Russia Reality Check

By Kjell Engelbrekt

US-Russia relations appear to be at an all-time low ever since the establishment of the Russian Federation in the fall of 1991. The new Chicago Council Survey figures clearly demonstrate this general trend, even without accounting for the presumable further damage done by the shooting down of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17th. That incident may very well have been a horrible mistake by pro-Kremlin separatists. Yet while consistent efforts by the Kremlin to conceal its role in supporting the separatists and furnishing them with heavy weapons, such as sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems, might succeed in keeping Russians misled, they will deepen distrust in the United States and the West at large.

There are various interpretations as to how US-Russia relations evolved from the initial attempt by the first Obama administration to improve ties through selective engagement on issues of common concern (the ‘reset’ approach) to the mutual frustration of the mid-2010s. In fact, the deterioration accelerated sharply over just 12 to 18 months. As long as Dmitry Medvedev occupied the presidential post (that is, until early 2012), some aspects of the bilateral relationship—such as cooperation on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—were actually moving in the right direction.

But in 2013-2014 presidents Putin and Obama repeatedly misjudged each other at critical junctures. Putin appears to have believed he would have a free hand at bullying neighbors into accepting higher prices on Russian gas and coercing them to accept his own deeply asymmetric version of the European Union. Supposedly, he also thought his insistence on placing Ukraine at the center of his strategic vision would be tolerated by Western governments.

Few political leaders in the transatlantic community recognized the full potential for conflict inherent in Ukraine’s Maidan movement. Obama and his advisors were also slow to realize that Putin not only sought to rebuild Russia, but a Soviet Union–minus the ideology yet including its international political prominence. Putin’s diplomatic envoys have in fact been working overtime to create conditions that would blunt US influence not just in Russia’s ‘near abroad’ but in the Middle East, Europe, as well as in Latin America.

The realization that the Kremlin is not just ‘sticking it to the Americans’ (in extending asylum to Edward Snowden, for instance) but is actively trying to undermine US primacy in world affairs is gradually catching up with American public opinion. And Russia’s covert military operations in eastern Ukraine—after already having conquered Crimea through a well-executed stealth operation in mid-Spring—and the ongoing cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the downing of flight MH17 now provide a sobering reality check for many others in the international community, not least those preoccupied with international law and order. To the extent that leaders in Europe, Southeast Asia and elsewhere respond adequately to this situation, the US government will be in a better position to limit the Kremlin’s opportunities to further exploit Western and international benevolence and neglect.

Kjell E. Engelbrekt was a visiting fellow at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Illinois at Chicago this past spring. He is currently working on a manuscript that examines the impact of a changing distribution of power on the diplomatic practices of great powers in international institutions, especially the UN Security Council and the G8/G20. His recent writings have focused on NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya, the US-Russia ‘reset’ policy, and evolving relations between Asia’s great powers and the United States and Europe. Engelbrekt holds a PhD in political science from Stockholm University. He is associate professor at the Swedish National Defense College and member of the Swedish Royal Academy of War Sciences. He has served as a research fellow at Columbia University (New York), Humboldt-Universität (Berlin), and the European University Institute (Florence). In addition to his academic record, Engelbrekt has served as secretary-general of the Swedish North Atlantic Treaty Association, research analyst at the RFE/RL Research Institute, and consulted for the UN Development Program and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

From Reset to Regret: Views of Russia Fall to Levels Not Seen Since Cold War

By Dina Smeltz and Craig Kafura
The New York Times and other news outlets reported today on President Obama’s remarks about the delays surrounding the international investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. He  urged Russia to pressure the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine to open access to the crash site.  He also went further, saying “if Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and to back these separatists,” then “Russia will only further isolate itself from the international community and the costs for Russia’s behavior will only continue to increase.”

New Chicago Council Survey results (collected between May 6 and 29, before the Malaysian plane was shot down on July 17) show that American views of Russia have become less positive now than at any time since the Cold War. Yet few consider Russia’s territorial ambitions a critical threat to the United States. This helps to explain why only 30 percent of Americans support a US military intervention in Ukraine if Russia invades the rest of the country.

American views of Russia at lowest point since Cold War

Likely as a result of the Ukraine crisis, Americans’ feelings toward Russia have fallen to their lowest levels since the Cold War. On a scale of 0 to 100, with lower ratings representing less-favorable views, Americans rated Russia a 36 on average. This is just above the ratings Americans gave to the Soviet Union during the Chicago Council’s Cold War-era surveys of 1978-1986 and is the lowest rating ever given to Russia since the dissolution of the USSR.

americanfavorability_graph

Views of Russian influence unchanged

Reflecting Russia’s new belligerence in the region, Americans rate Russian influence in the world an average of 6.2 out of 10, an increase from the average rating of 5.8 that Americans gave Moscow in 2012. By comparison, Americans rated the United States an average of 8.6 and China a 7.4. A rating of 6.2 places Russia just below Japan (6.5) in terms of global influence. Overall, perception of Russian influence over the past decade has remained fairly stable, as seen in the figure below. Nor do many expect Russia to be significantly more influential in the future. When asked to rate its influence ten years from now, Americans gave Russia an average of 6.3 out of 10.

russianinfluence

Russia’s ambitions not seen as critical threat

Four in ten Americans (38%) say they see Russia’s territorial ambitions as a critical threat to the vital interests of the United States, while half (50%) say they are an important but not critical threat. This places the threat of Moscow’s ambitions well behind other threats asked about in the 2014 Chicago Council Survey (it ranked 15 out of 20 items in terms of being a critical threat).

