Poll re­veals Rus­sians feel U.S. is ‘hos­tile’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY MARC BEN­NETTS

MOSCOW | It was a mere five years ago that smil­ing Krem­lin of­fi­cials wel­comed Pres­i­dent Obama’s am­bi­tious bid to “re­set” frosty bi­lat­eral ties be­tween the U.S. and Rus­sia. To­day, the smiles are long gone.

As Wash­ing­ton and Moscow face off over Ukraine in the big­gest chal­lenge to East-West re­la­tions since the Cold War, anti-Amer­i­can­ism is rock­et­ing in Rus­sia.

An opin­ion poll pub­lished re­cently by the in­de­pen­dent Moscow-based Le­vada Cen­ter in­di­cated that just over 70 per­cent of Rus­sians cur­rently view the United States in a neg­a­tive light — the high­est fig­ure since the col­lapse of the Soviet Union. About the same per­cent­age of re­spon­dents de­scribed U.S. pol­icy to­ward Rus­sia as “hos­tile.”

It’s not only among or­di­nary Rus­sians that anti-U.S. sen­ti­ments are ris­ing. Fringe con­spir­acy the­o­ries have been gain­ing main­stream ac­cep­tance among the po­lit­i­cal elite: The most bizarre of these is the idea that “U.S. agents of in­flu­ence” have in­fil­trated the Rus­sian govern­ment and have been se­cretly shap­ing Krem­lin pol­icy since the early 1990s.

“Rus­sia is a U.S. colony, and [Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir] Putin is leading the war for na­tional lib­er­a­tion,” Yevgeny Fy­o­dorov, a se­nior law­maker with the rul­ing United Rus­sia party, told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

“The United States de­feated the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and since then it has been im­pos­ing its own or­der in Rus­sia,” said Mr. Fy­o­dorov, who co-au­thored last year’s ban on Amer­i­can fam­i­lies adopt­ing Rus­sian or­phans.

Mr. Fy­o­dorov’s un­ortho­dox ideas have been echoed by sev­eral prom­i­nent fig­ures, in­clud­ing Alexan­der Du­gin, a high­pro­file aca­demic with stri­dent, anti-U.S. views who lec­tures at the pres­ti­gious Moscow State Univer­sity.

Mr. Du­gin de­clared this week, in com­ments aired on the main Chan­nel One evening news TV bul­letin, that Wash­ing­ton is los­ing its po­si­tion as the world’s “po­lit­i­cal and moral leader.” He also said the United States is en­ter­ing its “po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and moral death throes.”

Com­ments such as these have be­come com­mon­place on Rus­sian na­tional tele­vi­sion in re­cent months. In March, Dmitry Kise­lyov, an in­flu­en­tial pre­sen­ter at the Ros­siya 1 TV chan­nel, boasted on-air that Rus­sia is “the only coun­try in the world gen­uinely ca­pa­ble of turn­ing the USA into ra­dioac­tive dust.”

Mr. Kise­lyov, whom Mr. Putin re­cently ap­pointed to head Rus­sia’s main state news agency, also sug­gested that Pres­i­dent Obama is “gray­ing rapidly” be­cause of his con­cerns over the Krem­lin’s nu­clear ar­se­nal.

“We haven’t seen such ag­gres­sive anti-U.S. rhetoric in Rus­sian state me­dia since the Soviet Union col­lapsed,” said Stanislav Belkovsky, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst who is head of the Moscow-based Na­tional Strat­egy In­sti­tute. “Putin has con­vinced him­self that the United States is re­ally re­spon­si­ble for all the rev­o­lu­tions in both for­mer Soviet states and the Arab world.”

This ex­plo­sion in anti-U.S. sen­ti­ments has its roots in the un­prece­dented protests against Mr. Putin’s long rule, which broke out in late 2011 and con­tin­ued through 2012. As demon­stra­tors filled the streets of cen­tral Moscow, Mr. Putin al­leged that then-Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton had “given a sig­nal” to op­po­si­tion fig­ures. State tele­vi­sion claimed the pro­test­ers were be­ing paid “cook­ies and cash” by the State Depart­ment to at­tend anti-Putin ral­lies.

The con­tro­ver­sial ap­point­ment of Michael McFaul, a Stan­ford Univer­sity pro­fes­sor and au­thor of “Rus­sia’s Un­fin­ished Revo­lu­tion,” as U.S. am­bas­sador to Moscow just weeks later raised ten­sions to near fever pitch.

“The Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties are al­ways in­spired by the Soviet past and, when the protests started, they sim­ply looked back to see what worked then,” said An­drei Solda­tov, a re­spected Moscow-based in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter. “And even in the early 1980s, be­fore per­e­stroika, there was anti-Amer­i­can­ism and a be­lief in Western plots — ideas that were quite com­mon among even or­di­nary people.”

Mr. Putin may have all but crushed op­po­si­tion to his rule, but there has been no letup in the rhetoric. Rus­sia’s For­eign Min­istry warned re­cently that U.S. Spe­cial Forces are “hunt­ing down” Rus­sian na­tion­als abroad. That warn­ing sparked the in­tro­duc­tion of Soviet-style travel re­stric­tions for some 5 mil­lion govern­ment em­ploy­ees, who are now banned from trav­el­ing to coun­tries with ex­tra­di­tion agree­ments with the United States.

This month, Mr. Putin signed a con­tro­ver­sial law mak­ing it a crim­i­nal of­fense to fail to re­port dual ci­ti­zen­ship. U.S. pass­port hold­ers who are also Rus­sian na­tion­als face fines of up to $6,000 if they do not in­form the Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties they hold dual ci­ti­zen­ship. The law is aimed at root­ing out “for­eign agents.” A pro­posed bill would make it il­le­gal to use for­eign words such as “ham­burger” and “smart­phone.”

In Wash­ing­ton, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a mem­ber of the House Com­mit­tee on For­eign Af­fairs, said that de­spite Mr. Putin’s “ma­cho” tac­tics, the U.S. must strive to en­gage Rus­sia in or­der to deal with com­mon threats such as Is­lamic ex­trem­ism and Chi­nese ag­gres­sion in the Pa­cific Rim.

“Putin’s been do­ing what he thinks is in his na­tional in­ter­ests. Some­times that is ob­vi­ously not in our na­tional in­ter­est,” the Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.”

Mean­while, U.S. ex­pa­tri­ates in Moscow say that while there has been no sign that anti-Amer­i­can­ism is about to turn vi­o­lent, they have no­ticed a def­i­nite hard­en­ing of at­ti­tudes.

“I def­i­nitely have ex­pe­ri­enced anti-Amer­i­can­ism on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis, and there is def­i­nitely a so­cial shift when it comes to re­ject­ing Amer­i­can val­ues,” said Anas­tas­sia Paloni, a Moscow-born U.S. cit­i­zen who grew up in the United States be­fore mov­ing to Rus­sia in 2012. “But Amer­i­can de­grees and good English are still highly val­ued here.”

Still, the Krem­lin’s pol­icy of de­mo­niz­ing the United States could come back to haunt Putin, said Mr. Belkovsky, the an­a­lyst.

“Stir­ring up such pas­sions could eas­ily back­fire on the Krem­lin,” he warned. “These are un­pre­dictable forces that could eas­ily be di­rected against the govern­ment in the fu­ture.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin en­ters the Alexan­der Hall to at­tend a cer­e­mony of pre­sen­ta­tion of cre­den­tials by for­eign am­bas­sadors in the Grand Krem­lin Palace last week. “Rus­sia is a U.S. colony, and Putin is leading the war for na­tional lib­er­a­tion,” Yevgeny Fy­o­dorov, a se­nior law­maker with the rul­ing United Rus­sia party, told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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