The Russian invasion of Ukraine that began a year ago today has sparked widespread international condemnation of Russian military action and of President Vladimir Putin personally.
In the last 12 months, how has the opinion of Russian citizens about the United States changed? And what do the Americans think of Russia now?
As Cold War protagonists for much of the late 20th century, Russia and the United States have often been adversaries. And more importantly, regardless of the state of diplomacy between the two nations, the two countries have been portrayed as enemies in countless movies and books, helping to shape public opinion.
Accusations of Russian meddling in the US elections, particularly the 2016 presidential election and the subsequent Mueller Report, have also upheld Russia’s reputation as an evil force.
In fact, the United States and Russia have aligned themselves, supporting opposite sides in many conflicts, from Afghanistan in the 1980s to Syria more recently.
So how has opinion changed one way or the other?
The graph above shows that, for Americans, net opinion – the percentage of positive responses minus the percentage of negative responses – has fallen from a typical score of -60 before the invasion of Ukraine to around -80, a change of 20 %. The opinion is drawn from the usual question the Gallup polling company asks: “Do you consider Russia an ally or an enemy of the United States?”
However, Russians’ opinion of the United States has changed even more drastically. Before the war, it was relatively stable, with a net score of around zero (meaning around the same level of positive and negative sentiment), reaching +7 in November 2019. It has now fallen to around -60. The data comes from the Levada Center, which regularly surveys Russians on various issues surrounding politics and the economy.
Why has Russian opinion of the United States fallen so radically when Russia is the aggressor in this conflict?
Stephen Sestanovich, Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Newsweek: “Since the war began, the Russian state media has been in the midst of a nationalist propaganda frenzy, and the United States is the main target. . Commentators compete to be the most hostile to the United States.”
For Russia, the United States is the engine of NATO expansion, which invades Russia’s borders. Sestanovich said: “We are the center of his universe – of his angry and resentful theory of the universe – in a way that is not true in terms of how we see them.”
“In addition, our coverage of Russia tends to focus – appropriately – on Putin as the main criminal and less on the country as a whole. The Russian media have no special villains in their image of the United States. To them, the whole system is Satanism all the time.”
The United States has imposed sanctions on Russia, with almost 2,000 since the invasion, more than any other country.
Many American companies had withdrawn from Russia, including McDonald’s, which was a symbol of warmer US-Russian relations when it first opened in Moscow in 1990. In addition, the United States is the country that has provided the most military aid. Ukraine: about $46 billion, plus other aid commitments.
At the same time that Russians’ opinion of the United States has plummeted, the opinion of Putin inside Russia has improved. The chart below shows his net rating from about +30-40 points to +60-70. An almost identical change of heart occurred in February 2014: a large drop in attitude toward the United States and a rise in Putin’s approval. That coincided with Russia’s annexation of Crimea, part of Ukraine. According to polls, for Putin’s popularity at home, invading Ukraine works.