Staunton, November 29 – In presenting the latest Levada Center poll on Russian attitudes toward the West, the center’s Aleksey Grazhdankin says that a majority of Russians think that the initiative for improving East-West ties should come from the West and “do not understand why the actions of their country in Ukraine” have produced such anger in Western countries.
Grazhdankin’s analysis needs to be remembered given that it is a certainty many Moscow and Western outlets will highlight only one finding of the poll: 71 percent of Russians now want better relations with the West, 21 percent more than a year ago and close to the highest level ever (76 percent in 2000) (rbc.ru/politics/29/11/2016/583c452d9a79475040747872?from=main).
At the same time, the survey found that there has been a decline in the percentage of Russians who express negative or very negative views of the United States and the European Union over the same period, a reflection of the shift in Moscow media rhetoric since the election of Donald Trump as US president.
Another Moscow analyst, Igor Bunin of the Center for Political Technologies, says that “the desire for development of ties with Western countries and negative attitudes toward the US and the EU do not contradict one another” for Russians. “On the one hand,” he says, the West continues to be viewed “as our enemy” and Russia as “a besieged fortress.” But “on the other,” Russia has held out and “now want to cooperate but they are still our enemies.”
The most important observation, however, is Grazhdankin’s suggestion that Russians still blame the West for the deterioration of relations and can’t understand how Western countries might not view Vladimir Putin’s naked aggression, however much clothed as “hybrid war,” against Ukraine as an action no one should get excited about or view as an obstacle to better ties.
In short, Russians believe that they and their regime have done nothing wrong and they favor better relations because that could have two positive consequences: an end to sanctions and an acknowledgement by the West that Russia has special rights on the territory of the former Soviet Union that no one should ever challenge regardless of how Moscow pursues them.