Does the World Hate Russia?

Photo: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A large segment of the academic literature reflects on the power of attraction, known as well as soft power, of the European Union and the United States. But what about Russia? and Putin? What are the global perceptions of Putin’s Russia since the turn of the century? In a recent survey produced by the Pew Research Center, most of the world – aside from China, India, Ghana and Vietnam – has a largely unfavorable opinions of Russia and Putin (see below).

Russia-Image-World Opinion

The concept of soft power is a very theoretical concept famously developed by Joseph Nye in his book ‘Soft Power: The Mean to Succeed in World Politics’ (1998). His argument is directly connected with the earlier work produced by Antonio Gramsci. But Nye was able to take the core of Gramsci’s argument and bring it at the global level in order to talk about foreign policy. Gramsci was mostly concerned about domestic Italian politics and non-change in the 30s. When talking about opinions and perceptions, the concept of soft power is certainly directly connected as it does influence state’s foreign policy. But let’s take a look at the way the transatlantic community see and perceive Russia and Putin.

Transatlantic Perceptions of Russia and Putin

The US-Russian perceptions are very much aligned with change of leadership in the US (from Bush to Obama), policy change (failed 2009 reset policy and the pivot), and the regional crises (Ukraine, Syria) and domestic narratives controlled by Putin. The graph below claims that the opinions have worsened on both sides of the Altantic. The last two years of the Bush administration were a period little more stable between the two superpowers despite the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia. With the election of President Obama and his tentative to soften and deepen the relationship with Russia, the opinions of one another become more favorable in Russia (+13 point of %) than in the US (+6 point of %) though. From 2010 to the invasion of Crimea, the options were pretty stable. The lowest point was in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the war in Eastern Ukraine.

Russia-Image-US-Russia

Considering the European views and opinions of Russia, the Pew did not produce a graph, but included a set of numbers at the end of the survey. The transatlantic opinion is very homogenous since 2007 (since chart below). Not surprisingly France and the United Kingdom have had the most favorable opinion of Russia, and Poland the lowest in recent years. The US is in the mix of the transatlantic opinion. However, it would have been interesting to see how the Baltic and Nordic EU Member States (Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Denmark) and Eastern EU Member States (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Austria) perceive Russia over the years. The survey failed in providing the data for these states.

Source: Pew Research Center. 2015. p.11
Source: Pew Research Center. 2015. p.11 / Data compiled by Politipond

Vladimir Putin, Global Villain?

A big part of the negative views of Russia in the US and Western Europe is directly connected to the person of Vladimir Putin. The press, academia, and think tank communities (here are some excellent works and examples such as book by Fiona Hill, and a book review of Karen Dawisha’s manuscript) have created some type of admiration/incomprehension around the person of Vladimir Putin. There is a certain fascination about Putin in the US and Western Europe as Vladimir Putin has been framed as either an irrational actor, or a master of realpolitik (read here and here previous analyses). In any case, the US and Americans have never had the highest degree of confidence in Putin.

Even though the impacts of Russian influences on the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine and 2008 war in Georgia were not major, as demonstrated by the data below, in affecting the confidence in Putin, the turning point was the incursion in Crimea and ultimately its annexation. Then with the lingering war in Eastern Ukraine, and even the ‘accidental’ targeting of the civilian Malaysian flight last summer, they have contributed in lowering the confidence and trust in Vladimir Putin. In some ways, the low degree confidence has been materialized in the isolation of Vladimir Putin, whom has been absent (or more accurately kick out of the G-8) of the recent G-7 meeting. In addition, Putin has not demonstrated being serious in trying to solve the Ukrainian crisis, as he was never committed to make the Minsk Protocol II work.

Russia-Image-Putin & US

All these graphs and data provided by the Pew highlight one common trend, most of the world share a common negative perceptions of Russia and his president. In the 21st century, it is quite rare to find such unanimous position on an issue. More seriously these data demonstrate that Putin’s Russia is not concerned about global perceptions. Putin has a vision for Russia and has demonstrated that he can not only remain in power (which he has done since 2000), control the domestic narrative (through playing the nationalist card and  limiting the freedom of press and civil society), and advance Russian interests where and when required.

European and American sanctions are certainly hurting the Russian economy, already weakened by the historically low prices of hydrocarbons, but Putin has been tactical in choosing which issues are important to fight for. For instance Ukraine is, but Iran was not so much as Putin, with his Chinese counterpart, agreed on the Vienna agreement in July. Putin will continue to fascinate and certainly won’t stop in leading Russia where he desires, with or without the approval of global opinions.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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NATO Summit – Dealing with Ukraine and ISIS

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NATO leaders are currently meeting in Newport, on September 4-5, for the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales. The summit takes place during one of the most tense geopolitical contexts since the end of the Cold War. The lengthy frozen conflict between Russia and Ukraine has created serious geopolitical and diplomatic tensions between the West and Russia and within European partners. The summit, which is the first one since the 2012 version in Chicago, looks at ending the longest NATO military mission in its history, Afghanistan, by the end of the year, but will remain a platform for talks on Ukraine and ISIS. Back in 2012, the motto was about Smart Defense, meaning doing more with less, while two years later it is all about dealing with Russia and coalition building against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Officially, the issues on the menu of the 2014 NATO summit are:

  1. NatoCrisis in Ukraine and NATO relationship with Russia;
  2. Afghanistan’s future;
  3. Tackling new threats;
  4. Strengthening support for NATO Armed Forces;
  5. Strengthening partnerships;

Ukraine and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – The Centerpieces of the Summit

Clearly the two issues topping the NATO agenda are Ukraine and ISIS. Such claim is directly validated by the recent joint op-ed written by President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron in the Times of London, wherein both leaders argued that “by working together we are stronger, whether in standing up to Russia or confronting ISIL [known as well as ISIS].” For Europe, the Ukrainian file is on top of the agenda, while for the Americans it is the situation in Syria and Iraq caused by the threat of ISIS.

