MOSCOW, January 16 (RIA Novosti)
The “Soft Power” Stance
Russia is starting to implement a “soft power” program set by President Putin to improve the country’s image abroad and promote its interests. The plan is largely built on the Soviet experience. The main efforts will be aimed at increasing the number of Russian science and culture centers abroad and working with Russian expats and foreign youth. Russia is planning an international youth and student festival for 2017, like the Soviet Union did in 1957 and 1985.
The term “soft power” first came into widespread use last summer, following Vladimir Putin’s example.
Rossotrudnichestvo, the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Cultural Cooperation, will be the main vehicle used to improve Russia's image abroad.
The projects listed in the plan include extending the geographical range and activities of Russian science and culture centers abroad. Russia operates 59 such centers (plus eight affiliates). This compares with nearly 900 run by China. The plan envisages increasing this number “in view of Russia’s geopolitical interests” and upgrading existing ones, many of which are in a rundown state.
In the future, centers located in countries with a large number of graduates from Russian and Soviet universities plan to open online courses for continued vocational training. Some of the centers plan to establish affiliates of Russian museums, with virtual representative offices in others.
Visitors will be able to watch live broadcasts of premieres of Russian theater productions and newly released Russian films with subtitles.
The centers' websites will feature online expositions of Russian regions, and carry a special advertising text on Russia – “a hymn in prose” – as it is called in the document.
Another government focus abroad will be the promotion of the Russian language. The plan proposes a presidential decree on a public and private fund to support Russian-language media abroad. Also, the centers are expected to conduct tests of foreigners’ knowledge of Russian and in some CIS countries to open language courses for migrant workers.
The third component consists of fostering more active contacts with expats and foreign youth. According to the plan, Russia is contemplating an international youth and student festival for 2017. The Soviet Union twice held these kinds of events and both times succeeded in producing a powerful propaganda effect for the country.
The plan is also designed to attract foreigners into Russia on a regular basis, increasing the enrollment quota for foreigners to Russian universities.
By the end of 2013, a presidential decree is to be issued to set up the Russian Union of Friendship Societies and reopen the House of Friendship with Peoples of Foreign Countries.
Experts, however, warn that “soft power” could take years to be fully realized.
Head of Rossotrudnichestvo Konstantin Kosachev declined to comment on the document, saying it “has not yet passed through all stages of approval.”
Russia Brings Corruption Charges Against Ex-EBRD Official
Russia's former executive director at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Yelena Kotova was officially charged with bribery on Tuesday.
Investigators believe that Kotova, aided by former banker Igor Lebedev, attempted to solicit a $1.4 million bribe from a company in return for guaranteeing the approval of a $95 million loan. The Criminal Code calls for seven years behind bars for bribery and extortion.
According to a law-enforcement source, at the centre of the case was Canadian oil company CanBaikal Resources, controlled by London-based businessman Sergei Chernikov, former official at the Russian Nature Ministry and until 2010 a member of the Public Chamber. The company asked EBRD for financing for its oil projects in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region.
Chernikov reported the case to EBRD’s internal security in spring 2010. While verifying his evidence, the service discovered that Kotova owned bank accounts in tax havens and notified the London City police. The information was also forwarded to the Russian government.
Then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin dismissed Kotova from office and stripped her of her diplomatic immunity. A lawsuit was instituted against her based on the British police reports. However, her hearing was repeatedly postponed because the plaintiff, Chernikov, failed to respond to summons from Moscow, while the British authorities did not respond to requests until late last summer, the source said.
Finally, in October, Russian investigators questioned Chernikov as well as EBRD officials, who gave evidence that is valid for the Russian law-enforcement authorities.
The EBRD fully cooperated with the Russian Interior Ministry, taking into account the information about the charges brought against Kotova, spokesman Richard Wallis said.
Kotova’s attorney Sergei Mirzoyev claims there is no evidence against her save for Chernikov’s statement, while the results of an internal EBRD investigation are not sufficient grounds for instituting a criminal case against her because they only point to violations of ethical standards.
The entire case against Kotova could have been triggered by a professional conflict with the EBRD management. A parallel investigation in Britain is creating a legal paradox, with two cases based on the same evidence. The Crown Prosecution Service has not responded to the Vedomosti request.
Until recently, Russia used to ignore international corruption scandals, as was the case with kickbacks from the German companies Daimler and Siemens to Russian and other officials, said Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee. Last year Russia signed up to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention along with other anti-corruption agreements, which makes it difficult to simply ignore such cases, he added.
No Budget for Professional Army
There are plans to take on only 30,000 contract soldiers this year, a significantly lower figure than the requisite number of professionals required by one of President Putin’s first decrees since his inauguration. This government decision has been brought about by a lack of funding.
Further adjustments to the modernization plans will follow. Earlier it was expected (and promised by Putin in his election program) that the armed forces would have some 425,000 professionals.
There will be a new recruitment plan for volunteers in all four military districts. About 50 recruitment offices were opened in regional and republican centers last year in proportion to their population sizes. Thus, the Central Military District (58 million people) has 25 recruitment offices, while the Southern Military District (about 29 million) has only five, all outside the crisis spots in the North Caucasus and in areas with predominantly Slavic populations.
The Central Federal District is to recruit over 5,500 contract soldiers in 2013. The other three districts are to provide between 3,000 and 5,000 recruits. Thirty military schools will train around 5,000 professional sergeants. Hence, the total number of professionals will not exceed 30,000.
The contract soldiers will be deployed as sergeants, sergeant majors and military equipment specialists. Military school graduates who complete a 34-month training will be the most highly sought-after and will be hired by military units involved in both training and combat service.
The increased financial allowance means that professional military service is becoming more popular. Recruiting offices select only one in five applicants. The contract soldiers go through a combat survival course and performance review that usually eliminates one in ten trainees. This is done to ensure the professionalism of the armed forces, which currently deploys 180,000 contract soldiers. There is no chance that such a small number could compensate for the general shortage of personnel.
“The official decision is to recruit professionals mainly for the military troops and units involved in operational service. Even with the larger military budget, there is still not enough money for all the security agencies. What's more, the Kremlin’s plans include making the armed forces fully professional by 2016 – hence the budget cuts,” says associate member of the Academy of Military Sciences and military sociologist Eduard Rodyukov.
“The shortage of professional staff replaced by ‘semi-trained’ conscripts may nullify any efforts to equip the army and the navy with new weapons. The personnel must be highly competent in handling new weapons and equipment. With core junior commander staff completing only three months' training, this seems very unlikely. Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to improve the training of conscripts or to extend the period of service to at least 18 months? Both decisions will not be readily accepted by society but a decision must be made if we don’t want the military reforms to fail,” military expert Yury Netkachyov said.
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