Jun 19, 2005 8:33 pm


Putin may wish to play with the big boys but his people have few illusions.

Izvestia, June 17, 2005
TELL ME WHO YOUR ENEMIES ARE - Russia and its neighbors

A small country, surrounded by mostly hostile neighbors and
not taking much interest in the rest of the outside world: That's the impression of Russia provided by the Yuri Levada Center's opinion poll, asking which countries are Russia's friends and enemies.

According to respondents, four countries are Russia's leading
enemies: Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, and Estonia. A long way
behind, in fifth and sixth place, are the United States and
Afghanistan. The list of Russia's friends is headed by Belarus,
followed by Germany, Kazakhstan, India, France, and Bulgaria.

These results suggest at least three conclusions.

Firstly, Russian citizens don't give much thought to Russia's international standing or what other nations think of Russia; they prefer to obediently accept the flow of propaganda in the media. Poll responses show a sharply negative attitude to the states with which Russia currently has some disagreements that are getting lots of media coverage. This explains the "leading positions" of Llatvia and Georgia. Lithuania is a special case, blamed for the actions of the whole European Union: Russian citizens seem to perceive the ill-will of Vilnius in the problems with Kaliningrad transit, although Brussels is really to blame.

Secondly, respondents appear to be convinced that the degree of friendliness among the people of any particular country is determined solely by political relations between our governments: if political relations are bad, the people over there must be unfriendly as well. Based on this reasoning, we can expect the list of leading ill-wishers will soon expand to include Moldova, where some ultimatums are being heard about withdrawing Russian troops from the Trans-Dniester region. Evidently, in the event of a change of government in Minsk, Belarus would also rapidly lose its "best friend" status; although even now, political relations with the Lukashenko regime are only considered friendship in formal terms.

Thirdly, judging by the attitudes of respondents, Russia has definitely ceased to be a global world power. After all, a great power couldn't seriously consider small countries like Georgia and Latvia to be its enemies. The fact that the United States, the perennial enemy, and Afghanistan, the symbol of international terrorism, are ranked a long way behind Russia's hostile neighbors demonstrates an obvious narrowing of horizons.

Losing great power status and influence is a complex and painful process. Russia is neither the first nor the last state to experience this; and each metropolis finds its own way of adapting to new realities. France, for example, after losing its empire,created something like a new image of French greatness - partly real, partly invented. Until Russia starts really strengthening its international standing on a fundamentally new basis, it will evidently require something similar to France's post-imperial mythmaking. But if we spend a long time indulging the feeling that our country's main opponents are some relatively tiny and weak neighbor-states, we'll eventually end up with something fairly unappealing as "the revival of national self-awareness."

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