Americans Cease To See Russia as an Ally: The Resurgence of Inimical Attitudes

The conflict in Syria, the fact that Moscow provided refuge to Snowden and the restriction of gay and lesbian rights all resulted in a situation whereby the attitudes toward Russia in the U.S. took a turn for the worse.

Perception of Russia as an inimical state is re-emerging in America.

For the first time in the last 15 years, the majority of Americans consider Russia an inimical, unfriendly state rather than an ally or a friend, according to a public opinion survey conducted by Gallup. The survey also indicates that such change in American consciousness occurred mainly over the last three months.

For the first time since Vladimir Putin’s ascent to power in 2000, the survey revealed that the majority of Americans currently have negative attitudes toward the Russian leader.

The survey was conducted over Sept. 15 and 16, soon after the contribution made by Russia (and Putin in particular) in reaching the agreement about the abolishment of the Syrian chemical weapons supply; as a result, military operations the U.S. was planning against Syria were prevented.

From 1999 onward, Americans considered Russia an allied or friendly country rather than an enemy. Even as recently as this June, 52 percent of American citizens maintained positive attitudes toward Russia. However, three months later this indicator dropped to 44 percent. Moreover, 50 percent of respondents developed negative attitudes toward Russia.

The worsening of opinions occurred as a consequence of a series of international events in which Russia was involved — not only the conflict in Syria, but also the fact that Russia provided temporary refuge to former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, as well as imposed restrictions to gay and lesbian rights. In addition, The New York Times published an article last week in which President Putin leveled sharp criticism against U.S. foreign policy and declared Barack Obama’s statement about the exceptionality of the American nation very dangerous.

The index of positive perception of Russia was at its highest point of 73 percent in 2006, during Putin’s second presidential term.

Now, however, Americans are much less favorable toward Putin. Only 19 percent of respondents declared a positive perception of the Russian leader, whereas as many as 54 percent of them express negative opinions of him.

Despite the growth of anti-Russian and anti-Putin attitudes, the majority of Americans (72 percent) support the Russian plan for the abolition of the chemical weapons supply in Syria. Only 18 percent of Americans oppose this plan. At the same time, 50 percent of respondents declared that Putin’s actions were in the interests of America, while 36 percent had an opposite opinion.

Thus, the intensification of negative attitudes toward Russia suggests that it is the Russian position in Snowden’s case and the country’s policy regarding gay and lesbian rights that influenced the opinions of Americans, rather than the Russian contribution to the recent Syrian negotiations. The same survey revealed that 64 percent of Americans are aware of the fact that Russia provided refuge to Snowden were against this decision; only 25 percent supported Moscow’s actions.

In June, Russian authorities approved a law that banned “propaganda of homosexuality” and resulted in a series of arrests of LGBT activists. Despite the fact that 45 percent of Americans did not know that this was the case, those aware of this legislation oppose Russian policy in relation to sexual minorities in 69 percent of cases, while only 13 percent support it.

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