. Aleksandr Chepurin,
Director of the MFA Department for Compatriots, complained
publicly that the Russian language was under attack in many
former Soviet republics. "The scaling down of the use of
Russian language in these countries is noted in such fields
as education, the mass media and records management,"
Chepurin said recently during an ITAR-TASS interview. Ivanov
told us that the governments in many of these countries, such
as Moldova, Latvia and Estonia, actively work to minimize the
use of Russian language. The number of schools that conduct
classes solely in Russian has dropped by 71 percent in
Turkmenistan, 65 percent in Moldova, 59 percent in Kazakhstan
and 47 percent in Uzbekistan, said Dmitry Shilankov, Deputy
Head of the MFA's Russian Center for International Scientific
and Cultural Cooperation. One small, but telling example of
the declining use of Russian that was cited to us was Tajik
President Rakhmonov's March decision to drop his Russianized
name and be known henceforth by the Tajik version, Emomalii

7. (SBU) Given these fears, a key target of the MFA's
program is the estimated 17 million ethnic Russians living
outside the Russian Federation in former Soviet republics,
according to the MFA. Putin has made it a priority to
strengthen ties between Russia and its ethnic-Russian
"compatriots" living in neighboring countries. In March, the
first session of the Coordination Council of Russia
Compatriots was held. Promoting Russian language was a top
priority at the session, Shilankov said. He reflected the
views of many Russians in seeing the historic spread of
Russian political power, culture, and the Russian language as
a positive, "civilizing" influence. "Of course we don't want
to force anyone to learn Russian, and we don't want them to
do it at the expense of their own native languages, but there
are a lot of ethnic Russians who need our help to maintain
their identity," he said.

8. (SBU) Eduard Ivanyan, of the USA-Canada Institute, told
us that the GOR's efforts are aimed at more than just
cultural goals. "The Kremlin is doing this because they want
to re-establish political influence in the region," he said.
Putin sees ethnic-Russians in Ukraine or Kazakhstan as
potential advocates for Russian policy. The decline of
Russian language and culture in the former Soviet Union was a
wound to Russian prestige. While the Soviet Government's
efforts to promote the Russian language varied in intensity,
there was a long term commitment to establishing Russian as
the language of government and power. Now that Russia feels
that is back on its feet, the GOR wants to rebuild its
prestige. Perhaps reflecting Russia's aspirations more than
present day reality, DFM Yakovenko announced that "the higher
demand for Russian language as a means of international
communication has to do with the rising authority of Russia
as a political, economic and cultural pole in the
contemporary world."

9. (SBU) The initiative would likely cause suspicion and
resistance in some neighboring republics, Ivanyan noted.
Many of Russia's neighbors harbor suspicions toward Russia
because of its imperial past -- both during Czarist and
Soviet times. Promoting Russian language more aggressively
could be seen by some as undermining national identity, no
matter how gingerly Russia approaches the project. "The
Latvians and Estonians have been working for more than a
decade to re-establish their languages and redress the
demographic imbalance that occurred as a result of the Soviet
occupation," he said. "They will not appreciate efforts to
undo that." Confrontation could occur, resulting in a
deterioration of relations with some neighbors, Ivanyan said.
During a recent round table discussion in May, participants

MOSCOW 00002658 003 OF 003

discussed efforts to preserve Russian culture and language in
the mostly Russian-speaking Crimean region of Ukraine.
During the discussion, Ivan Demidov, head of United Russia's
youth wing, urged a greater emphasis on street agitation to
get the message out. He said his movement had strong
connections with the pro-Russian Party of Regions in Ukraine,
and that it would not be difficult to cover Crimea with
"Let's Support Russian Language" stickers. Under these
circumstances, things could get out of hand, Ivanyan said.

10. (SBU) Ivanyan said that government efforts to boost the
Russian language are not enough to ensure success. The
collapse of Soviet political power and the resulting decline
of Russian culture outside of Russia was the result of
economic and social circumstances that were beyond the
control of any one government. "I don't believe in
campaigns, and this strikes me as a big bureaucratic
campaign. It is a Soviet-style approach," Ivanyan said.
Many Russians living abroad will continue to use Russian as
their native language. Continued Russian economic growth,
and the ability to keep former Soviet republics economically
reliant on Russia are more important factors, he said. The
hundreds of thousands of non-Russians who work in Russia as
construction laborers or traders promote Russian language far
more effectively than book fairs and poetry readings, Ivanyan

11. (SBU) The MFA's Shilankov argued that the language
effort would get a boost from Russia's positive economic
trends and Moscow's greater international prominence.
"People will see very concrete reasons why it would benefit
them to learn or maintain Russian." He pointed to recent
press reports that Russian language studies have seen an
increase in Poland. Poles by and large stopped learning
Russian after the collapse of communism. But Russia's
economic growth and the desire for Western companies to
invest there have made Russian language skills more important
in the region, he said. He said the Russian Cultural Center
in Warsaw claimed a 35 percent increase in the number of
Poles enrolling in Russian language classes.

12. (SBU) Russian officials are also promoting the language
beyond the neighborhood. Millions of people speak Russian as
a first language in Israel and the United States, Ivanov
said. Additionally, the GOR plans promotional events in
countries without a significant ethnic-Russian population,
such as Indonesia, Mexico and Hungary. During the Cold War,
many people throughout the world learned Russian. For some,
it was the result of curiosity about the "enemy," Ivanov
said. For others, it was because of the Soviet Union's
strength and influence -- especially in the Third World. The
GOR would like to re-establish Russian as a language of
science and diplomacy, Ivanov said.

13. (SBU) Russia's efforts to re-establish and maintain
Russian as the lingua franca of the former Soviet Union will
benefit from its neighbors' strong economic ties to Russia.
Additionally, Russian ethnic populations abroad have not lost
their identity, and will continue to speak Russian for the
foreseeable future, but these are populations in decline.
The political sensitivity of language and national identity,
combined with historic mistrust among many of Russia's
neighbors regarding its motives, will undoubtedly hamper
Russia's efforts. In the end, the success or failure of
efforts to increase the number of Russian speakers will
depend most on whether neighbors see a practical reason to
learn or maintain their Russian language skills.

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


COP24: Rapid Action Urged At Climate Change Conference

Following a year of devastating climate disasters around the globe, from California to Kerala, and Tonga to Japan, the annual UN Climate Change Conference opens with the goal of finalising the implementation guidelines for the Paris Climate Change Agreement. More>>


New Report: Refugees In PNG Being Pushed To The Brink

Refugee Council of Australia and Amnesty International paint a stark picture of a traumatised refugee population hit hard by Australia's recent healthcare and counselling service cuts, as well as continued threats to their safety. More>>


Jamal Khashoggi: UK, France, Germany Join Calls For Credible Investigation

Germany, the United Kingdom and France share the grave concern expressed by others including HRVP Mogherini and UNSG Guterres, and are treating this incident with the utmost seriousness. More>>


MSF Not Wanted: Nauru Government Shows Continued Callousness

The Nauruan Government’s decision to ask Doctors Without Borders to immediately leave shows continued callousness towards asylum seekers desperately seeking a safe place to call home, Green MP Golriz Ghahraman said today. More>>


  • Pacific.Scoop
  • Cafe Pacific
  • PMC