Presidents Bush and Putin are set to meet this Sunday at the former’s family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine. Bush’s camp has already announced that it has low expectations for the meeting especially on such issues as cooperation on missile defense and Kosovo independence. “I would caution against expecting grand new announcements,” cautioned White House press secretary Tony Snow. “This is, in fact, an opportunity for two leaders to talk honestly and candidly with one another.”
It appears that the global public feels the same. In anticipation for the summit, Pew Research Center did an extensive poll on global attitudes toward each president and other global powers. As the report states:
A 47-nation survey finds global public opinion increasingly wary of the world’s dominant nations and disapproving of their leaders. Anti-Americanism is extensive, as it has been for the past five years. At the same time, the image of China has slipped significantly among the publics of other major nations. Opinion about Russia is mixed, but confidence in its president, Vladimir Putin, has declined sharply. In fact, the Russian leader’s negatives have soared to the point that they mirror the nearly worldwide lack of confidence in George W. Bush.
Disapproval for Bush results from the America’s Iraq War, the War on Terror and its violation of human rights and use of torture. “Favorable ratings of America are lower in 26 of 33 countries for which trends are available,” the survey reports. Approval of the US is highest in West Africa and lowest in the Islamic countries. Displeasure with Putin is significantly strong in Western Europe where dependence on Russian energy has increased. Many Europeans feel that they are held hostage to Russia’s willingness to use energy as a weapon of foreign policy.
When looking at each president’s respective countries, the results are telling. In the States, 45% of Americans have a confidence in Bush’s leadership and 30% have similar views of Putin. In Russia, 18% have confidence in Bush, while Putin garners an overwhelming 84% of his compatriots’ confidence. Putin maybe disliked the world over, but he is loved in Russia.
While Bush and Putin are unpopular, the study states that this hasn’t translated in support for nations that may serve as countervailing forces. Leaders in China, Iran and Venezuela all remain similarly unpopular.
You Might also like
By Sean — 10 years ago
Thinking Allowed‘s Laurie Taylor has an interesting discussion with Mikhail Ryklin about the historical memory of Stalinism. Ryklin’s most recent work looks at Communist ideology as a “substitute” or “political” religion which “gave millions of people all over the globe an ultimate meaning.” Indeed, Marxism, with its eschatological narrative based on the fall and rise of Man, class concepts of the Good and the Evil, and the importance of Revolution as the apocalyptic moment, stood as a secular replacement for the Christian religious narrative at the moment when liberal capitalism was in crisis.
And what is the state of Stalinism now? Ryklin argues that Stalin’s rehabilitation cannot be seperated from the Soviet victory in WWII. Current so-called “Stalinists” are trying to explain the Terror with the Molotov thesis: Terror was necessary to rid the county of a potential Fifth Column in case of war. As Molotov, the ever loyal and unapologetic Stalinist, told Felix Chuev in 1982,
It is interesting that before the events of the thirties, we lived all the time with oppositionists, with oppositionist groups. After the war, there were no opposition groups; it was such a relief that it made it easier to give a correct, better direction, but if the majority of these people had remained alive, I don’t know if we would be standing solidly on our feet. Here Stalin took upon himself chiefly all this difficult business, but we helped properly. Correctly. And without such a person as Stalin, it would have been very difficult. Very. Especially in the period of war. All around–one against another, what good is that?
As Ryklin adds, this thesis goes well with Russians’ split memory on Stalinism. Millions perished, but the time was also a period of social mobility, perceived order, and most importantly, Russia’s victory over its external enemies. “There are very different images of this time depending on what group in society your family belonged,” Ryklin tells Taylor. The so-called revival of Stalin in the present is an appeal to this positive memory of period.
It’s an interesting discussion with a fascinating thinker. Unfortunately, ten minutes just doesn’t do the Ryklin’s views justice.
By Sean — 4 years ago
Lilia Shevtsova, who I like a lot, has an interesting comment in the Financial Times. What she has to say doesn’t bode well for Ukraine or Putin. Putin has won but his victory is only tactical. According to Shevtsova, “tactical victories often end in strategic defeats” and Putin, by turning Russia into a “war state,” has “unleashed the process he cannot stop and made himself hostage to suicidal statecraft.” Essentially Putin has boxed himself in. He can’t extricate himself from Ukraine without a victory, and that victory—with the spent economic and political capital necessary to pull it off–risks “a loss of power.” I think this is pretty unlikely.
