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Russian Nation Branding and the Crimean Crisis

by on March 29, 2014

The Russian nation brand has a negative impact on the diplomatic process in relations to the Crimean Crisis. The image of ‘European bully’ and ‘Bond villain’ of Russia is framing public perceptions on east and west of Ukraine and is negatively affecting the dialogue to solve the crisis peacefully.
In the last months several key events have framed the Russian image. First, the asylum for whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Second, the anti-gay campaign of the Russian government and the arrest of Pussy Riot. Third, the Olympic Games. The asylum for Snowden and the Olympic Games are two events that are interesting to analyse in regards to the Crimean Crisis.
Historically, Russia’s image has been linked to a certain degree of anti-Americanism. Granting asylum to Edward Snowden was a deliberate act of rebellion against American supremacy. Since, Russia was the only country that stood up to the United States proved the special status that the country still has when it comes to limiting American influence. Russia, was the message, will not be pressured by any other country.

Then came the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014, which are probably one of the most expensive failures of nation branding attempts in recent history. Often called Putin`s ‘pet’ project, the games received negative media coverage all over the globe. Even before the first athletes arrived the Olympic message was spoiled by Russian anti-gay propaganda and reports about unfinished hotels, sport sites, and working conditions similar to slave-labour. As the Olympics went on, Russia endured the malice of the West when trolls posted pictures of alleged embarrassments. Many of these were faked but nevertheless widely shared on the Internet. @SochiProblems was especially popular in the US.
It is important to note that Sochi had two very different effects for Russian nation branding. First, the external image of Russia has probably not been positively affected by the games. Secondly, however, the success of the Russian athletes rejuvenated Russian pride and patriotism.
Then, pro-Russian forces began to take military control of the Crimean peninsula. Since the Russian intervention media coverage has been full of reverences to the cold war, pathos, and clichés. The internet followed with a storm of memes, many of whom compared Putin to Hitler and the Sochi games to the Olympic games of 1936.


Others, however, portray Putin as ‘boss’ and are making fun of the dilettantish reactions of Western politicians.
Polls show, Vladimir Putin is as popular as never before and in countless memes Vladimir Putin is represented as the badass version of the mainstream politician that lacks any personality.
In 2008, Vladimir Lebedenko wrote that Russia is in an identity crisis. He pointed out that Russia is a country with about thousand years of history, which had been one of the two superpowers of the 20th century. Since the end of the USSR, satellite states had become independent nations, the economy hit rock-bottom, and Russia’s international influence was basically annihilated. Lebedenko argued that Russia needed to develop a new identity, a new nation brand. However, Lebedenko wrote that Russia was not moving forward towards a modern image, but that the country had become increasingly comfortable with its traditional image as ‘villain’. Lebedenko also wrote in 2008 that “Russia’s reputation in the world is significantly worse than the country really is.” He also argued that this negative image had “become a hindrance to development and modernization”. It seems that this observation has now manifested in real politics once again.
Since Vladimir Putin`s first term of presidency, Russia’s image has been tightly connected to his personality. He has been depicted as the new Czar of Russia and he seems to enjoy this reputation. Memes show him riding bears and carrying guns. These memes glorify Putin’s masculinity and make fun of lax Western politicians.

The annexation of the Crimean peninsula has once again reinforced Russia’s image as anti-democratic bully. However, the political reasons for the annexation of the Crimea are rarely discussed in mainstream media. The move is mainly portrayed has an act of bullying and only few Western politicians openly criticize the political actions of the European Union or the US.
This simplified popularized public opinion in Russia, in the Ukraine, and elsewhere makes it difficult for politicians to make rational political decisions. Russia now finds itself in a place where it needs to confirm its image as strong and independent, and even rebellious, while the Europeans and Americans don`t want to look like fools that let Putin do how he pleases.
In this case, the nation brand of Russia may have serious and unnecessarily negative implications on the outcome of the Crimean Crisis and one must hope that politicians will in this case detach themselves from public opinion and will find a compromise.



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  1. This is an interesting account of Russia’s brand in the wake the invasion of Ukraine. It includes some fascinating insights and illustrations and draws a sound distinction between Putin’s domestic and international popularity.

    I think a bit more work needs to be done on the relationship between image and reality. Russia doesn’t always help itself in this regard (e.g., anti-homosexual legislation and the beating of peaceful protesters by Cossacks before and during the Sochi games). Is the image we have of Russia in the West not a fair one? You seem to be suggesting that it is and is not at the same time. Perhaps you could iron out or resolve this apparent contradiction when revising the entry for the portfolio.

    • karo1990 permalink

      Thank You. This comment is very helpful. I will definitely try to
      refine the blog in these aspects.

  2. This is a great post I really liked it. However it is quite long and, although never really made clear by staff, you only have three thousand words in your portfolio so the other three posts will have to be quite short.

  3. This is a great blog as it is well structured, an interesting and relevant topic and the distinction between Russian domestic and international popularity is clear.

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