There are generational differences in these threat perceptions as well as in views of Russia. Almost half of those over the age of 60 saying Russian territorial ambitions are a critical threat (46%). Older Americans also have less favorable views of Russia overall. But even younger Americans, who would have no memory of the Cold War, have an unfavorable view of Russia.

Broad support for US government spying on Russia

While not a high level threat, Americans still want to keep a close eye on Russia. Nearly eight in ten Americans (77%) support the US government secretly spying on the Russian government. This is a higher level of support than in 1994 when 63 percent of Americans supported such espionage.

Americans oppose sending US troops to Ukraine

In part because Americans do not see Russian ambitions as a threat to US vital interests, a majority of the public opposes using US troops to defend Ukraine in the event of Russian invasion (68%). Overall three in ten (30%) favor sending troops. Even those who perceive a critical threat tend to oppose using US troops for this purpose (51%, with 48% in favor).

Though low, this overall level of support is actually higher than in the past. In 1994, only one in five Americans (20%) supported using US troops to defend Ukraine from Russian invasion (59% opposed, 22% not sure).

russia_threat

Negative views of Russia and opposition to using U.S troops in Ukraine cross partisan lines, though Republicans (36%) are somewhat more likely to support sending US troops to defend Ukraine than Democrats (27%) or Independents (29%). In addition, Republicans (48%) are more likely than Democrats (35%) or Independents (34%) to consider Russia’s territorial ambitions a critical threat.

Despite the fact that most Americans who consider themselves a part of the Tea Party movement identify as Republicans, Tea Party supporters are actually less likely to support sending US troops to defend Ukraine in the event of Russian invasion (21%, vs. 32% of non-Tea Party members) [1]. This is consistent with the generally non-interventionist views of prominent Tea Party leaders.

Instead of military action, Americans would favor the United States increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia. According to an April 2014 Pew Research Center/USA Today poll, 53 percent of Americans support sanctioning Putin’s government in response to the Ukraine crisis, while 36 percent oppose such a move (one in ten are unsure) [2].

Bipartisan support for economic aid to Ukraine

Despite their opposition to sending US troops to Ukraine in the event of Russian invasion, a plurality of Americans (43%) say that economic aid to Ukraine should be kept about the same, while an additional 15 percent support increasing that aid. That’s good news for Ukraine. The beleaguered country was recently approved for a $17 billion loan from the IMF, owes $9 billion in foreign-currency payments this year, and has seen the value of the hryvnia plummet against international currencies.

Americans may see this economic aid as a counterbalance to Russian ambitions. Those who see Russia’s territorial ambitions as a threat to the United States are more likely to support increasing or maintaining economic aid to Ukraine.

economicaid

Support for economic aid to Ukraine is also correlated with support for sending troops to the Eastern European nation in the case of Russian invasion. Majorities of those who favor military action (73%), as well as those who oppose sending troops (59%), support increasing or maintaining economic aid to Ukraine.

However, according to an April 2014 Pew Research Center/USA Today poll, this support does not extend to sending arms and military supplies to the Ukrainian government. While three in ten (30%) support providing military aid to Ukraine, six in ten (62%) oppose doing so.

About the 2014 Chicago Council Survey

This analysis is based on data from the 2014 Chicago Council Survey and previous Chicago Council Surveys of the American public on foreign policy. The survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide research panel between May 6 to May 29, 2014 among a national sample of 2,108 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error for the overall sample is ± 2.1 percentage points.

The 2014 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Korea Foundation, and the United States-Japan Foundation.

 


 

[1] Among those who consider themselves a part of or identify with the Tea Party movement (12% overall), 49 percent identify as Republicans, 18 percent as Democrats, and 31 percent as Independents.

[2] Pew Research Center, April, 2014, “Bipartisan Support for Increased U.S. Sanctions against Russia.”

Ann Coulter, the World Cup and What the Polls Show

By Dina Smeltz

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter probably didn’t watch the US play Belgium on Tuesday afternoon. But that didn’t stop her from tweeting “Doing the job Americans just won’t do: Immigrants fill up roster of ‘U.S.’ soccer team.” This tweet extended her rant from last week in which she blamed Ted Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law for a possible increase in soccer viewership in the US [she also railed against the sport because it is collectivist, foreign, and boring]. In her words:  “I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.”

While I don’t agree with Coulter’s position on soccer (or anything else, for that matter), there is indeed greater interest in soccer among Hispanic Americans than the rest of the public. A Pew survey conducted June 26-29 found that a majority of  Hispanic Americans (55%) are following the World Cup very or somewhat closely, compared to about a third of Blacks (32%) or Whites (32%). The Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg poll results from June 27-30 found a similar pattern (47% of Hispanics are watching the World Cup very or somewhat closely, compared to 33% among Black Americans and 26% among White Americans). And an Ipsos poll from April 7-11 found that one-third of Hispanic Americans said they would be following the tournament or some teams closely, double the percentage for respondents overall. Continue reading