First Ukraine. Basically the west has given up without much of a fight. Sure there are the sanctions, which are taking a bite, but they just show how little leverage the West has over Putin. The West is unwilling to really defend Ukraine where it counts. Nato can bluster about the Russian threat and shore up its Baltic members all it wants. And when Poroshenko pleaded to Obama that he can’t win a war with blankets? He went home with more blankets. As for the sanctions, they aren’t going to alter Putin’s course in the short term. They depend too much on oligarchs enslaved to Putin getting together and pressuring him to change course. That’s highly unlikely to happen. If anything, the sanctions have forced a tightening of Putin’s inner circle and a strengthening of his autocratic hand.
So Ukraine has been sold out. Shevtsova writes:
The west dare not call the Russian incursion an act of aggression. They talk euphemistically of a “political solution” to the Ukrainian crisis, which means that the Kremlin’s interests should be taken into account. The Nato summit held in Wales this month demonstrated that the alliance is not prepared to do much more than condemn Russia.
The promises of lethal aid for Ukraine that have apparently been made by some Nato countries will not shift the military balance – though both sides have an interest in pretending otherwise. Western sanctions will not force Mr Putin to backtrack. The west has proved that it is neither ready to include Ukraine in its security umbrella, nor to live up to their commitments under international law as guarantors of Ukrainian territorial integrity. A New Russia (or “Novorossiya”) on the territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists is on its way to becoming a reality. The partition of Ukraine is silently being ratified by the rest of the world (emphasis added).
Still, for Shevtsova, this means Putin isn’t winning even though it appears that’s exactly what’s happening. In fact, “he is again miscalculating.” Putin thinks he can coax Russians into buying into the besieged fortress forever. Russians will tire of the propaganda eventually. Also, few are willing to die for Putin’s adventure in Ukraine. In fact, Shevtsova says that reports of Russian soldiers dying in Ukraine “has already begun undermining the patriotic mood.” Really? According to a recent Levada poll, only 42 percent of Russians believe Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine, and 54 percent think those that did die were volunteers. Fifty percent hadn’t heard anything at all about the Russian soldiers. Russians also don’t seem to be too concerned about the sanctions. A recent poll concluded that 84 percent of Russians agree with the ban on food imports from Europe. True, many don’t buy imported food anyway, but that says, contrary what many have argued, Russia isn’t sanctioning itself. Sure, an impressive 26,000 marched in Moscow for peace. But it’s going to take a lot more than that to turn the tide. Patriotism is hard thing to lick.
But the big problem Shevtsova foresees is Novorossyia. She writes:
The irony is that Novorossiya will soon become a problem for the Russian president. The Kremlin will have to contend with heavily armed separatists, embittered by their failure to secure a stipend from Moscow, just as the tide of protest begins to rise at home.
Moscow will have to keep its heroes at arm’s length. Those who are bravely fighting for a “Russian world” could quickly become a threat to Mr Putin if they were allowed into Russia proper. They are welcome in the motherland, but only in coffins.
It would be a problem if fighters began returning en mass to Russia with their guns in tow. This is probably why Putin has sought to “Ukrainianize” the rebel leadership and put forward a peace deal that keeps an autonomous Novorossyia within Ukraine. Russia wants to dominate the Donbas; it doesn’t want to incorporate it. Why formally incorporate the Donbas when Ukraine is willing to hold on to it and foot the bill? Let Poroshenko govern that mess.
So yeah, Putin’s going to keep Novorossiya’s heroes at arm’s length. Novorossyia is just a cinematic project to rile up the population anyway. The “heroes” have always been actors in a larger drama, and when this series jumps the shark, its production set will be folded up and the stage will be prepared for a new theatrical work to dazzle the spectator. The cinematography deployed to turn Russia into “war state” is all just the tactics. We shouldn’t so quickly substitute smoke and mirrors for reality. Putin’s real strategy is to hobble Ukraine and humble the West, and on that he’s doing pretty damn well.
