MCIS Soft power panel

Today’s MCIS slides installment comes from Lt. General Sergey Kuralenko, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief for Peacekeeping Operations of the Russian Ground Forces. This comes from the breakout session on soft power as a tool to pursue military-political objectives.

Sadly, it seems that the Russian MOD has not posted video or speech texts from the breakout sessions, so I’ll provide a brief summary here, in addition to the slides. Kuralenko’s speech can be summarized in three points:

  1. Russia is in Syria to help Syrians.
  2. The U.S. is in Syria to pursue its geopolitical ambitions and does not care about collateral damage.
  3. People in the military, regardless of country of origin, understand the consequences of conflict and seek to avoid it. More mil-mil contact would help to avert the worst consequences of war.

Kuralenko was followed by Vladimir Padrino Lopez, the Minister of Defense of Venezuela, who made the argument that many countries use soft power as a tool for political domination of weaker countries without having to resort to military force. He contrasted positive soft power, a tool for cooperation as practiced by Hugo Chavez when he led Venezuela, with negative soft power, as practiced by the United States for subjugation and regime change. He also helpfully pointed out that the United States was using the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela to destabilize the country and also noted that there was no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela…

The sole American speaker, Ariel Cohen, highlighted the transition of the concept of soft power from a national branding tool to a weapon. Starting from Joe Nye’s original conceptualization of soft power, he focused on soft power as a tool for expanding national influence through persuasion and attraction, rather than through military or economic pressure. Soft power is the idea that any product of human activity can be weaponized to achieve geopolitical goals.

He was followed by the Russian journalist and television personality Vladimir Soloviev, who gave a typically inflammatory speech. Soloviev opened by saying that he didn’t believe in soft power, since it can only be useful in addition to hard power rather than in and of itself. He argued that the West had rejected all of the norms of international law and had aggressively rejected diplomacy as well. He likened the West (and the United States specifically) to a casino owner telling the players what the rules should be. He accused Boris Johnson of lying about the Skripal case. His larger point was that the West was using soft power together with its technological advantages to solve its military and political issues, with the dollar being the most effective soft power tool. He argued that a new iron curtain was descending over Europe, but this time from the Western side.

Soloviev made the argument that Russia needs  to become more active in defending itself against soft power attacks. Russia, for him, has not been pushing an ideology. Furthermore, since it does not own or operate the platforms, it will always be behind.  It therefore needs to leave the casino altogether and stop playing the game.

Soloviev’s arguments were seconded by Yakov Kedmi, an Israeli expert who has developed a reputation for his pro-Russian positions. In discussing  soft power, he highlighted that power is the key word in that phrase, with the soft modifier being secondary. Soft power is used to pressure opponents or support allies in circumstances when military power can’t be used. He then argued that soft power is as illegitimate as any other use of force and should therefore be prohibited through international law and countered with military power, as that is the most effective tool against it.

After a completely unmemorable presentation by the first deputy defense minister of Argentina, the final (and best) presentation was given by Dan Smith, director of SIPRI. He countered Kedmi’s perspective quite effectively, noting that power is not the same thing as coercion or the use of force. The most effective kind of soft power is silent, intangible and irresistable. It comes from culture, economic strength, and reputation  and offers influence and helps diplomacy. At its most effective, it stops conflicts before they start. It can change the nature of the game. Soft power in the world has declined in general as trust of other countries has declined. No state has as much power today as it used to and none are viewed as models for others.

Here are Kuralenko’s slides… I’ll have one final post on MCIS later this week with overall impressions and takeaways.

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MCIS slides on regional security in the Middle East and North Africa

Today’s installment of MCIS slides comes courtesy of Sam Charap, who attended the breakout session on regional security in the MENA region. The panel was led off by Lt. General Stanislav Gadzhimagomedov, the Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff. Unfortunately, the Russian MOD has not made available speech texts or video of the breakout sessions. (I’ll have a report on Monday on the other breakout session on soft power, which I attended.)

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MCIS presentation on Asia-Pacific security problems

One more set of slides today, this one from a speech by Vice Admiral Igor Kostyukov, the first deputy chief of the Main Directorate of the Russian General Staff, on the topic of security in the Asia-Pacific region. MCIS has put on its website the text of his speech in Russian and video in Russian only.

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MCIS 2018 Belarusian Defense Minister slides

Today’s installment of slides comes from the speech of Belarusian Defense Minister Andrei Ravkov. While last year, Ravkov’s speech immediately followed and was largely complementary to Valery Gerasimov’s speech, which focused on European Security, this year he got to headline the panel on European Security himself. This was convenient for his staff, as they didn’t have to change the title slide at all, and really only made superficial modifications to a number of other slides. Compare the slides below to last year’s slides. I guess as far as Belarus is concerned, European security hasn’t changed much over the last year. The Ravkov speech is available on video in Russian and English.

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MCIS 2018 Sergei Rudskoi slides

Well, it’s time once again for the annual slide show of presentations from the Moscow Conference on International Security. This was my fifth time attending. I’ll write up some overall impressions later in the week. Sadly, Valery Gerasimov was absent this year, supposedly because he was accompanying Vladimir Putin during his state visit to Turkey.  His spot on the program was filled by Colonel General Sergei Rudskoi, the chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, speaking about Russia’s operation in Syria. His speech is, as usual available on YouTube in both English and Russian versions. MCIS has also posted a Russian transcript. The slides are below, though some can also be viewed (including animations) in the linked videos.

(All in all, if ability to make use of advanced features of PowerPoint is a proxy for Russian military modernization, the West should be concerned, because the Russian General Staff has made giant strides in this regard in the last five years. I would estimate the gap between the best Russian and American powerpoint rangers at no more than 10 years now.)

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MCIS 2017: Cooperation lost in translation

Mike Kofman and I wrote up our joint impressions of the 2017 MCIS conference for The National Interest. Here’s a taste of the key points…


This year the conference attempted to balance a confrontational tone with offerings of cooperation, in particular on counterterrorism, which was the overall theme for the event. But judging from much of the discussion, the real topic should have been information warfare, which not only made its debut at this conference, but permeated many of the talking points. “Fake news,” “post-truth world” and numerous other terms in the modern discourse on information warfare were sprinkled throughout speeches, with a separate panel dedicated to the topic. “Information war” had clearly arrived in a big way, and not just because nobody could stop looking at their smartphone during the conference.

MCIS 2017 proved another interesting foray into the minds of Russia’s national-security aristocracy, with a veritable lineup of who’s who in terms of leadership, including Nikolai Patrushev, Sergei Shoigu, Sergey Lavrov, Alexander Bortnikov, Sergei Naryshkin and, of course, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. However, from the very opening it was clear that Russian leadership was somewhat out of practice when it came to speaking about a cooperative agenda, and while their rancor over long-standing problems with the West came through, the willingness to work together was much less apparent. In general, they had trouble holding back sincerely held sentiments on NATO’s activities in Europe, missile defense and the United States’ foreign policy writ large, which got in the way of the desire to extend an olive branch to the West.

Despite the fire and brimstone, the Russian leadership did signal a desire to reengage with the United States, while compartmentalizing other issues in the relationship, but it was presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Moscow did not come off as desperate to cooperate, but if anything as more firm. Fighting ISIS together was the focal point of Russian commentary on prospective cooperation with the United States, but these points came with reproaches on violating countries’ sovereignty, and the recent cruise missile strike in Syria, which was termed a crude violation of international law. It seemed that Russian officials were trying to speak from a position of strength.

Click here to read the full article.