In the case of the war between Ukraine and Russia, Euro-Atlantic leaders have expressed natio_meetingtheir concerns about the behavior of Russia. For instance, Obama and Cameron wrote “Russia has ripped up the rulebook with its illegal, self-declared annexation of Crimea and its troops on Ukrainian soil threatening and undermining a sovereign nation state” (NATO published late August on its website satellite imagery proving the presence of Russian armed forces inside Ukraine). The conflict initially started back in November 2013 when the former president, Viktor Yanukovych, decided not to sign the agreement with the European Union (EU) but rather sought at the last minute to deepen Ukrainian relationship with Russia. Such political decision led to domestic tensions and manifestations in Kiev against the pro-Russian political establishment. Moscow feared at that point a complete flip of Ukraine towards the West, as it recalled the 2004 Orange Revolution. Then it was a simple domino effect. Moscow took over by offering an economic boost to Ukraine in December 2013. By January the situation in Ukraine was so unstable that Yanukovych could not control it and disappeared by the end of February. In the meantime, Russian troops appeared in Crimea and took slowly the control. By march, Crimea was annexed by Russia following a referendum. Crimea was not enough for Moscow, which has since sponsored the pro-Russian militiamen in Eastern Ukraine. In recent day, the Russian army has been deployed inside Ukraine. The President of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso, even reported Putin saying during a phone conversation, “If I [Putin] want, I can take Kiev in two weeks.” Moscow has certainly transformed a domestic opposition into a regional frozen conflict fostering concerns inside the Euro-Atlantic community.

The second topic is the threat of ISIS looming over the Middle East and its eventual repercussions on Western national security (listen here a good podcast on the topic). ISIS has emerged as a top priority for the US and Western Europe in June – at least in the press (read here and here articles on the topic) -, but was already on the radar of Western governments and secret services for quite some times. ISIS is creating a series of securityISIS_CIA_Convoy dilemmas for the West: first, it is considered as one of the most dangerous terrorist networks thanks to its territorial control and well armed forces; second, ISIS is attracting Westerners deciding to train and fight for the network (over 100 US citizens are currently fighting in Iraq and Syria). Western governments are increasingly worried of an eventual terrorist attack perpetuated by one of their citizens; third, ISIS is undeniably receiving assistance and help from powerful individuals and eventually regimes; fourth, ISIS territorial control in Syria and Iraq is a threat to the regional stability. The US has expressed the need to “degrade and destroy the capability of ISIL [ISIS] to come after U.S. interests all over the world, and our allies.”

After the use of airstrikes perpetuated by the US and military sponsoring of the Kurds by European countries, the UK and the US are now trying to build a coalition during the summit against ISIS. It was not a coincidence that Secretary of State, John Kerry, published an op-ed in the New York Times on August 29th, advocating for the creation of a global coalition to handle ISIS (as a side note, the hawkish establishment of American foreign policy embodied in John McCain and Lindsey Graham responded to Kerry’s op-ed through the traditional argument of “ISIS is a military force, and it must be confronted militarily”). In his op-ed, Kerry lays out the American strategy to handle the rise of ISIS. First, he announced that Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, and himself will be working during the Wales’ summit to build a coalition against ISIS, and then will travel to the Middle East. In September, the US will hold the Presidency of the UN Security Council, which will be used in order to get greater attention, and eventually resolution, in regards to ISIS. Such piece reflects that the American strategy certainly consists in arming the Kurds and using airstrikes, but the endgame is ultimately the creation of a global coalition to destroy ISIS. Its destruction would require going after ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Kerry chooses to illustrate the benefit behind the use of multilateralism by demonstrating its success during the 1990 campaign against Saddam Hussein. Does it mean that the US may be willing to send troops on the ground with its allies?

What Now?

Days prior the NATO summit, Moscow announced a seven-points ceasefire in order to end the fight in Ukraine. But, why a sudden shift of strategy in Moscow? One reason could be that Putin wants to limit the consequences and decisions taken in Newport by a worried West. For instance, France already announced an halt in the delivery of the mistral-class warship to Russia arguing that “the conditions under which France could authorise the delivery of the first helicopter carrier are not in place.” However, this does not mean that France has canceled the order. It is just part of the diplomatic game of not upsetting Paris’ allies. By presenting itself more open to solving the crisis, Putin may avoid further European sanctions. Unmistakably Putin continues to play chess, nothing less. In any case, Ukrainian President, Petro O. Poroshenko, said at the Summit that he will seek to solidify a bilateral ceasefire between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian conflict is far from being solved.

Moscow absolute redline is simple: no NATO membership for Ukraine. NATO members know it and may not be going down the membership road. A simple trade agreement between the EU and Ukraine was at the origin of this lasting conflict. NATO may be increasing its presence in Eastern Europe and conducting training exercises, but its members are well aware of the importance of staying on the banks of the Rubicon. After this tumultuous summer, the NATO summit falls at the right time and right place for Western leaders in order to reassess their shared interests and reaffirm their commitments to common values.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).