Russians Acknowledge Relations with the US and EU Hit Record Low

The number of Russians who believe that Russia has enemies is at a record high. In fact, the Ukrainian crisis has led to an explosive growth in the number of people who assess relations between Russia and the U.S. as negative. At the same time, Russians are worried about the lack of stability in the time of the conflict, and therefore the majority of people thinks that Russia needs to improve relations with Western countries, an expert says.

According to a survey by the Levada-Center, 84 percent of Russians today think that Russia has enemies. In November 2013, 78 percent thought so, and the previous peak was reached in July 2003, when 77 percent of respondents talked about the existence of enemies. In September 2012, 63 percent of respondents thought that Russia was surrounded by enemies – the lowest number in history of polling. Today, only 8 percent are convinced that Russia has no enemies.

Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada-Center, says that this is definitely a record high for the past 25 years. He claims that the Soviet “enemy complex” never disappeared from the collective consciousness, but the official rhetoric in the 2000s, and recent events in particular, have spurred growth of these feelings. He also adds that it is difficult to determine the initial cause – propaganda or the eagerness of the authorities to adjust public opinion – but Russians are indeed ready to believe that Russia has enemies and attribute geopolitical events to their opponents’ sinister plans. Propaganda intensifies this notion.

The Ukrainian crisis led to a dramatic growth in the number of those who assess the relations between Russia and the US as negative (82 percent). In January, the figure was 17 percent. A similar growth was recorded in the public assessment of relations with the EU (66 percent and 10 percent respectively). Only 3 percent of respondents consider relations with both the U.S. and EU to be either friendly, neighborly or good.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents think that the consensus of the Western countries regarding Moscow’s policy during the Ukrainian crisis indicates their intention to suppress and weaken Russian influence in the world. 11 percent view this consensus as an indicator of the validity of Western criticism. Four out of five respondents (79 percent) say that the largest Western countries (the U.S., Germany, Japan, the UK and others) are Russia’s enemies and are seeking to solve their problems at Russia’s expense. When the exact same survey was conducted in July 2010, the number of those who viewed Western countries as enemies was equal to the number of those who viewed these countries as Russia’s partners (44 percent in 2010, 8 percent today).

While the Russian perception of relations with the U.S. tends to fluctuate during crises, such as the bombings of Belgrade and Iraq, relations with Europe are usually considered to be more stable. This is the first conflict that has caused a significant worsening of attitudes towards Europe, says political scientist Igor Bunin. Russians maintain a “psychology of besieged fortress,” and during times of crisis when everyone becomes homo politicus, the dormant Manichean paradigm of “us vs. them” comes to the forefront.

Almost all respondents agreed that Russia has become increasingly isolated over the course of the last year (1 percent are confident that there is no isolation and the situation is returning to the pre-crisis state, another 3 percent had difficulties assessing the situation). However, only a third of respondents are worried about isolation (36 percent), while three out of five respondents are not (59 percent). A number of Russians do understand that the deterioration of relations entails damage to them; usually these are the people who enjoy the full range of freedom and prefer their country to be open, says Grazhdankin.

A majority of respondents (66 percent) think that Russia needs to improve relations with the U.S. and other Western nations. Every fourth respondent (24 percent) sees no such need. Bunin thinks that imperial thinking is inherent to 10 to 20 percent of Russians, while the rest are conformists, who despite their condemnation of the West, prefer a quiet, normal life. He adds that the anti-American sentiment will fade away with the end of the active phase of the conflict.

When speaking about the future of relations between Russia and the West, 40 percent of respondents expected a deterioration of relations and a new round of the “Cold War.” A somewhat larger portion, 45 percent of respondents, were confident that the situation would gradually normalize and relations would recover.

The results of the survey also reflect Russia’s pivot toward China – 44 percent regard the relations with this country as positive, while only 8 percent see them as negative. Relations with Japan are considered neutral (61 percent assess them as normal, calm or cool).

The survey was conducted Sept. 26-29, 2014 among 1,630 people aged 18 or above in 134 localities in 46 regions. The margin of statistical error is not larger than 3.4 percent.

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