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Policy Forum hosted by the CEEC

(Washington, D.C.) --- On July 25, 2012, the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) sponsored a policy forum on Capitol Hill entitled: "THE IMPACT OF RUSSIAN SOFT POWER IN WASHINGTON AND ITS SPILLOVER EFFECTS." Panelists included ARIEL COHEN, Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation; SUSAN CORKE, Director of Eurasia Programs at Freedom House; JEFF TRIMBLE, Deputy Director of the International Broadcasting Bureau; and IRENA VAN DEUSEN, Managing Editor, Voice of America Russian Service.

The event was moderated by Dr. Nino Japaridze of the Georgian Association in the U.S., with introductory remarks by Alice Kipel of the Belarusan-American Association. Both are representatives of the CEEC, which is comprised of 18 American ethnic organizations representing over 20 million Americans.

Ms. Corke, the first presenter, noted that recent punitive legislation introduced by the Russian government against nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and citizen protestors poses a direct challenge to the international community and those who support the protection of democratic rights. President Putin is deliberately and systematically trying to silence groups whose criticism of his human rights record exposed weakness and helped fuel months of protests against his rule. To justify his repressive moves, Putin needs an enemy - a threat beyond Russia’s borders to rally the nation behind him. The U.S. government, in solidarity with international governments and NGOs, must stand up for the beleaguered organizations in Russia who seek a more democratic future. Putin knows that support for those who seek fundamental freedoms is a powerful form of soft power.

In his extensive remarks Dr. Cohen observed that Russian leaders, since Putin’s assumption of power, have viewed the purpose of soft power much like their predecessors did: to extend Russian influence and constrain America’s. To this end, the Russian government allocated $1.4 billion for international propaganda in FY 2010, increasing that budget by 33 percent from FY 2009. Russia’s premier soft power instrument is its global television empire led by RT, with a significant presence in Washington, D.C. Its priority is to denigrate America, disparage other perceived enemies, and promote the notion of a multipolar world to counterbalance U.S. dominance. Dr. Cohen believes that the U.S. Administration and Congress should:

  • Create a federally funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) to collect and analyze data on the public diplomacy investments and activities of China, Russia, Iran, and other countries challenging U.S. policies values, and leadership.
  • Use the findings of this research to craft presidential policy directives on public diplomacy.
  • Task the State Department to collect from its many embassies best public diplomacy practices for improving U.S. public diplomacy programs.
  • Ensure visa parity and freedom from interference for U.S. journalists reporting in/and on China, Russia, and other states whose public diplomacy outreach counters U.S. policies and leadership.

Russia Today (RT) has well-staffed broadcast bureaus in Washington DC and in New York, noted Mr. Trimble. It now has distribution in ten U.S. states and in Washington DC – potentially reaching 50 million viewers in English and Spanish. Taking full advantage of new technologies, new media as well as traditional media – Russia (through RT), China and others are bringing their narratives and their ways of defining themselves directly to the U.S. public. The openness of American society facilitates the soft power efforts by various foreign entities to propagate their perspectives and views in this country. Americans, however, have nothing to fear from free and open exchange of ideas, a concept woven into our national identity and reflected most prominently in the First Amendment.

In contrast, Mr. Trimble remarked that Russia’s Duma has recently passed a series of restrictive laws on NGOs, defamation, and the Internet, further downgrading freedom of speech in Russia. Additionally, the vagueness of these laws, characteristic from Soviet times, could cripple free expression and freedom of the press.

U.S. international broadcasts are limited today to a single FM station in Russia’s Kola Peninsula and two weak AM (medium-wave) stations in Moscow. There are no domestic TV broadcasts. Worse, as of November 10, 2012, RFE/RL’s MW transmitter in Moscow will no longer be legal. Despite these challenges, the U.S. continues efforts to reach audiences in Russia primarily through Russian-language RFE/RL and VOA digital and shortwave platforms.

Mr. Trimble noted that U.S. International Broadcasting is prohibited by legislation to conduct propaganda and is limited to: (1) broadcast reliable, authoritative, accurate and objective news; (2) project a balanced and comprehensive view of United States thought and institutions, reflecting the diversity of culture and society; and (3) present the policies of the United States Government including discussions and opinions on those policies.

During her comments, Ms. Van Dusen remarked that the "Voice of America Russian Service (VOARS) offers a valuable platform for views in Russia, being the only resource for objective discussion on American thought on events relevant to Russian speakers in the region." VOARS is engaging its audience by offering balanced reporting and a forum for ideas, despite media restrictions and pressure from the Russian government. Under pressure by the authorities in Moscow, radio and television affiliate stations in Russia have stopped broadcasting VOA programs. To circumvent such restrictions, VOARS adopted an Internet-only strategy in 2008. Unfortunately, Russian-language VOA radio broadcasts were terminated just days before Russia’s war with Georgia that year. VOARS now offers through web-based discussion, dialogue, and multimedia presentation a timely and trustworthy source of news, information and analysis of the U.S.-Russian relationship, global events relevant to Russia, and projects America’s way of life and culture. This is something seldom heard on any of Russia’s state-run media.

More information can be found on the CEEC website, http://ceecoalition.us, including full texts of the remarks.

Alice Kipel's introductory remarks
Ariel Cohen's remarks
Susan Corke's remarks h
Jeff Trimble's remarks
Irina Van Dusen's remarks

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The Polish American Congress is a member, and one of the co-founders, of the Coalition.