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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

If You Ask G-8 Residents, Russia is Really Rotten

The BBC reports more evidence that Russia must be evicted from the G-8. When surveyed, residents of the G-8 nations believed Putin had done more harm than good to democracy, human rights and quality of life in Russia, and had been more detrimental than helpful to world peace and energy security. In a truly shocking result, the poll found that while only 26% of G-8 residents thought Putin had a positive impact on democracy and human rights, a whopping 64% of Russians thought so (interestingly, though, even Russians admitted this was Putin's weaknest characteristic). The poll also shows how poorly the Western press have been educating their populations about the horror of what is going on in Russia, since there were large numbers who could not answer and since 26% is still a frighteningly large number to think Putin's draconian crackdown on civil rights has been positive.

Most people in the G-7 leading industrialised countries have a negative view of Russia's President Vladimir Putin, a BBC poll suggests. Of 16,000 people questioned, 56% said he had had a harmful impact on democracy and human rights in Russia and on peace and security in the world. But in the remainder of the 30 countries covered by the poll, opinions of Mr Putin were more favourable. And in Russia itself, he was given overwhelmingly positive ratings.

The survey was carried out by polling organisations Globescan and The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). There is little doubt that, in his eight years as Russian President, Vladimir Putin has had a considerable impact on the world stage, and inside Russia. How positively or negatively his legacy is viewed, though, depends on where you are in the world, according to the BBC World Service poll. But a key imponderable in viewing these results is also the extent to which one is indeed talking about a "legacy". Mr Putin is stepping down as president shortly. Just how much influence he will continue to wield, and in what precise capacity, remains a matter of great speculation.

Against the background of general unease among Western governments over the direction that Moscow has been taking recently under Mr Putin, the poll suggests that 56% of people in the world's seven leading industrialised countries think he has had a negative impact on democracy and human rights in Russia. Nearly half - 47% - also think his impact on international peace and security has been negative. Among the six western European countries polled, opinion was on the negative side generally. What is more, this poll did not include former Warsaw Pact countries in central and eastern Europe, where the attitudes of people towards Moscow are likely to be negative. Yet, despite a recent series of major diplomatic rows between Moscow and London, 45% of Britons polled had a positive view of Russia's world role.

In terms of the more broadly positive reactions overall among the 30 countries except Russia that were surveyed, this may be driven in part by a continuing view in many regions of the world that Russia represents a potential counterweight to the United States, The US is still widely seen as the dominant superpower, but whose foreign policy under the Bush administration has been especially controversial. So, beyond the major industrialised countries and the West, there may be less unease about - and perhaps even a welcoming of - a newly-assertive Russia.

The counterweight argument may be reflected in the very different results emerging in this survey from the Middle East - 78% of Egyptians view Russian influence as positive, only 29% of Israelis do. Egypt, of course, has a long history of close ties to Russia, even though the current Egyptian government is close to Washington. Strikingly, in terms of Russia's and Mr Putin's world roles, the Chinese are very positive. That may be because the Chinese feel a common bond with the Russians as part of a camp that seeks to check US influence, and reassert a multi-polar world. Still, the scale of some of the results is surprising - 69% of the Chinese surveyed see Russia playing a positive international role. Beijing has certainly developed a relationship with Moscow, but only up to a point, and the two are themselves still potential rivals.

Significantly, Russians in this survey give Mr Putin high approval ratings on all the issues raised - including democracy, human rights, and quality of life in the country, as well as on the international stage. And, for Mr Putin himself, these may be the most telling results.

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