Ask the Russians: Survey shows Russians’ opinions on friendly vs. hostile states


June 20, 2016 – 

Olev Polevoy, PolitRussia – 

Translated by J. Arnoldski

The “Friendship of Peoples” Fountain in Moscow

Some curious material recently appeared on Radio Svoboda. The author of such a report, proceeding from sociological polls by the Levada Center, drew an interesting conclusion: Russian “don’t like” Americans, Ukrainians, and Turks. However, the devil is in the details for, as is known, he is the father of lies. 

In the article with the eloquent title “As it turns out, Ukrainians are enemies,” journalists from Radio Svoboda, proceeding on the basis of Yuri Levada’s analytical center’s research, held an interview with the famous philologist and Oxford and Presidential Academy professor, Andrey Zorin. What was supposed to be a commentary on the research gradually turned into the main topic. 

Here’s how the article from Radio Svoboda’s website begins: “Russians consider their main enemies today to be Americans, Ukrainians, and Turks, and believe their friends to be Belarusians, Kazakhs, and the Chinese. Such are the findings of the latest survey on the subject published by the experts of the Moscow-based Levada Center.”

But on the site of the Levada Center itself under the section “Press Publications,” the material devoted to this study begins with entirely different words, namely: “Residents consider Russia’s main enemies to be the US, Ukraine, and Turkey.”

In this seemingly insignificant difference lies a fundamentally important detail: the Russians polled by Levada spoke not about people, but states.

But Radio Svoboda has apparently opted for conscious manipulation since the commentary on the study by the expert Andrey Zorin specifically judged Russians’ attitudes toward other peoples! Zorin said:

“The roots of this need to be sought very deep in history. With the emergence of the ideas of the nation and nationalism, this was transferred to other peoples as such…this is a conventional stereotype, a very common one…but here is the pivot: we’ve just found out that Ukrainians are our enemies! Yesterday they were our ‘brothers’, or even ‘the same people’ but they’ve gone down the path to being ‘enemies quite quickly – although, I would say, this is natural.” 

I am of the opinion that this Professor Zorin does not understand what he’s talking about.

In the Levada Center’s study, the questions were not even close to asking about peoples. “Ukraine,” “ethnic Ukrainians,” and “the people of Ukraine” (according to passport)  are three enormously different categories. And I’m sure that if the Levada Center carried out separate polls for each of these three categories, the results would be strikingly different from each other. 

The point was not Russians’ attitudes towards someone, but how Russians assess the attitude of certain states towards Russia.

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Assessing the “people of Ukraine’s” attitude towards russia is quite problematic. People painfully  differently relate to our country between Odessa and Lvov. But evaluating the Ukrainian state’s attitude towards Russia, as represented by President Poroshenko, can be done without any particular difficulty. The same applies to Turkey and the US. 

And so, 72% of Russians are sure that the US government is hostile to us, while 48% believe the same for the state of Ukraine, and 29% think so of the Turkish state.

50% believe that the state of Belarus is friendly towards us, while 39% say Kazakhstan, and 34% China.

The Levada Center’s survey dedicated to Russians’ personal attitudes towards different countries yields entirely different results. 

70% of Russian citizens relate negatively to the US, while 19% are of a good opinion. 62% have a bad attitude towards the EU, while 25% feel good. As for Belarus, the figures show that 8% relate negatively while 83% feel positive. Take note that Russians view Belarus better than Belarusians themselves, according to their opinions, feel towards us!

78% have a positive attitude towards China, while 11% are negative.

Especially of interest is the situation surrounding Ukraine. 

With a difference of only a few days, two studies were conducted – one concerning attitudes towards the country and the other in the context of Nadezhda Savchenko’s exchange. 

The first shows that 63% have negative attitudes towards Ukraine, and the second 47%. The first showed 26% positive and the second 39%. 

Could the perception of the country have changed so dramatically over a couple of days! Of course not! In the second case, part of respondents were not speaking about their relationship towards the Ukrainian state, but towards the Ukrainian people.

If Russians are about equal in their dislike for and hostile assessment of America, then the case is totally different with Ukraine. Russia’s citizens apparently consider the state existing on Ukrainian territory to be hostile towards them, and therefore they dislike it, but they much better relate to Ukrainians themselves. 

Some media outlets and celebrities are trying to ignore this obvious fact and engage in the incitement of hatred by making a fuss out of the supposed hate of the majority of Russians towards the Ukrainian people. This is first and foremost designed for a Ukrainian audience And this clever technique has obviously been quite effective. In order to overcome its negative effects, I would like to appeal Russian sociologists to conduct a differential study with two or even three categories (the relation of Russian residents towards individual countries, peoples , and ethnic groups) and then publish the results. I think that this would be a cold shower for many propagandists. 

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