Russian Attitudes Toward West Improve Despite Feelings of Isolation

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(Russia Matters – russiamatters.org – Aleksandra Srdanovic – Sept. 21, 2021)

Aleksandra Srdanovic is a graduate student at Harvard University and a student associate with Russia Matters.

The Levada Center recently polled Russians on their attitudes toward Russia’s general standing in the international community, as well as their attitudes toward strategic competitors and countries within the post-Soviet neighborhood. Polling shows an improvement in attitudes toward the U.S., EU and Ukraine following unfavorable public opinion trends in the spring of 2021. Likewise, positive attitudes toward Georgia have been making steady improvements since 2018. However, Russian attitudes toward China have worsened since the beginning of 2021.When asked about Russia’s presence on the global stage, respondents feel that Russia is isolated and viewed as a competitor by developed nations. Nevertheless, a majority of Russians want a more positive relationship with the West.

Levada also recently polled Russians on what kind of country they want Russia to be; a majority of respondents (1) want to see Russia, first and foremost, as a “country with a high standard of living, albeit not one of the strongest countries in the world” and (2) believe an economic system based on state planning and distribution is best. Almost half of respondents also expressed a preference for a Soviet-style political system, compared to Russia’s current system and one modeled on Western-style democracies.

Attitudes Toward the U.S., EU and Ukraine Show Improvement Following Decline

Russian attitudes towards the U.S., EU and Ukraine have improved since the spring of 2021, when they experienced a sharp decline against the backdrop of a Russian military buildup in Russian-occupied Crimea and along its border with Ukraine in late April 2021.

Russian attitudes toward the United States have improved since their decline in the spring of 2021. Between March 2021 and May 2021, favorable opinion dropped from 40% to 31%, respectively, but has increased since then to 39% favorable in August 2021.

What is your general attitude toward the U.S.?

01.2021 03.2021 05.2021 08.2021
Good 40% 40% 31% 39%
Bad 43% 42% 54% 47%
It was hard to answer. 17% 18% 15% 14%

Note: Table only includes data from 2021 polling. Source: Levada Center.

Attitudes toward the European Union have also improved within the same time period. Between January 2021 and May 2021, favorable opinion dropped from 45% to 38%, respectively, but has rebounded, with 46% of Russians in August 2021 describing their attitude toward the European Union as “good.”

 

What is your general attitude toward the EU?

01.2021 05.2021 08.2021
Good 45% 38% 46%
Bad 37% 45% 39%
Difficult to answer. 17% 17% 15%

Note: Table only includes data from 2021 polling. Source: Levada Center.

Compared to the United States and European Union, Russian attitudes toward Ukraine experienced the sharpest decline in the spring of 2021, dropping from 50% of respondents describing their attitude as “good” in March 2021 to only 33% expressing that same sentiment in May 2021. Attitudes have improved since, with 39% of Russians describing their attitude toward Ukraine as “good.” However, this is still less of an increase in positive public opinion (6% increase) compared to the increase in positive attitudes toward the United States and the European Union (8% increase for both).

What is your general attitude toward Ukraine?

02.2021 03.2021 05.2021 08.2021
Good 55% 50% 33% 39%
Bad 31% 35% 55% 49%
It was hard to answer. 13% 15% 13% 12%

Note: Table only includes data from 2021 polling. Source: Levada Center.

Levada also polled Russians on their attitude toward Georgia, which has been steadily improving in recent years. In July 2018, 46% of respondents described their attitudes toward Georgia as “good”; by August 2021, this number had increased to 55%.

What is your general attitude toward Georgia?

01.2018 07.2018 08.2019 08.2021
Good 52% 46% 49% 55%
Bad 25% 31% 35% 29%
It was hard to answer. 23% 23% 16% 16%

Note: Table only includes data from 2018-2021 polling. Source: Levada Center.

Positive Attitudes Toward Belarus Remain High as Union State Becomes More Likely

Russian public opinion on Belarus continues to remain relatively stable compared to recent years, with 82% of Russians describing their attitude as “good” and only 10% as “bad.” The overwhelmingly positive attitude of Russians toward Belarus is particularly relevant in light of recent developments in plans to create a “Union State” between the two countries.

During a joint press conference held on Sept. 9, 2021, following Russian-Belarusian talks, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that 28 programs “aimed at the unification of laws in Russia and Belarus in various economic areas, the levelling of conditions for the operation of the two countries’ economic entities, the formation of uniform financial and energy markets, transport infrastructure, the development and implementation of a common industrial and agricultural policy” were agreed upon by both countries, and that “the development of equitable and mutually beneficial cooperation in the Union State has remained an explicit strategic priority for our two countries.”

What is your general attitude toward Belarus?

02.2019 05.2019 08.2020 08.2021
Good 87% 84% 85% 82%
Bad 6% 7% 8% 10%
It was hard to answer. 7% 9% 7% 8%

Note: Table only includes data from 2019-2021 polling. Source: Levada Center.

Worsening Attitudes Toward China

The most recent Levada polling shows that Russian attitudes toward China have worsened slightly from the beginning of the year, with 75% of Russians describing their attitude toward China as “good” in January 2021 and only 70% feeling the same way in August 2021.

What is your general attitude toward China?

11.2019 01.2020 01.2021 08.2021
Good 72% 65% 75% 70%
Bad 17% 24% 14% 18%
It was hard to answer. 11% 11% 12% 12%

Note: Table only includes data from 2019-2021 polling. Source: Levada Center.

Despite Feeling Isolated, Russians Want Better Relations with the West

According to polling results, a majority of Russians (57%) believe that Russia is in isolation from the international community, compared to 38% who do not. In addition to feeling as though Russia is isolated, 39% of respondents expressed the belief that developed countries treat Russia as a competitor and 25% believe that developed countries treat it as an enemy.

Despite feeling isolated and believing that developed countries treat Russia as a competitor and enemy, polling shows that 44% of respondents feel that Russia should treat the West as a partner and 13% feel it should be treated as a friend, while 29% believe it should be treated as an opponent and only 5% believe it should be treated as an enemy. Respondents within the 18-24 age range were the most likely to say that Russia should treat the West as a partner (50%) and friend (21%). Meanwhile, respondents within the 55 years and older range were most likely to say that Russia should treat the West as an opponent (33%) or enemy (6%).

How Do Russians Want to See Russia?

When asked what kind of country they want Russia to be, 66% of respondents want to see Russia as “a country with a high standard of living, albeit not one of the strongest countries in the world.” This is compared to 32% of respondents who want to see Russia as a “great power that other countries respect and fear.” Wanting Russia to be a country with a high standard of living is popular among respondents in the 18-24 age range and those who do not support Putin, while wanting Russia to be a country others respect and fear is a popular viewpoint amongst those in the 55 and older age range as well as Putin’s supporters.

When asked what kind of political system they prefer, 49% of respondents prefer a Soviet-style political system, compared to 18% who prefer Russia’s current political system and 16% of those who would prefer a Western-style democracy. The Soviet-style political system is most popular among Russians in the 55 and older age range; the current political system is most preferred by those in the 25-39 age range; and Western-style democracies are preferable to Russians in the 18-24 age range.
Levada also asked Russians what economic system they believe is most correct; 62% of respondents preferred an economic system based on state planning and distribution, while 24% prefer a system based on private ownership and market relations. Support for an economic system based on state planning and distribution is at its highest level since Levada first began asking this question in 1992.
Aleksandra Srdanovic is a graduate student at Harvard University and a student associate with Russia Matters.Photo by Ramshteks shared under a Pixa

 


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