Sunday, August 12, 2018

Polls Showing More Positive Russian Attitude toward West Less Meaningful than Many Think, Novoprudsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 11 – Many commentators have been struck by recent polls showing that two-thirds of Russians now favor a rapprochement with the West, Semen Novoprudsky says; but they shouldn’t be: the polls were taken right after the Helsinki Summit when Russian television dramatically cut back on its attacks on the US in particular and the West in genreal.

            According to the Russian journalist, “as soon as ‘the box’ in Russia ceases to lie about Ukraine, the US, and the EU, the majority of Russians cease to consider them enemies. The danger lies elsewhere: Russians in principle do not have a clear idea about the place of Russia in the world” (

                Instead, a large share of them simply follow the line the regime puts out, being anti-Western when the Kremlin points in that direction and less anti-Western when the regime shifts its position, Novoprudsky says.  That is clear in this case and means that those who are taking hope from these polls are doing so far too soon.

            First of all, he continues, “the poll was conducted immediately after the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki, that is, after an event which, according to Russian propaganda, was at a minimum an equal dialogue of two ‘masters of the world,’ Russia and the West” but one that most Russians reacted to with indifference.

                Second, despite playing up this new Kremlin achievement in some of its propaganda, the Kremlin has continued to act as an enemy of the West. And third, “in reality, Russians and not only the elite … have never been enemies of the West at the level of their everyday life.” At least those in the cities “were and remain completely European.” There has not been a shift.

             “But there is a deeper reason for not being overly pleased by the notion that a majority of Russians suddenly want a rapprochement with the West, Novoprudsky says. “Russians in general do not have stable ideas about their friends and enemies.” Instead, polls show, they change the countries in each according to what they are shown on Moscow television.

            That means that the current Russian regime or its successor could radically change directions on Crimea, Ukraine or the West, he says; but it also means that there is no certainty that any such change won’t be quickly followed by a reversal when the Kremlin decides to change again.

            The only limiting factor within Russia on such radical shifts, Novoprudsky continues, is that “a majority of Russians judging from polls feel resentment” to the West, subscribe to the notion of “Russia’s special path,’” and are attached to “great power chauvinism, that is, to banal imperialism.”

            But beyond those general notions, he suggests, “neither the elite nor the ordinary people have any clear understanding about the place of Russia in the contemporary world or about its ideal position in history.  In the most liberal sense, Russia has not found itself a place” in that world but continues to shift about, invading others, ignoring international law and changing friends and enemies almost at will.

            “As long as the country doesn’t know its own borders, physical and metaphysical, it will not recognize those of others. And this danger of Russia ‘without a place’ in the world obviously overwhelms any optimism about the idea that two-thirds of Russians say they want a rapprochement with the West,” the commentator concludes.

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