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The Power and Limits of Russia’s Strategic Narrative in Ukraine: The Role of Linkage

  • Joanna Szostek
Abstract

Governments project strategic narratives about international affairs, hoping thereby to shape the perceptions and behaviour of foreign audiences. If individuals encounter incompatible narratives projected by different states, how can their acceptance of one narrative over another be explained? I suggest that support for the strategic narrative of a foreign government is more likely when there is social and communicative linkage at the individual level, i.e., when an individual maintains personal and cultural connections to the foreign state through regular travel, media consumption, religious attendance, and conversations with friends or relatives. The role of linkage is demonstrated in Ukraine, where a “pro-Russian, anti-Western” narrative projected from Moscow has been competing against a “pro-Western, anti-Russian” narrative projected from Kyiv. Previous accounts of international persuasion have been framed in terms of a state’s resources producing advantageous “soft power.” However, I propose a shift in focus—from the resources states have to what individuals do to maintain social and communicative ties via which ideas cross borders. In a competitive discursive environment such linkage can in fact have mixed consequences for the states involved, as the Ukrainian case illustrates.

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