In Russia, Hatred of America Triumphs over All – Part I

Former Russian Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, writing in the Moscow Times:

In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly last week, U.S. President Barack Obama said we are entering a new historical era. He declared that the United States would cease taking unilateral actions and called on all people of all nations to join together in combating the challenges facing the world. Obama said we need the “cooperative effort of the whole world.” His foreign policy leitmotif has become the call to cooperate based on shared values. He made similar appeals during visits to Prague, Cairo and Moscow.

In his Moscow speech in July, Obama extended the hand of friendship to Russia, declaring that the United States “needs a powerful, peaceful and prosperous Russia” and called Moscow to a “global partnership.” In recent months, the White House and the Kremlin have taken a series of steps to meet each other halfway as part of what Obama has referred to as the “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations. But if Obama had only extended his hand in friendship directly to the Russian people, he probably would have gotten a firm “nyet” in response. This is because most Russians look at the United States as an enemy. Moreover, this feeling is growing, despite the change in leadership in Washington and Obama’s many efforts to the contrary.

A recent survey by the Levada Center revealed that only 2.1 percent of all Russians consider the United States a friend, but 50.2 percent see Belarus as one, 17.6 see China that way and 17.4 percent consider Germany a friend. By contrast, 61.8 percent of respondents considered Georgia as Russia’s enemy, with the United States in second place at 45.4 percent.

The survey also found that 50.4 percent of Russians had either a “basically bad” or “very bad” attitude toward the United States, with only 1.4 percent holding a “very good” attitude and 34 percent feeling “basically good” toward Washington. What is most surprising to me is that Russians’ attitudes toward the United States have actually worsened during Obama’s first year in office compared with what they were during the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush, Russia’s heretofore-favorite whipping boy. Only 24.7 percent of respondents felt Russia should respond to Obama’s call for both sides to reduce the number of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles in their arsenals, while 56 percent were opposed.

Russian respondents were positive that the United States is to blame for the main problems in the world today. A significant 25.5 percent hold the opinion that it was the United States — not Israel, Hamas, Islamic fundamentalists or terrorists — that is primarily responsible for the bloodshed and instability in the Middle East.

Anti-U.S. sentiment has been steadily rising in Russia over the past few years. Russian public opinion toward the Unites States first swung decidedly toward the negative in 1999, when U.S. President Bill Clinton authorized the bombing of Serbian forces in Yugoslavia. That was followed by Washington’s unilateral actions in Iraq, the expansion of NATO, the courting of Ukraine and Georgia to become new NATO members, U.S. plans to deploy elements of its missile defense batteries in Central Europe, the recognition of Kosovo’s independence and the heated debate over Russia’s recognition of independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. All of that was accompanied by anti-U.S. propaganda by the Kremlin-controlled media, as well as officially sponsored growing nostalgia for the Soviet past and for Josef Stalin, who shortly before his death called the struggle with the United States the main goal of Soviet foreign policy.

Russia’s growing isolation from the West — and the United States in particular — has exacerbated the problem. According to a national survey conducted by Bashkirova and Partners in June, 85 percent of Russians, as well as their friends and relatives, have never been to the United States, and only 9 percent have relatives and friends who have been there at least once. A little more than 2 percent have been to the United States once or twice. This large number of Russians has developed perceptions of the United States from decades of Soviet propaganda or from negative events in recent years. An overwhelming 95 percent of respondents said they had either never had any form of contact with an American, only a brief encounter. Fully 35 percent of those questioned said that Russia is the United States’ greatest rival, and 22 percent believed that the America is trying to undermine Russia’s international influence. As many as 15 percent think the United States would like to destroy Russia.

It is telling that a single Russian television channel broadcast Obama’s speech in July, leaving most Russians completely unaware of the U.S. leader’s friendly overture to them. Apparently, the Kremlin has no intention of providing at least minimum public support for Washington’s desire to reset U.S.-Russian relations.

7 responses to “In Russia, Hatred of America Triumphs over All – Part I

  1. “It is telling that a single Russian television channel broadcast Obama’s speech in July, leaving most Russians completely unaware of the U.S. leader’s friendly overture to them.”

