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Russians want more cooperation with EU, polls show

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Despite the Russian government’s standoff with Western nations, public opinion has been shifting away from hostility. Multiple polls indicate that Russians now perceive the West and specifically the European Union more favorably than even a few years ago. With the trend likely remaining unchanged in the upcoming years, the public demand for rapprochement might hit new highs and impact the Kremlin’s foreign policy.

The annexation of Crimea of 2014 and US president Barack Obama’s policy of isolation revolutionized Russia’s foreign behavior that ever since Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika had remained consistently Western-centric.

The Kremlin never felt more geopolitically befuddled than when the Russian economy got hit with sanctions, declining oil prices and collective Western backlashes. External pressure pushed Moscow to re-energize its anti-Western public narrative that emerged as a bizarre concoction of the century-old czar’s rebuttal of liberal values and the Soviet anti-imperialist crusade that portrayed the country as a besieged fortress.

Russia’s anti-Western sentiments hit an all-time high after the war in eastern Ukraine. In October 2015, a survey by the independent Levada Center polling group found that 71% of Russians said the US played “a negative role in the world,” up from 50% who had held that view two years earlier. Three-quarters of Russians also named Germany, Japan and Britain as geopolitical adversaries.

Although the negativity toward the West started to decline gradually within a year, Russian society still remained largely skeptical about their country’s relations with Western countries.

These attitudes were a 180-degree turn away from Moscow’s previous attempts to build bridges with the West and shattered President Vladimir Putin’s proclamation of a united Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok. The most illustrative example of the scale of disruption could be underscored by the public sentiments after the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal. In 2008, 61% of Russians had a positive view of Britain, but a decade later 51% of those surveyed thought “very” or “rather” poorly of that country.

Recent data, however, reveal that anti-Western sentiments have started to tank.

A survey commissioned by the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC) and Ipsos found that 70% of Russians want to cooperate more with Europe in many areas such as scientific exchange and environmental protection.

The survey, however, revealed a significant lack of trust in institutions, with a third or less of respondents believing that they work for the benefit and well-being of citizens.

In February, a Levada Center poll found that 80% believe that Russia and the West should become friends and partners; 49% expressed positive opinions toward the European Union and 42% toward the United States. Most recently, 54% of respondents told Levada that Russia’s relations with the West will eventually return to pre-Crimea-annexation levels.

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