Powerplays in a de facto state : Russian hard and soft power in Abkhazia



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The conceptual divide between “hard power” and “soft power,” and the resources that constitute the basis of each, remain hotly debated topics among International Relations theorists as well as foreign policy advisors and analysts. Two developments in the last decade that have greatly influenced the study of the hard-power/soft-power dichotomy are: (1) the pursuit by many single-state actors of foreign policy strategies identifying and actively incorporating soft-power instruments, and (2) the realization by political theorists that individual policy instruments often exhibit unexpected hard and soft-power characteristics and effects, sometimes resulting in hard power acting soft and soft power acting hard. Exploring this dichotomy further, I examine the Russian Federation’s use of its hard and soft power with respect to the de facto independent Georgian separatist region of Abkhazia from 1999-2009 by identifying specific Russian foreign policy instruments employed in the bilateral relationship and analyzing how these instruments draw upon and project Russian hard and soft power. My findings support research addressing instances when traditionally defined hard-power instruments display soft-power effects, and vice versa, and highlight examples of individual policy instruments producing both hard and soft-power effects simultaneously; coercing a subject while they co-opt its interests. In addition, I find that the Russian Federation is actively employing soft-power methods of engagement in its contemporary foreign policy strategy, having substantially increased this employment between 1999-2009— particularly with respect to Abkhazia. Concerning the Russia-Abkhazia relationship specifically, I conclude that, based on Russia’s engagement of the region from 1999- 2009, ties between the country and the de facto state will continue to strengthen, however, with Abkhazia in an increasingly supplicant position.