As Russian president Vladimir Putin once again blasted the US and Western Europe for their handling of the situation in Ukraine, a poll showed that his fellow countrymen’s opinion of the West was at its lowest since the fall of the Soviet Union.
According to a new poll (link in Russian) by the independent NGO the Levada Center, anti-western sentiment is running high in Russia. Sociologist Alexei Grazhdankin, the deputy director of the organization, says this attitude toward the West is the worst in 25 years (link in Russian) of observation, and is related to the situation in Ukraine, and to western sanctions imposed on Russia.
“We had some negative attitudes toward the US during the wars in Yugoslavia, in Iraq and Georgia, but they were never this negative,” Denis Volkov, a sociologist from the Levada Center tells Quartz. Feelings have never been this bad for the European Union as well.
“For most of the people, this conflict between the West and Russia seems rather irrational,” Volkov says, adding that the sanctions are not seen as an answer to Russia’s actions, but as the “West being against Russia every time.”
Based on a sample of 1,600 respondents across Russia, the poll found that negative attitudes toward the US and the EU as a whole doubled since the beginning of 2014:
These numbers represent a dramatic worsening of attitudes: in the beginning of 2014 only 1% considered relations with the EU as “hostile,” but now 24% feel that way. For the US, the increase was ten-fold.
Curiously, only 48% of Russians see their relations with Ukraine as “hostile,” despite the ongoing turmoil in that country, where rebels widely believed to be sponsored by Moscow are fighting against the Ukrainian troops.
A crucial factor in the perceptions of the West in Russia is the influence of Russian state TV. In its coverage of the conflict with the West, the “government is playing on the Russian complex of losing great power status,” says Volkov. 90-95% of respondents of the Levada poll said they get their news from Kremlin-backed television. TV. In comparison, 30% say they also get their news from one or two independent sources, and only 10% from a wider variety of outlets that are beyond the state’s control.
Despite the overwhelmingly negative sentiment, many Russians still want better relations with the West. Last March, as the situation in Ukraine began to unfold, 61% of Russians were in favor of improving ties with the West. Last month, 40% felt that way—but this is still a substantial proportion of respondents. Grazhdankin told the Russian news service Vedomosti that despite the problems in the relationship, Russians believe that the tense situation is probably a “historic misunderstanding” that will eventually end, and that the relationship would recover.
Support for better ties with the West could stem from Russia’s weakening economy amid its increasing isolation. Far removed from President Vladimir Putin’s actions and rhetoric, the Russian public acknowledges a decline in their country’s place in the world: