increased anti-US rhetoric in Russian politics, society

Text of report by Russian news website, often critical of the government, on 13 March

[Editorial Article: "Statistics of Hostility"]

The Russian authorities’ anti-Americanism in recent years, intensified during the recent election campaigns, has had the result that Russians again believe in the old enemy image.

Addressing the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, Michael McFaul, US ambassador to Russia, admitted that he had been shocked by the anti-American comments and the personal attacks on him voiced during the election campaign. "The anti-Americanism and the attacks on me personally shocked me, to be honest. We did not expect that kind of thing after all the ‘reset’ efforts. But we were told that this is only part of the presidential campaign. I personally have never been refused meetings with representatives of all levels of Russian power," the ambassador stated. He gave an assurance that the United States will not return to the Cold War rhetoric. "But if Russia wants this, that is its affair, we cannot control it," McFaul stated.

It goes without saying that the Russian authorities’ anti-Americanism does not simply repeat the Cold War rhetoric and was not simply a tried and tested instrument for mobilizing the pro-authorities electorate in the elections. The Russian authorities’ domestic policy in recent years has been generally built on an ostentatious anti-Americanism.

In the absence of a distinct and integrated state ideology with a preservation of great-power ambitions, a dislike of the United States is almost the only clearly and precisely expressed state idea.

It is characteristic that the first large-scale rally in Vladimir Putin’s support on Poklonnaya Hill was built to a considerable extent on anti-Western and, above all, anti-American rhetoric. And fears of an imaginary "Washington regional committee," carrying out "Orange Revolutions" and other outrages were fuelled not only by well-known TV moderators. Putin himself, in many of his addresses and not just his election addresses, emphasized the theme of the Russian people’s independence of choice and the need to repulse an external threat.

Many years of inflammatory language were bound to lead to a rise in anti-American moods within Russian society. According to the findings of a VTsIOM poll (the very latest on this subject), at the start of September 2011, 3 per cent of Russians were very favourably disposed towards the United States, as against 29 per cent in 1991 while 22 per cent were mainly unfavourable, as against 3 per cent in 1991. In 2011, 7 per cent declared themselves very unfavourably disposed towards the transatlantic superpower as opposed to just 1 per cent 20 years earlier. Meanwhile, the number of people whose attitude towards the United States is "mainly favourable" is virtually unchanged in the past 20 years -52 per cent and 54 per cent respectively.

According to a poll conducted last year by the Public Opinion Foundation, one Russian in four -26 per cent -regards the United States as Russia’s main enemy. In 2000, when Vladimir Putin had only just come to power, this figure was also somewhat lower -21 per cent.

According to figures from the Gallup Institute last year, only 2 per cent of Americans regard Russia as the enemy. And this is a consequence not so much of the Americans’ peaceable attitude towards us so much as the sober understanding that in its current state, Russia does not present a real threat to the United States.

This is also obvious from the rating of America’s "enemies": In first place by a wide margin is Iran, on 32 per cent. In second place is the increasingly powerful economically China -at 23 per cent. The Chinese, incidentally, are also in second place among the Russians’ potential adversaries (right behind the Americans).

It is indicative that US citizens’ attitude towards Russia is not fundamentally different from the Russians’ attitude towards the Americans. According to Gallup’s figures again, last year 45 per cent of Americans were unfavourably disposed towards Russia as opposed to 47 per cent whose attitude is favourable .

Thus there is a clear difference here: Given that a considerable section of the populations of Russia and the United States have a not unduly favourable attitude towards one another, many Russians associate the United States with the enemy image. But for a significant section of Americans Russia is not an unduly sympathetic but relatively harmless country.

It should be noted that all the polls cited above were conducted in the era of the so-called reset. That is, before the Putin and Medvedev job swap and the start of the presidential campaign during which the anti-US comments occurred which so shocked the US ambassador to the Russian Federation.

But even before any election campaigns, Russians were increasingly sceptical of the prospects for an improvement in Russian-US relations connected with the arrival of Barack Obama. Whereas in 2010 46 per cent noted an improvement, in September 2011, according to VTsIOM’s figures the number of such respondents was substantially lower -34 per cent. There was also an increase in the number of those who saw complications in cooperation between the powers (from 3 per cent to 9 per cent).

With the return to the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin, who has a more robust and definite foreign policy stance than Medvedev, the anti-Western and, in particular, anti-US feelings will possibly also increase.

And this will be connected not so much with the exacerbation of the contradictions between the two powers on contentious questions (ABM, Syria, and Iran) as with domestic policy problems. The authorities are hardly going to abandon the thesis they have adopted that there are certain external forces behind the non-systemic opposition and the "angry city dwellers." This is a simple and familiar propaganda explanation for a difficult, unfamiliar, and unexpected activation of the citizens. There can be no doubt that if Barack Obama’s Administration does indeed create a foundation for the support of a civil society in Russia (Michael McFaul has reported this), we will hear quite a lot of inflammatory speeches about people "scavenging around the foreign embassies" and State Department plans for the organization of a "Russian spring." In exactly the same way, the United States and the West as a whole will almost certainly be named as the main culprits for all Russia’s future economic and social problems.

The search for external enemies to overcome internal problems is a classic of the Kremlin’s political genre from Lenin to the present day.

Source: website, Moscow, in Russian 13 Mar 12


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