Russia emerged from the collapse of the old Soviet Union with a badly battered image. The Cold War actually officially sealed Russia’s fate as a chief enemy of the United States and that of U.S. numerous allies. But a slight change in foreign policies in the 80s and 90s drew Russia and the U.S. closer as the modern Russian leaders embrace significant changes in their foreign relations’ approaches and position their nation as a respecter of international laws and human rights.
U.S. – Russia: Nuclear arms race
Of special note is the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (old and new) which aims to reduce the amount of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads, an issue the two countries have agreed on and gone ahead to destroy some of their nuclear weapons. However, this kind of good gesture isn’t enough for the whole world to believe Russia. More than ever before, considering the recent spate of actions undertaken by the Russians (Ukraine crisis, inclusive), the entire world is wary of Russia and its leaders. According to the recent surveys released by Pew Research Center, Russia and President Vladimir Putin do not fare well. The surveys reveal vividly that Russia and its leaders are viewed negatively around the globe. Russia comes behind the United States on how people in other countries hold a favorable regard for either the U.S. or Russia: An average of 30 percent in other countries see Russia favorably. Only 22 percent Americans believe Russia is a good country. In all the countries surveyed for this research, only 24 percent of people have a positive view of president Putin, which shows that they have less faith in the Russian leader when compared with President Barack Obama.
In 26 countries, people’s opinions about Russia are more unfavorable than favorable. Two countries that have very strong negative sentiments about Russia and its leadership are Jordan and Poland (both at 80%). It is possible that Poland’s checkered historical relationship with Russia may contribute to the reason the country does not approve of Russian leaders’ attitude. Similarly, Jordan may have disliked Russia for the staunch support it has been giving Syria’s President Bashar-al Assad regime despite the amount of atrocities the president has inflicted on millions of his citizens, many of whom are creating refugee headache for Jordanian leaders. Dislike of Russia and its leaders also strong in countries such as Israel (74%), Japan (73%), Germany (70%) and France (70%). Japan has had a long-running island dispute with Russia; France and Germany have been shortchanged in their economic relationships with Russia, mostly in the areas of fuel importation.
The evidence reveals in the PEW research points at a disturbingly high level of dislike for Russia in the minds of people living in the forty (40) countries surveyed. However, Russia still have some support in a number of countries, many of which are communist nations or countries that have large trading volume with the Kremlin. On top of this list is Vietnam (supporting Russia with 73%), China (51%) and Ghana (50%).
There are countries that have no particular opinions of Russia, simply because they hadn’t had any form of relationship in the past or just preferred to be neutral. These countries include Ethiopia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Peru, Senegal and Argentina.
There are generational differences when it comes to the issue of showing sentiments towards Russia. Most of the Americans that are over 50 years of age do not approve of Moscow’s attitude (78% unfavorable) while younger Americans, from age 18 to 29 has less sentiments towards Russia (56% unfavorable). The same results are obtainable in Canada (69% versus 47% among younger Canadians); Australia (70% versus 51%); Spain (72% versus 53%). Interestingly, there is about 19% difference between the two age groups!
France’s mixed views
Not liking Russia also falls along partisan politics in France: While Socialists have a strong dislike for Russia and its leaders, the supporters of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) slightly consider Russia unfavorably (at 67%), unlike the other party.
The recent involvement of Russia in other countries’ crises, such as the support Ukrainian separatists are receiving from Russia, the assistance given to President Bashar-al Assad in Syria, and the political influence in local politics in some ex-Soviet countries may have been responsible for Russia’s bad image. Russia comes behind the United States in global image rating. In Europe, the gap between the national image between the U.S. and Russia is about 43 points (U.S. 69% and Russia 26%); African people view American image more favorably than that of Russia (U.S. 79%, Russia 37%). However, people in the Middle-East almost demonstrate their dislike for Russia and America equally (U.S. 29% and Russia 25%).
In recent years, the number of Americans who hold unfavorable recognition of Russia has been increasing: In 2011, about half of American population (49%) have a favorable consideration for Russia. But that has changed over the years: In 2015, only a small number of Americans (22%) still have a favorable consideration towards Russia. Similarly, in 2013, more than half of Russians have a positive view of the United States (51%) but in 2015 only a mere 15% still see the United States as a good country to do business with.
The Ukraine crisis mainly compels many countries to dislike Russia’s kind of leadership in the region. Before the upheaval in Ukraine erupted, many Germans have a favorable view of Russia. But in 2015, only a few number of German people still look at Russia favorably (27%). Despite being a close ally of Russia, China’s approval of Russia’s actions in the region has also dropped. Slightly more than half of Chinese (51%) look favorably at Russia in 2015, a huge reduction from 75% a few years before.
President Putin’s approval ratings
The most troubling thing is that President Putin has worse approval ratings from people in different countries than that of his country. Many people believe that Putin is pushing Russia into a dangerous territory and if he doesn’t change course he might make more enemies for Russia than allies. Some countries have huge “no confidence” vote on President Vladimir Putin: (Spain 92% no confidence), Poland (87%), France (85%), and Ukraine (84%). And more than 75% in North America and Europe criticize the manner of leadership Putin is showing in the region. Eighty-one percent of Australians believe Putin is doing a bad job in his country, while 52% Peruvians dislike his handling of Ukraine crisis.
It is glaring from the wealth of statistics highlighted in this piece that Russia has a long way to go in changing all the negative views many people have of it and its leaders. No other person can cause a dramatic change in Russia diplomatic relationship than President Putin, who controls the overall affairs of the country.
Here are questions pundits are still asking: What is Russia doing in Ukraine? What does President Putin want? How would he resolve the Ukraine crisis once and for all? The whole world is waiting for Putin to take a proactive action to resolve this issue. His silence and body language have forced Poland and other European countries to put their armies on alert. NATO held its one of the largest military drills lately in a way to show Russia that the organization is ready to deploy its troops if Russia attacks any of its members.