The latest Pew international poll finds that whereas U.S. and global sentiments toward Russia were rather moderate, not hostile, until after U.S. President Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, the sentiments toward Russia both in the U.S. and in most countries are now generally sharply hostile. This is an achievement for President Obama, toward which he has worked tirelessly, both publicly and in private.
Pew’s new report, dated August 5th, covers 39 countries, and is headlined, “Russia, Putin Held in Low Regard around the World: Russia’s Image Trails U.S. across All Regions.” It finds that “Russia’s Image” is 30% “Favorable,” and 51% “Unfavorable,” across the 39 countries.
A previous Pew international poll, published on 3 September 2013, had not found the same thing to be the case. It was bannered, “Global Opinion of Russia Mixed: Negative Views Widespread in Mideast and Europe.” This poll found that “Russia’s Global Image” was 36% “Favorable,” and 39% “Unfavorable,” across the 38 countries that were polled. Russia’s image has gone down one-sixth (lost 6% of its previous 36%) in “Favorable” ratings, and increased 31% (by 51%/39%) in “Unfavorable” ratings.
During the interim between those two polls, President Obama’s Administration, as it began its second term in 2013, replaced its top State Department official who ran policymaking for Europe and Asia, with an aide to Hillary Clinton who comes from the leading “neo-conservative” family and who had previously been the top foreign policy advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, Victoria Nuland, whose husband Robert Kagan, had been a co-founder (along with Bill Kristol) of PNAC, the organization that, even before President George W. Bush was inaugurated, had led the voices calling for Sadam Hussein’s overthrow, and for other pro-Saudi, pro-Israeli, anti-Russian, U.S. foreign policies.
President Obama also replaced his first-term’s U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine by Geoffrey Pyatt, another “neo-conservative.” Pyatt was assigned to execute inside Ukraine the instructions that he receives from Ms. Nuland, who is based in Washington. Here is one of the key phone-conversations that leaked out, in which Ms. Nuland tells Mr. Pyatt whom to place at the head of the Ukrainian government when Ukraine’s democratically elected President, Viktor Yanukovych, will be overthrown, which overthrow happened 18 days later. That man, “Yats,” did become appointed to lead the “interim” government, and he is still in power there, though a figurehead President has been elected, by voters in the regions of Ukraine that had voted against Yanukovych. The turnout in that 25 May 2014 election (the first post-coup election) was almost nil in the pro-Yanukovych districts. It was actually nil in the area of Ukraine commonly called “Donbass,” where over 90% of the voters had voted for Yanukovych. They did not accept the Obama Administration’s coup. It was an extremely violent coup. President Obama subsequently supported an ethnic cleansing operation to get rid of the residents in the area of Ukraine that had voted 90%+ for Yanukovych; that is, in Donbass. This is necessary for Obama to do in order to establish stability for the anti-Russian government that Obama has installed in Ukraine, because, otherwise, there is no way that the natural resources in that part of Ukraine can be retained by Obama’s government if the voters who live there, stay there and vote in future Ukrainian elections. For American policy in Ukraine to succeed, those people must be gotten rid of. Many have fled to nearby Russia. This exodus actually helps Obama’s purpose, to get rid of them: they can’t vote in Ukraine. So: it, too, serves Obama’s objective.
The people in Donbass had hoped that, like with Crimea, the Russian government would accept their region as being part of Russia. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was mute on that request until mid-September of 2014, at which time he told the leaders there that they should instead remain as part of Ukraine, but with a form of independence there so that Ukraine wouldn’t be able to continue the ethnic cleansing to get rid of them (which Ukraine calls by the name of “Anti Terrorist Operation,” or ATO). In other words: Putin wants those people to be voting in Ukrainian elections, not in Russian ones. He doesn’t want them to be killed, but he also doesn’t want them to be in Russia. He wants as many of them as possible to stay alive, but inside Ukraine, whose government wants them to be dead or else gone. That’s the real issue between Obama and Putin: Obama wants those people to be dead or else in Russia, while Putin wants those people to be alive and voting in Ukrainian elections, not in Russia ones (where their presence or not will make no difference to the government in power: immaterial).
During the coup, Obama’s hired people in Ukraine massacred busloads of Crimeans who had travelled to the capital in Kiev to protest the coup there while it was occurring. As a result of that massacre, Crimeans in Crimea sought and obtained from the Russian government (and this was prior to the start of the ethnic cleansing program in Donbass) the protection by Russia’s soldiers, many of whom were already stationed at Russia’s naval base in Crimea, which had been located there since 1783. The Russian government complied with that request from Crimeans, and held a referendum in Crimea to allow the people there to decide whether Crimea should remain as part of Ukraine, which it had been only since 1954, or instead to become again part of Russia, as it had been for centuries before 1954. The U.S. Government had sponsored Gallup polls to be taken in Crimea both before the coup and after, in order to determine whether there would be any way that such a referendum might be challenged by the United States, but the results both times showed overwhelming, in some cases near-100%, support of Crimeans for rejoining Russia, and for their no longer being part of Ukraine.
Obama, of course, has opposed both the people in Donbass and the people in Crimea, and has condemned Russia’s protection of Crimea and Russia’s military and other assistance (including extensive shipments of food, water, and medicines) to the people of Donbass. (The Ukrainian government has protested those shipments.) He has done everything that he can to turn global sentiment against Russia for responding to the coup that the U.S. had carried out next door to Russia, in Ukraine.
Here are some instances in which President Obama, during his second term, has expressed his intention to isolate Russia (and he always gives as the reason for isolating Russia the relationship between Ukraine and Russia):
“We’ll continue to make clear to Russia that further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world.”
“to isolate Russia for its actions”
“Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further”
“Russia Is Once Again Isolating Itself from the International Community”
“These measures will increase Russia’s political isolation”
“it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters. That’s how America leads.”
“… what’s at stake in Ukraine. And what we have done is to consistently isolate Russia on this issue and to raise the costs that Russia confronts.”
“This is now the second year in a row that the G7 has met without Russia — another example of Russia’s isolation.”
As regards the background of the February 2014 Ukrainian coup, it preceded Obama’s second term. It was long in planning. Steve Weissman at Reader Supported News did one superb article on that. And Brandon Turbeville at his site did another. Moreover, according to Ms. Nuland speaking in December 2013, just two months before the coup, “We’ve invested over five billion dollars” to prepare for it.
So: what Pew’s polls are showing is that, concerning international opinion, America’s President has been very successful at persuading the world that Russia is, as Obama stated in his National Security Strategy 2015 (which referred to Russia in 17 of its 18 usages of the various forms of the word “aggressor”), evil.
The allegations that Obama does not know what he is doing in foreign affairs are false. And, moreover, his effort here is a bipartisan one: this ia an American achievement, not merely a personal victory for Obama. It’s an excellent example of the way the U.S. government functions, not merely of the way Mr. Obama does.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.