America’s Soft Power Has Weakened in Russia

Russians are bums, as the U.S. State Department has called them, adding Russia to their list of homeless nations. Those are nations with which, in reality, the U.S. has no diplomatic or consulate relations. The list includes Yemen, Iran, Venezuela, Eritrea and other disparate nations. For Russia, this status means that U.S. consulates located on Russian territory will give out visas only in special situations — for example, to members of official delegations. Regular folk will need to visit Warsaw to apply for immigration visas. Non-immigration visas, such as visas for short-term visits, can be applied for in any U.S. consulate.

In Russia, this homeless status has been received negatively. At best, it is considered that the State Department has chosen an unfortunate name for this list of nations, which implies nations do not have homes if the U.S. does not have full-fledged diplomatic relations with them. A tuning fork for international residency, so to speak. At worst, there is talk that the U.S., unable to defeat and bring Russia to its knees in any other way, has once again decided to humiliate the Russian Federation. How to react to such rudeness?

To take offense, of course, or insult the U.S. in return. Oddly enough, joy is the best reaction in this scenario — applause to the State Department and a request for an encore. After all, the addition of Russians to this list, and America’s visa policies toward Russia in general, are beneficial for Moscow. Director of Department of Information and Press of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova has stated that this shows an important breakdown inside the State Department, one that has yet to be fixed. What has broken is the cornerstone of all American diplomacy — its soft power.

Soft power, the combination of economic and humanitarian policies aimed at winning over other countries, was an instrument used by the U.S. to carry out globalization efforts and expose its opponents. When the U.S. could not conduct military operations in the style of Operation Desert Storm or Operation Enduring Freedom, it beat its opponents from the inside. By investing in the middle class, young leaders and the journalism community, the U.S. created an image of itself as a model country. National leaders of victim countries had to cope with a pro-American fifth column at best; at worst, they were removed by means of color revolutions and replaced by more simple-minded leaders guiding their followers toward a bright American future.

Russia was not an exception. The U.S. has actively influenced Russian citizens in the 1990s, the 2000s and even in the beginning of 2010. There were various exchange programs and trips to the U.S., during which conscientious Russians were shown the wonders of American life, and some who appeared progressive were offered learning opportunities. The subject of study was how to love the U.S. and inspire this love in others. Nationals now seen as members of Russian non-systemic opposition, such as Alexei Navalny and others, studied under such a program.

Soft Power Has Become Relaxed

Something has begun to break down in American soft power politics. Following events in Ukraine, the U.S. initiated serious sanctions against Russia’s economy. This caused disappointment among pro-Western Russians, the urban middle class. A significant portion of Russia’s urban middle class thought America’s actions were unfair, especially since everyone saw how power was gained in Ukraine.

The breakdown has continued even on visa matters. After Moscow’s decision to equalize the number of diplomats in Russia and the U.S., Washington was left with around 120 diplomatic workers on Russian territory. And since a significant number of these workers were busy with matters which do not concern diplomacy — for example, espionage — the State Department was not able to delegate enough workers to the provision of consular services. Until recently, there was only one person working in this area.

Zakharova writes that for many years, American diplomats have been destroying the consular service system in Russia, which they did not create. They have closed consulates, reduced consular staff and experimented with Russia’s symmetrical and tit-for-tat responses. They have turned a common 21st-century technical procedure into a hellish one — mockery on the verge of sadism.

The decision to issue immigration visas in Warsaw also became an element of sadism. To obtain an American visa, a Schengen visa must be obtained first. The question is: Why? After all, it was possible to instead issue these visas in consulates of nations with which Russia has a visa-free regime. In Kazakhstan, for example, or in Armenia, where there is a large American diplomatic mission and a possibility to divert workers from espionage against Iran.

In the end, who suffers from such sadism? Inconvenienced Russian citizens. However, if the U.S. thought that Russians will blame President Vladimir Putin, who expelled American diplomats from Russia’s territory, for this inconvenience, they miscalculated. Pro-American Russians see that it is Washington, not Putin, who has no respect for them. As such, they are becoming less and less pro-American. Additionally, the U.S. has reduced its opportunities for cultural and other exchanges. America has lost the opportunity to teach Russia’s young leaders and show them the real American picture. As a result, the entire long-term policy of brainwashing Russian consciousness is going down the drain.

So, thank you for calling Russians bums. Encore, please!

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