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Russia: Public Opinion Divided Over Expectations For Bush-Putin Summit

  • Francesca Mereu

This week's U.S.-Russia summit is the talk of the town in Moscow. U.S. President George W. Bush arrives in the Russian capital tomorrow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Friday, Bush and Putin are due to sign a nuclear-arms reduction accord that calls for large cuts in the U.S. and Russian arsenals. But a recent public-opinion poll shows that Muscovites are divided about whether the summit will actually achieve anything of lasting value.

Moscow, 22 May 2002 (RFE/RL)-- According to a recent poll by the VTsIOM Russian public-opinion center, 36 percent of Muscovites say they expect this week's summit between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin to yield positive results, while 39 percent believe the summit will end with little to show. Eight percent say the summit will bring only negative results for Russia.

Aleksandr Golov, a sociologist who helped conduct the poll, spoke to RFE/RL and offered his explanation for why so many people in Russia have negative feelings about the summit.

"Now people are very disappointed with the reforms [that are going on in our country]. And the U.S. is partly accused of being used as a model for these reforms. So people put the blame on [the U.S.] about [the failure of] their domestic problems. People are simple, and they are worried about themselves and their relatives. Their attitudes toward America are, in general, very distant. They don't travel a lot. So America is a kind of symbol [for them]. You cannot blame yourself [for your own failure], so people look for someone else [to blame]," Golov said.

Raisat Gadzhiva is a 41-year-old vendor from Chechnya. Gadzhiva left the neighboring republic of Daghestan three months ago to find a better life in the prosperous Russian capital.

Gadzhiva sees the United States as an unreachable country. "I just would like to get the chance to look at it with my own eyes," she said.

Commenting on the summit, Gadzhiva said normal Russian citizens won't benefit, since Putin and Bush won't be thinking about them.

"It would be very good if [the summit] brought some results. But I don't think it will bring positive results. [Both presidents] think about themselves; they will achieve their goals. But neither of them thinks about people. If they only thought about the people, our people wouldn't live in misery. Let's look at the situation in the Caucasus. If they only tried [to do something] for the people, [the war] would stop there. But an economic war is going on there, and people are suffering," Gadzhiva said.

Rosa Oryol, a 16-year-old law student, also doesn't expect much from the summit since, she said, the U.S. is not interested in helping Russia become the superpower it used to be.

"On the surface, it seems that everything is going well in relations between Russia and the U.S. But [if we look] inside, everything is very bad. I think that it will continue this way. There will be meetings [and] presentations; there will be talks, but they will bring absolutely nothing. The U.S. is now the strongest and the most powerful country, and Russia is just a former strong and powerful country. Now our president is trying to raise our country. Bush pretends that he wants to help us. But inside, I don't think that now is a convenient time for the U.S. to help Russia get back to the level it used to have," Oryol said.

Golov said Bush is not very popular among Russians. He said 45 percent of respondents say they don't like the American president, with only 25 percent saying they have a positive opinion.

Fifty-eight percent of Russians believe Putin will use this week's summit to try to bring U.S and Russian relations closer, while only 17 percent think Bush will try to achieve the same goal.

"I was a bit surprised that just a few people thought [Putin] will play a selfish game with Bush. People believe that he can defend some common interests -- common to Russia and America. And Bush doesn't have such trust. People have a very good opinion of Putin. Putin is seen as ingenuous, incapable of deceiving. Bush is going to deceive, but Putin won't deceive. [Putin] is a simple soul. [People] have such ideas about him," Golov said.

Golov said Russians seem to see Putin as the last hope to restore their country.

Arkadii Shaginyan, a 32-year-old engineer, said he trusts that Putin can achieve positive results during the summit.

"I really hope that there will be positive results. I believe in Putin, and I believe that he can find a point of contact with Bush. The most important thing is world stability. If you have it, it means a flourishing economy and a normal life both for Russian and American citizens," Shaginyan said.

Twenty-one-year-old Boris Korolev is a medical student in Moscow who said he also feels positive about this week's summit.

"The relationship [between Russia and the U.S.] should get better, since these kinds of meetings bring some results, some positive results. For this reason, I think that something will move forward in our relations," Korolev said.

According to Golov, Russians are suspicious about the U.S. government but believe that ordinary Americans are down-to-earth and humble, much like themselves. He said that while Russians appreciate America's democratic values, when it comes to politics, most Russians believe Moscow "should take them by the ear."