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Russia: Surveys Show Russians Feel Threatened From Abroad

  • John Helmer



Moscow, 19 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Ahead of President Boris Yeltsin's arrival for the G-7 summit meeting in Denver, Russian pollsters and analysts say the only certain thing Russians feel about trips to the United States is that they would like to take one, too.

According to Richard Cruty, a New Yorker at the Russian Market Research Company, America is the most favored tourist destination for Russian men, especially those under 30. It's well ahead of France and Italy, which Cruty's survey of Russian households found to be more popular among Russian women.

But holidays are a far cry from political and business sentiments, according to several different Russian opinion polls. These provide a picture that has been remarkably consistent for its negative attitude towards Washington and U.S. business policy over the past two years.

A recent survey of Russian political views by a national polling center, along with another one by Professor Yury Fedorov of the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, found that over a third of Russians feel their country is threatened from abroad. Most of them identify the U.S. as the principal source of danger. That, they also say, is more a product of U.S. trade and financial clout than military muscle.

This attitude appears little changed from 1995, when the Friedrich Ebert Institute of Germany polled dozens of Russia's leading journalists to find out which countries they thought were most friendly,and which most hostile. Germany headed the list of friends. Afghanistan headed the list of enemies, but the U.S. came close behind.

When researchers at the United States Information Agency (USIA) polled Russians nationwide to check the same thing, they discovered that while most wanted to visit the U.S., 59 percent also believed the U.S. is utilizing Russia's current economic weakness to reduce it to a second-rate power. Some 61 percent said American policy aims at dominating the world.

That suspicion is said to be even sharper in sections of the business community facing intense American competition for export markets. These include steel, arms, agribusiness, and aerospace.

Fedorov's survey also found that 75 percent of Russians think Russia should recover the superpower status that was lost, they believe, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and when economic decline set in immediately afterwards. They link this recovery with economic growth, more than with military might. But they don't say the reform policies, promoted by Yeltsin and backed by the G-7 leaders, are the only path to growth.

A veteran North American observer in Moscow says that "on the one hand, most Russians believe the economy has to grow for Russia to become a great power again. On the other hand, very few think Yeltsin's effort to achieve an equal place with the G-7 will make any difference. Because of Russian wariness towards the West, Yeltsin's performance at such summits is viewed with as much suspicion as indifference."

The USIA survey also confirms Russian skepticism that private American investment and U.S.-supported loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund will turn out to be beneficial for Russia. According to the USIA poll, 74 percent of Russians said Washington-funded exchanges of students, and shipments of medical supplies were positive; only 39 percent said the same about U.S. investment.

If the U.S. Senate and the Clinton Administration go along with the recent Congressional vote to cut U.S. aid to Russia -- conditional on Russia halting missile sales to China -- most Russians won't care. The polls indicate they are more likely to say they expect Washington to act this way.

Russian analysts say popular reaction to what is happening to Russia's image and interests in meetings like the Denver summit is muted by much more pressing worries about such domestic problems as delayed payment of wages and pensions, and crime.

According to Fedorov, this doesn't mean they are convinced by the rhetoric of Western leaders that expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) won't threaten Russia. Some 40 percent of Russians say they favor forming alliances with Belarus and other former Soviet states as a counter to NATO. Up to 20 percent say they think tougher measures are required, like deploying nuclear weapons in Belarus and Armenia.
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