Published 11-03-2013, 16:15
Vyacheslav Nikonov is first deputy chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee, co-founder and president of the Polity Foundation, member of the Valdai Discussion Club.
My analysis shows that the attitude of Russians to the United States is largely determined by the latter’s military and political policies. Thus, attitudes toward America were the best in the early 1990s when it seemed Russia would join the common European home and help build a shared security space from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Pro-American sentiment plunged in 1994-1995 with the US decision to expand NATO. This was followed by a surge of anti-American sentiment caused by the bombing of Yugoslavia. Sympathy after 9/11 attacks led to a rebound in perceptions of the US, while the nadir coincides with the start of the war in Iraq war.
American military and political activities are the greatest cause of indignation in Russia. At the same time the poll shows that a mere 18% of Russians have negative impressions of the United States. This is one of the lowest figures in the world. In reality, there is no anti-Americanism in Russia. This is one of the main conclusions of the study. About 23% of Russians have mostly positive impressions of the United States. So, Russia’s alleged off-the-charts anti-Americanism simply does not exist.
Views of American society are changing in Russia in parallel with our own internal changes. In the 1990s Russians had an inferiority complex and they looked at the United States as a shining beacon, as an example to follow. This view was based on reality – in the late 1990s GDP in the US was 20 times higher than in Russia. Today that ratio has changed considerably. The difference is now three times – not small, but not a chasm either. Russians increasingly view their society as better and do not rate the American system as highly.
Russian-US relations are yet another factor. The 2008 financial crisis, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all influenced whether the public views bilateral relations as friendly. Russians viewed Bush less favorably than Obama. This is generally true of all European countries. However, there are other objective reasons that affect public opinion on relations with the US. As a result of Washington’s military and political concept and foreign policy strategy, Russia is viewed as a trouble spot on America’s security radar. America’s nuclear forces are targeted at just four countries – Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. This is an objective fact. We are part of an unfriendly sector according to US foreign policy doctrine, so our assessment of American policies is well-grounded. As for Americans’ views on Russians, they are generally positive despite anti-Russian rhetoric in the media.
They say you can’t go lower than rock bottom – at least that is what a pessimist believes. An optimist, on the other hand, thinks things could always be worse. In this sense, I’m more of an optimist.