A new poll from the Levada Center think tank shows that 59% of Russians believe America is a real threat to the sovereignty of Russia. The results come after a friendly meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The 59% is 12% higher than in 2007. Another 48% believe America “could hinder Russia’s efforts on the path toward further development.” Also, 40% of Russians possess fear of America “taking control of Russia’s economy.”
An additional 31% fear American “military and occupation, a 10 percent increase since 2007.” However, there is no evidence America is attempting to take over Russia.
“Lately we can see that all the measures are directed at the consolidation of [Russians’] national identity. And depicting the United States as the enemy has become one of the structural elements for social consolidation,” explained sociologist Karina Pipiya.
America and Russia’s relationship never fully recovered, even after the fall of the USSR. It deteriorated further after Russia provided Edward Snowden asylum and invaded Ukraine in 2014, including the annexation of Crimea. Kerry last visited Russia in May 2013. The recent visit did not provide any breakthroughs, but Kerry said the two men spoke “honestly” with each other, and he praised Putin for even meeting with him.
It is not shocking, however, that many Russians feel this way due to the cult of personality that surrounds the regime. Putin is a dictator who shuts down anyone or any outlet that does not agree with him. The invasion of Ukraine has made this even clearer. Numerous media outlets were shut down for opposing the move. Journalists resigned because of the lack of press freedom.
A quarter of Russians believe jokes about Putin should be off-limits to comedians. In February, Russians paraded a prop “ballistic missile,” threatening to “personally deliver” the missile to President Barack Obama. A crowd of people, including American movie star Mickey Rourke, waited hours to purchase Putin T-shirts and accessories.
It is a two-way street. Poll after poll from Gallup shows that Americans also view Russia as a major threat. Americans turned bitter toward Russia after Snowden received asylum. In June 2013, Gallup found that 52% of Americans viewed Russia as a friend. Only three months later, the number had dropped to 44%. The favorable view of Putin dropped to 19% after he published an op-ed in The New York Times that criticized America over the country’s “exceptionalism.”
The polls continued to drop after Ukraine. In March 2014, only 10% favored Putin, while the majority viewed Ukraine as a “friend.” A total of 68% viewed “Russia as unfriendly or an enemy.” This is the highest it has been since 1999.
In February 2015, a poll placed Russia at the top of the list as America’s greatest enemy with 18% of the vote. The same poll had Russia at 3% in 2011, 2% in 2012, and 9% in 2014.