It would seem that Kosachev envisions the revamped Rossotrudnichestvo as the state agency that would spearhead Russia's Eurasian Union integration strategy. He was critical of past mistakes made in this delicate sphere, but said the lessons learned would help Russia move forward. "Thank God," he added, "that the Eurasian Union project has started working for real and is now making progress at fast clip."
Kosachev was also quick to say that a defensive function of Russia's soft power potential is vitally important for achieving the Kremlin's policy goals. Better use of soft power is needed to protect Russia's image, amid geopolitical jockeying in Central Asia.
"The image of Russia, as the image of any other country, is a factor in the [diplomatic] competition struggle [in Central Asia]," he argued. "Russia's image is being purposefully lowered [by our detractors] in order to weaken our competitive edge in the areas where Russia enjoys natural advantages."
The change at the State Duma Committee on the CIS Affairs involves the creation of an "expert council" to help formulate strategies to "protect the interests of our country and those of our allies," according to the committee's deputy head, Oleg Lebedev. Council members will be drawn from some of Moscow's top think-tanks, including the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, the Institute for the Study of the CIS, the Anti-terrorist Center of the CIS, and the Institute of Political and Social Studies of the Black Sea and Caspian Region. Some analysts have already dubbed the expert panel a "counter-revolutionary brain trust."
There's little doubt that Putin's Kremlin wants to become more diplomatically nimble. The central question is whether Russian diplomacy is capable of loosening up in a way that can help the Kremlin overcome its reputation for high-handedness in the eyes of Central Asians.
In contemplating this question, however, the words of former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin come to mind: "We wanted the best result, but things turned out as usual."
Given the rot at Russia's core, evidenced by rampant corruption and unbridled rent-seeking among the country's political elite, it's going to be hard for Moscow to mount an effective PR offensive, some experts say. "As a petro-state run by greedy bureaucrats, Russia lacks a soft power capable of influencing not only its nearest neighbors, but also its own citizens," said Vadim Kozyulin, an analyst with the Moscow-based PIR-Center, writing in the Kommersant daily.
Kozyulin noted that capital flight from Russia remains high, adding that many affluent Russians tend to prefer spending time abroad than at home, and, when in Russia, tend to cocoon themselves. "Who, then, is going to see Russia as a role model if Russians themselves are running away from it?" asked Kozyulin.