by Gordon M. Hahn
While I am not a fan of Russian President Vladimir Putin or any active politician, I am a fan of accuracy in reporting. In that regard I am no fan whatsoever of the Democratic Party mouthpiece, The Washington Post, or any U.S. or Russian mainstream media institutions (with the exception of Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio and several daily newspapers, in particular Nezavisimaya gazeta). Here’s a good reason why.
On August 5th WP published an article on a Pew Center survey of public opinion around the world regarding Russia and Putin. The Pew Center’s headline was actually even more misleading than WP’s: “Russia, Putin held in Low Regard Around the World” (www.pewglobal.org/2015/08/05/russia-putin-held-in-low-regard-around-the-world/). Pew’s own data, which I will get to in a second, somewhat refutes this claim when you give China and India their proper weight.
WaPo’s Adam Taylor delivered the WaPo ‘whopper’: “Of the 39 countries polled, Pew found only three where the majority of people felt ‘a lot of confidence’ or ‘some confidence’ that Putin would do the right thing regarding world affairs” (www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/08/05/russia-loves-putin-the-rest-of-the-world-not-so-much/). The author’s slight of hand here is to focus on the ‘majority’ in separate countries, emphasizing that only three countries have a majority trusting Putin. The problem is that in several more countries than just three, including the world’s two largest countries by population, more people trust than do not trust Putin. In China 54 percent trust Putin, 29 percent do not. In the world’s larges democracy, India, 35 percent – trust, 16 percent do not. These two countries, which make up 36 percent of the world’s population, trust more than distrust Putin. These two countries’ populations, moreover, comprise a large majority of the population of the 39 countries surveyed. When not focusing on the majority but the plurality, then we see Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Philippines, Tanzania, and Vietnam also trust more than they distrust Putin. Thus, 8 of the 39 surveyed countries trust more than distrust Putin – hardly a win but not the near unanimous distrust spun by WaPo. Moreover, when country population is considered, Putin does notch a win. (www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/08/05/russia-loves-putin-the-rest-of-the-world-not-so-much/).
If we unpack the meme ‘Putin’s Russia’ and just focus on Russia’s favorability/unfavorability in the eyes of the world, the picture is better for Russia but still not very good, but again Russia ‘wins’ in terms of the countries population in which pluralities are won. Ten countries have a more favorable than unfavorable view of Russia, including China and India again: South Korea (46-43 percent), China (51-37), India (43-17), Vietnam (75-10), Nigeria (39-38), Uganda (37-34), Burkina Faso (34-29), Ghana (56-27), Tanzania (38-24), and Ethiopia (37-10). Three countries are split evenly: Philippines, Peru, and Senegal. The most unfavorable dispositions towards Russia are found in Poland and Jordan (80 percent), followed by Israel (74), Japan (73), and Ukraine (72) (www.pewglobal.org/2015/08/05/russia-putin-held-in-low-regard-around-the-world/).
There are some biases against Russia written into the methodology. There are numerous Russian allies and historically friendly countries that were not included in the survey. Not a single Slavic country — besides antagonistic Poland and Ukraine — is included (along with Russia). Besides Russia itself, again antagonistic Ukraine is the only country among the post-Soviet countries included. Excluding the Baltic states and Georgia, most of the post-Soviet states are favorably disposed towards Russia (www.pewglobal.org/2015/08/05/russia-putin-held-in-low-regard-around-the-world/).
Clearly Russia loses out to the U.S. in popularity by a large margin. Only 7 of the 39 countries viewed the U.S. more unfavorably than favorably. In order of unfavorability they are: Jordan (83 percent unfavorable), Russia (81), Palestinian Territories (70), Pakistan (62), Lebanon (60), Turkey (58), and China (49 unfavorable, 44 favorable) (www.pewglobal.org/2015/06/23/1-americas-global-image/). Thus, Russia’s population may be the most antagonistic to the U.S. in the world since the 2 percent difference between Russia and Jordan is within the margin of error.
Numerous commentators have asserted that Russia has nothing to fear from the West and NATO and that the real threats to Russia come from China in the east and jihadism from the south. However, if the attitudes of countries’ populations matter than Russia faces an axis of antagonism to its immediate west through the northern-central plain of running through Poland and Ukraine. Russia’s unfavorability in western Europe and the US is high extending that axis through Europe and across the Atlantic to the U.S. and Canada with their influential Polish and Ukrainian lobbies, wherefrom a good part of the pressure for NATO expansion first emerged two decades ago.
Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; and Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, MonTREP, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and wrote, edited and published the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report at CSIS from 2010-2013. Dr. Hahn has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute.