The article argues that Russia’s humanitarian policy needs to be seriously revised. At present, this policy is focused on implementing some symbolic, cultural programs, in line with embedded, but misguided perception of “humanitarian” as a notion related solely to the “cultural” and “spiritual” spheres. While there is a certain need for such programs too, the main weakness of Russian humanitarian policy is that – with the exception of some emergency humanitarian relief operations in acute armed conflicts such as Syria – it is largely not accompanied or supported by practical humanitarian work “on the ground” aimed at improving humanitarian conditions for the local population.
Due to its political tradition, Russia explicitly prioritizes the official track, has only recently started to actively employ information policy instruments and has de facto removed itself from any serious action in support of humanitarian and human rights, thus leaving this space of political influence in the hands and at the discretion of its main foreign, mostly Western, rivals. Instead, Russia should aim at picking off humanitarian agenda from the West, and at doing it in the constructive, rather than confrontational, spirit. Russia’s humanitarian mission is to advance the values of peace and the need to reduce global tension, both per se and with the goal of improving its position and the way it is perceived across the world and thus also improving its security. In addition to the use of official channels, this mission requires more active engagement of non-governmental sector, the media and Russian companies that do business abroad, as well as solving the problem of acute shortage of professional humanitarians.
Russian leadership should clarify national humanitarian policy priorities, raise awareness about the problem of effectiveness of Russian humanitarian projects, and motivate Russian donors and actors to focus more on the practical humanitarian work “on the ground”. This work should be done not merely for the record, nor for the sake of symbolic meaning, but for the sake of building Russia’s influence and creating more favourable conditions for its development through stimulating loyalty and solidarity not only by governments and among ruling elites, but also at the societal level, on the part of local population in affected countries.
Russia, humanitarian policy, humanitarian values, solidarity, development assistance, post-Soviet space, Middle East, Syria, Russian Humanitarian Mission, NGOs