Scientists from the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration under the President of the Russian Federation (RANEPA), the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and their colleagues from Romania, the US and France have published a large study on Russia-EU relations.
Strategic Communication in International Relations
According to the scientists from RANEPA and the Russian Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the concept of strategic communication involves the projection by a state of long-term values, interests and goals into the minds of its own citizens and foreign audiences, as well as their perception in the international stage. An important condition for such a projection is the adequate synchronisation of real actions (“deeds”) of the state in all spheres of society with professional communication support (“words” and “images”), with the “deeds” being most important, since real changes in the economy, politics, and the social sphere affect people’s mind. Without strategic “deeds,” communication is often just propaganda, effective for a short time.
“The advantage of this approach to assessing the state’s political course is the focus on the fact that the stated goals coincide with real progressive changes in public life. However, strategic communication is an instrument of state administration that has a military dimension and is used for informational and psychological confrontation at times of worsening of international relations,” Evgeny Pashentsev, the concept developer, leading researcher at the Institute of Actual International Problems of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, professor at Lomonosov Moscow State University, said.
Russia and the EU
Relations between Russia and the EU should be seen in the context of European changes in general. The emergence of Euro-skeptic parties in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, France and other countries doesn’t mean that the majority of the population of these countries wants to break economic, political and cultural ties with each other. However, the European public is far from always accepting serious mistakes made at the level of the central authorities of the EU, including attributing Russia sole responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine.
In 2015, in response to a request by heads of EU member governments to consider “ongoing disinformation campaigns by Russia,” the EU Eastern Strategic Communication Task Force was created. This fact, as well as constantly mentioning “Russia and DAESH” as actors threatening the EU, weakens the creative potential of strategic communication in the EU, subordinating it to the opportunistic interests of the information confrontation. Unfortunately, this may cause further degradation of relations between the EU and Russia.
The difference in the perception of each other by the two sides is also manifested in the fact that the European Union has so far been perceived by Russia, primarily as an economic organisation, and occupied a smaller place in its foreign policy than NATO. Therefore, according to Romanian researcher Marius Vacarelu, the co-author of the book, Russia, still considers bilateral relations with the traditional “great European powers,” such as Germany and France, as a normal way of conducting relations with the EU. The scientist outlined the promising areas of cooperation between Russia and the EU, including in the field of security, environmental protection and education.
The Problem of Mutual Undermining of Reputation
Today, implementing the components of strategic communication – words and images – in isolation from cases, obvious for citizens (measures to resolve contradictions), is practiced at the level of information and psychological confrontation in the international stage. The researchers have studied the tone of the main messages used in the EU and Russia during this confrontation.
According to American scholars Sergei Samoilenko and Marlene Laruelle, at the official level, Russia is characterized by a “state-oriented language,” which implies a call for cooperation and doesn’t allow personal insults and inflammatory rhetoric. However, Russian political talk shows often vulgarise EU mistakes, discussing the decline of Europe or its dependence on the United States.
There is no single EU position on Russia. The scientists identify at least four positions: indicating the “Russian threat”; accusing modern Russia of disrespect for democratic norms; a more moderate stance balancing collaboration with criticism; and a more friendly position towards Russia. This diversity is reflected in the European media and leaves much room for overcoming contradictions.
Reputation of Russian Companies in the EU
Inattention to corporate reputation increases the risk of errors, after which it’s harder to justify oneself than when denying libel. When assessing the reputation of companies, analysts consider such parameters as the degree of decision-making centralisation and formalisation of rules and procedures; the tendency towards cooperation or competition, short-term or long-term planning, stability or innovation.
The researchers pay attention to such real affairs of Russian business as pricing policy, quality control, state support from Russia and (at the level of images) its perception in the partner country, the dynamics of business expansion and, of course, the tone of the company’s official publications and the media “feedback.”
“The difficulty in building a reputation in the EU countries is the need to take into account several groups of values of the target audience. For example, reputation management in Austria requires considering a wide range of rules determined by European culture, the cultural traditions of German-speaking Europe and specific Austrian cultural attitudes in business communication,” Daria Bazarkina, a professor at the Department for International Security and Foreign Affairs at RANEPA, told Sputnik.
The researchers have examined the reputation parameters of Gazprom, Lukoil and Sberbank in the context of European consumers’ preferences, and studied news relating to them in the European media.
For example, in 2018, the EU countries introduced a new personal data protection regulation; Sberbank responded to this by introducing a unified system for processing and storing such data, which creates favourable news.
Russian private businesses are quite active in social media compared to state-owned companies, the banking sector and the oil and gas sector, Kaleria Kramar, a researcher at the International Center for Social and Political Studies and Consulting, noted. This may be explained by higher competition in the European market and focus on different categories of customers. However, during the “shale revolution” in the United States, the Russian oil and gas sector may face a new round of competition for the European market.
Global Technological Shifts
According to the researchers, it’s especially important to overcome the existing differences in the face of new technological trends and common problems. The European Commission has presented a plan to promote the development and use of AI in Europe. The EU states are discussing editing the genome of human embryos.
Russia is the world leader in bioinformatics; the country’s advances in robotics, genetics and cyborgisation create the ground for cooperation with Europe. The book identifies new risks associated with AI, and presents five scenarios for the development of the future – from progressive to the most dangerous ones.
There is no open discussion of “human engineering” issues at a high state level, since both sides are engaged in geopolitical issues. In scientific discussions, analysis of possible models of social development is especially important, taking into account a comprehensive assessment of the role of promising technologies, which are increasingly affecting the course of social development.
What to Do?
The authors of the study suggest focusing on the positive experience of Russia-EU cooperation. According to French political scientist Pierre-Emmanuel Thomann, the co-author of the book, broader consultations between countries are necessary to avoid excessive militarisation of words and images in strategic communication.
It’s important to prevent the dominance of public discussion based on a revenge-seeking agenda in either Russia or the EU, and to make political decisions based on the results of a balanced comprehensive analysis, taking into account alternative scenarios.
However, the most important thing today in the field of communication is to actively develop expert assessments of the Russia-EU relations in positive discussions, proceeding not from the ideologies of the past, but from a rational analysis of the interconnected processes of human development, which naturally lead to its new qualitative state. Which state it would be depends on the whole society.