    Obama’s speech was carried by one of Russia’s main TV networks, not, “a single Russian television channel.” Anyone in Russia who was interested in what Obama had to say certainly had the ability to tune in to the speech, and many did. That the majority of people chose to watch (or do) something else is their business. Your assertion that Russians were somehow “prevented” from knowing what Obama said is ridiculous. Do you really even believe half the crap you write? Can anyone truly be such a dumb ass?

    It’s true that Russian TV didn’t blast the Obama speech from every orifice of Russian media (“Soviet style”), but then then Obama never even gets such coverage for his live speeches in his own country. Why on earth would he get such coverage in a foreign country?

    The majority of Russians couldn’t care less about a speech given by a foreign president (any more than most Americans could care about same). For example, how many of Dimitry Medvedev’s speeches have been carried live by US television networks? I suspect you could count them on one hand, or even on no hands.

    Sorry to burst your arrogant American sense of self-importance, but “Obamamainia” (the belief that US president represents the second coming of the Christ Child) never really caught on in Russia the way it did in the United States.

    • You’ll have to excuse the Americans’ confusion. Obama is a leader who was chosen in freely-contested elections, as opposed to the Putinarchy most Russians today are used to. And of course, Obama’s speeches are not nearly as widely reported in the American press as Putin’s or Medvedev’s are in the Russian press, but of course, that’s because the U.S. government doesn’t control and manipulate the U.S. press like the Russian government does the Russia media. I suppose you could forgive Americans for thinking that the leader of a country with whom Russia has long had troubled relations — democracies and dictatorships just don’t seem to mix well — visiting Russia and giving a speech in which he announced a willingness to restart relations on a more positive light, well, maybe Russians might find that interesting. Of course, I understand your pique with Americans’ naivete; after all, as a Pole I could have easily told the Americans that Russians rarely pay attention to the outside world anyway.

    • Cornelius

      – PLEASE STOP joking!

    • Cornelius:

      Overall, I agree with your comment. But I do take issue with what you said about Obama’s speeches in the US. They ARE broadcast extremely widely. Our media absolutely loves him and fawns over him. And it’s absolutely disgusting. In their view, he can do no wrong. One of the things I like most about the Russians is how they, unlike the US and many other countries, do seem to be immune to the absolutely stupid idea that Obama is The Messiah.

  2. Sergey Shelukhin

    Interesting part is that you leave out is WHY half of Russians dislike America, which was supplied at least in previous Levada poll I read. Overwhelming majority is because of US foreign policy.

    And if you are common Russia, you hear about US foreign policy in the news, maybe sports, maybe some disasters – not much more. Descriptions of common life in the US in Russia are the same as those of Russia in the US – maybe some episode or “life story” in some theme program nobody watches.

    So obviously the aggressive foreign policy forms the basis of the opinion.

    Frankly, while in Canada, my opinion of the US decreased compared to what it was in Russia – both because of the news coverage and because of US having negative influence of local issues, such as allowing drug gangs to exist by continuing counter-effective war on drugs, limits on prostitution, crazy levels of religiosity and insanity like YEC (which you don’t hear in the news in Russia but hear in Canada).

    And of course attitude – getting an American visa for business meetings versus getting British tourist visa with return date of “I don’t know” is like shopping in worst Soviet store versus shopping in Whole Foods; for the same reason I always connect in Canada or Europe now when I fly to Moscow because US airport security is annoying.

  3. In fact bloggin Russia has fallen into Obamomania.
    http://saleksashenko.livejournal.com/37090.html

    There is a feeling that Obama has spoken to a silly child kindly asking to not trough things into the window glass. I find it funny his words about unique russian oil democracy and common nuclear responsibility of Great Russia and Great America.

  4. Sergey Shelukhin

    Ah, right in time…

    http://intransit.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/02/chicagos-loss-is-passport-control-to-blame/

    The more America acts as empire on both large and small scale, the less people are going to like it.

    Do you ever wonder why “freedom-hating” or “stranger-hating” Russians have relatively much better attitude to EU?

    Or why attitude to European/Canadian/Australian tourists in many countries is much better than that to American tourists? :)

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