The world hates Rus­sia, Rus­sia hates it back

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Leonid Ber­shid­sky

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.

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