Thursday, July 6, 2017

Survey Says: Russia Still Has Many Friends in Europe

It’s been a good year for Russian influence abroad, if you believe the polls. First this year came the annual Arab survey, showing a notable increase in Russia’s prestige in the Arab world. Now, a recently released Pew Research survey of Orthodox-majority countries in Europe shows broad support for a Russian role to balance against the West:
Roughly a quarter century after the end of the Soviet era, Russia retains substantial influence throughout many parts of Central and Eastern Europe. Indeed, Russia is widely viewed by the region’s Orthodox Christians as an important counterweight to Western influences and as a global protector of Orthodox and ethnic Russian populations, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of 18 countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Majorities or pluralities in nearly all Orthodox-majority countries surveyed agree that a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West, and that Russia has an obligation to protect Orthodox Christians and ethnic Russians outside its borders.
This sentiment prevails even in the three Orthodox-majority countries surveyed that are members of the European Union: Bulgaria, Greece and Romania. But pro-Russia sentiment tends to run strongest in former Soviet republics that have Orthodox majorities and are not in the EU, including Armenia, Belarus and Moldova.
Predictably, the countries who have been most directly exposed to Russia’s compatriots policy—Ukraine and Georgia—have much less sympathetic views about Moscow’s place in the world. A narrow 52 percent of Georgians say a strong Russia is necessary to balance against the West, while a mere 22 percent of Ukrainians hold that belief. Moscow’s heavy-handed interventions in those countries have hardly endeared their populations to the idea of Russia as the principled protector of their interests.
Elsewhere, though, the results show relatively strong popular support for the idea of a strong Russia responsible for “protecting” Orthodox Christians:
Putin has often justified his adventurism both on the grounds of balancing against the West and protecting Russian compatriots. But foreign support for those positions does not seem to come from a consistent embrace of Putin’s foreign policy aims. Majorities in these countries also favor good relations with the U.S. and EU, for example.
Rather, pro-Russia sentiment seems to come from a perceived cultural affinity with Russia’s Orthodox heritage—and is seen especially among those who see a clash between current “Western” values and “traditional” ones. This is a fault line that Putin has also cannily exploited in recent years, couching his own restrictions on LGBT rights, for example, as part of Russia’s defense of “traditional values” against decadent Western liberalism. The Pew survey suggests that many European Orthodox find that characterization credible.
Of course, none of these findings excuse or justify Russian policy, which often applies pious justifications to Moscow’s domestic repressions at home and its cynical realpolitik abroad. But the Pew survey nonetheless should serve as a sobering read for all those advocating some kind of simplistic public diplomacy response to the so-called “fake news” push being spearheaded by Russia in Europe. It’s all too often assumed that Russian talking points can be easily rebuffed with more and better talk of liberal values, when in fact Russia’s message is far more resonant across parts of Europe than many would care to admit. For better or worse, a kind of cultural affinity for Russia exists, with large populations that identify—for ethnic, religious, or linguistic reasons—with the course that Putin is charting for the country. Any serious U.S. strategy will have to take that fact into account, not deny it.

1 comment:

S. Yates said...

It is interesting how terminology and language appear to have changed over generations especially from the past century, yet remain the same in principle. For example yellow journalism now is fake news, ideology reconfigured into quasi-religious ethnic repatriation. Justifying myths and illusions over reality and fact for political expediency. Justifying the East-West paradigm division, which in actuality is disappearing from past forms into new hybrids of repression and political theatre.