By Sean — 8 years ago
Back in late 2008, when Pajamas Media was still having me write articles on Russia (they’ve since stopped asking, I think, because I wasn’t anti-Russian enough), I noted that Americans and Russians long for the return of the Cold War. Those were the days when “new Cold War” books were all the rage and Russia and American were engaging in some good old proxy warfare in Georgia and Ukraine. In America, Russia was evil again and that was a good thing. In Russia, America was evil again and that was a good thing too. Americaphobes and Russophobes rejoiced in unison.
Enter Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev. Two “thaw” presidents in their respective countries looking to reform their respective kingdoms in the wake of economic calamity. The former called for a “new” America, the latter called for a “modernized” Russia. Both were simply mimicking what their forefathers had strove to do, albeit in their own rhetorical ways. On their respective domestic fronts the “new” America and the “modernized” Russia continue to look like the “old” America and the “backward” Russia.
While domestics alluded them, their tone vis-a-vis each other shifted. The “new Cold War” rhetoric of 2008 quickly went from nostalgia to melancholy with the Obama Administration’s aim to “reset” relations with Russia. The US was looking for some Russian acquiescence in dealing with Iran, and the Russians were looking for investment from the West. The lovefest, while lacking much by way of anything concrete, nevertheless provided the kindle for a warmer atmosphere. The moves made Neo-Cold Warriors look as if they were barking at the moon. Obama and Medvedev consummated their matrimony with a couple of burgers and fries.
Love was in the air. That was until 11 spies were uncovered on the Eastern seaboard. Ten were busted, one flew the coop. Their mission was to gather information that according to most could have been found in the press and on the internet. Most of all, it seemed that the scandal would set the stage for Russia and the US to return to their natural place as adversaries. The Cold War seemed to be on the verge of being back, baby. Career Russophobes like Ed Lucas were off to see how often the word “chekist” could be tweeted. The more zany clocked long hours trying to map the six degrees of separation between Anna Chapman’s Facebook friends as if they revealed some deeper conspiracy. After a brief respite, the Cold War seemed back. Bolsheviks were breeding once again, this time at our neighborhood barbecues.
Then Obama and Medvedev pissed on the parade. The spy scandal was much ado about nothing, the duo assured us; especially since the US Justice Department seemed to not have enough to even charge the ten with espionage. Even the often demonized spymaster Putin laughed off the affair as business as usual.
Nevertheless, though a Cold War redux was dashed, the two-week reality show proved once again that a cultural desire for it lingered. For most people the desire wasn’t for the real Cold War taste with all its accompanying political fats and calories, but a more processed, nay, produced version to titillate our imaginations. For the Cold War gives us something the dreaded Wahabbis never can: to quote Kramer, “The high stakes game of world diplomacy and international intrigue.” Only other white people can do that, and the Russians are just “white” enough.
For a good week it was like old school James Bond all over again. Sexy spy chicks looking to infiltrate the rich and famous, deep cover agents posing a “normal” Americans, aliases, intrigue, disappearing ink, safe drops, secret cables, and spy vs. spy lingo. The American media was overjoyed. Between rerun reporting of the BP oil spill, another Lindsay Lohan meltdown, or the LeBronathon, the spy scandal was a breath of fresh air.
Even the British were eager to jump on the bandwagon. In a desperate move to appear relevant as a nation, the British struggled to worm its way into the performance. MI5 jumped into the fray with its own investigation into the extent Anna Chapman went to honey trap British officials and elites. The security agency even dropped hints that there were at least 500 spies snooping on British soil.
The real exploiters of the spy scandal were the tabloids. They immediately latched on to Chapman transforming her from a sweet Slavic cutie who lived on Facebook and hung out in Manhattan clubs to a genuine scarlet harlot. Former lovers were coming out of the woodwork with tales of hot sex spurred on by pantyless stripteases and the sensual sounds of her Russian accent. All of this quickly culminated in the money shot: Chapman nudie pics. The Russian redhead was now an international star. Even Jay Leno and VP Joe Biden couldn’t help but mention the sexpot. The reinstalled Tonight Show host, better known for bad sickly sweet vanilla jokes, asked the VP on a recent appearance: “Are our spies this hot?” “It was not my idea to send her back. I thought they’d take Rush Limbaugh,” Biden retorted. In all, the Culture Industry couldn’t have orchestrated a better PR campaign to generate interest in Angelina Jolie’s upcoming spy thriller, Salt. A sexy “deep cover” Russian spy plotting to kill the US President? I’m there. All of it showed that almost twenty years dead, the Cold War still packed some potential entertainment punch.
