The world hates Russia, Russia hates it back
Russian President Vladimir Putin's propaganda targeted at audiences outside Russia doesn't work, but neither will any Western counter- efforts directed at Russians. A new report from the Pew Research Center explains why. Europeans, whom the Kremlin would like to consider deluded U.S. followers, are often even more negative about Russia than Americans are -- and that's not just Poles, more exposed than others to the conflict in Ukraine, but also previously Russia-friendly Germans and French. Russia has few friends in the Middle East and Latin America. More Turks dislike it than view it favorably despite President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's warm relationship with Putin, and Venezuelans are no Russophiles despite their government's anti- American consensus with Moscow. Jordanians apparently have little patience with Russia's support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose war-torn country has flooded the kingdom with refugees.
Russia fares relatively well in Asia and Africa, but that's probably, at least in part, the legacy of the Soviet Union's past standing in those regions. Elsewhere, attitudes toward Russia have deteriorated in recent years, sliding down even before the Crimea invasion. In 2011, 49 percent of Americans viewed Russia favorably, compared with just 22 percent now.
Putin is doing even worse than his country in the court of global public opinion. According to Pew, confidence in him is highest in Africa, at 32 percent, and lowest in Europe, at 15 percent. The Russian leader's negative ratings often exceed 75 percent: He's an indubitable villain in the world's eyes. U. S. President Barack Obama beats him everywhere, even in the Middle East, where he is the least popular.
In February, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate subcommittee that "Russia has engaged in a rather remarkable period of the most overt and exten- sive propaganda exercise that I've seen since the very height of the Cold War." He also said the propaganda effort was succeeding "because there's nothing countering it." Representative Ed Royce told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that "Russia is spending more than one-half billion dollars annually to mislead audiences, to sow divisions, to push conspiracy theories out over RT television."
Though RT, the Kremlin's foreign- language propaganda TV channel, says it actually spends half that much, the total budget, including organizations such as Russia Today Information Agency and Rossotrudnichestvo, charged with spreading information about Russia overseas, is close to Royce's figure. If the Pew survey results are anything to go by, though, that's half a billion dollars a year down the drain: The propaganda effort is concentrated on Europe and the U.S., where it's failing the most miserably, not Asia and Africa. If it's working in countries with large Russianspeaking communities, such as Germany and Israel, poll data give no indication of that.
The money might be spent just as wisely buying more $600,000 watches for Putin's press secretary, Dmitri Peskov. Where Putin is winning his propaganda war is inside Russia, where he's also spending more money on the effort and where he largely controls wide-reaching media. Russian media are to receive 72.1 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) from the federal budget this year.