As for the rest of the spy crew, after a string of articles about how the enemy lives among us, interest in them quickly faded. It turns out living a suburban life is pretty damn boring. The only thing scandalous among the suburban spies was how messed up their kids were going to be now that they found out that mommy and daddy weren’t who they said they were. To make matters worse, the US government sent the kids back to Mother Russia, which one presumes would only redouble the trauma. How things have changed! If Russia was still Communist, the young-ins would have been paraded all over the media, igniting a movement not seen since Elian Gonzalez to keep them in the righteous US . They would have been the figureheads for this century’s equivalent to the John Birch Society. But alas, in these post-Cold War times, you’re left to rot unless you’re wearing a burka, and even then you only get your fifteen minutes if an invasion of your country is in the works or a Western friendly “movement” is looking to overthrow your despotic regime.
In the end, the spy scandal had a rather twisted, metatextual but ultimately anticlimactic narrative. It was Ian Fleming, Hustler‘s “Hot Letters,” and the Coneheads all rolled into one. The script didn’t work not because of the content–all the necessary subplots and cast were in place—but because of the drama’s principle producers–the US and Russia–just didn’t pull the trigger, at least not one that would generate a captivated audience over the long term.
The trigger that was pulled was not without a Cold War “echo,” however. The best way for the US and Russia to defuse the situation, put the incident in the past, and move on was to revive a Cold War mainstay: the spy swap. There were over a dozen known spy swaps during the Cold War: actual spies, turncoats, dissidents, and missionaries were traded like baseball cards. Back then espionage was a serious and respected business with a strong code of honor and pride. The practitioners of spy trades conducted themselves cordially with a high sense of decorum, mutual respect, and even affection for each other. Former spy swapper Jeremy Smith told NPR that the negotiations between him and Wolfgang Vogel, his East German counterpart, was like a “dance of two pens” as they tapped the names on their lists of desired agents to get around the bugs in Volker’s office. Smith and Vogel developed a warm relationship despite their adversary positions. They exchanged gifts and for one Christmas, Smith even brought the tryptophan deficient Vogel Butterball turkeys because the bird was scarce in East Germany.
These echoes quickly go faint in the our world of cost-cutting, productivity and profit. There is just no time for the finesse of the past. James Bond would have been downsized a long time ago. If not, his expense account would have surely been drastically cut. Also, this week’s spy swap just had nothing substantive at stake. The integrity of both our respective civilizations was not questioned simply because we are now all part of the capitalist brotherhood. Our differences are mere quibbles compared the world historical duel of the past. The current spy scandal, therefore, was no substitute for the “real” ones of the past even if in our media laden present we are accustomed to mistaking the copy for the real.
Indeed, when it came down to it, the performance of the swap was more important than those being swapped. Just take two of the most publicly recognized figures: Anna Chapman and Igor Sutyagin, the Russian nuclear scientist convicted of spying for the US in 2004. The former turned out to be a very bad spy, while the latter was most likely not a spy at all. Nor did the exchange come amid any secrecy or setting reminiscent of the Cold War. There was no equivalent to the Glienicke Bridge. The world knew the swap was happening before it even happened. Sutyagin’s people went straight to the press when it was announced that he would be exchanged. Someone claiming to represent Chapman announced her impending release on Twitter.
It was no Cold War, though the public seemed happy to relish in the possibility. But like most media sensations the buzz was a far cry for the real thing. I even doubt that Americans and Russians really wanted the real thing. They just like the idea of Cold War. It was exciting and it made our culture, our values, and our nations more important. The world was split between us, our own personal chessboard on a global scale. So what to make of this spy scandal on a cultural level? Was there even a scandal at all? I think the answer to these questions can be surmised from what will surely become one of its iconic phrases: “99 Fake Street.”