Publication: Russia and Eurasia Review Volume: 1 Issue: 11

By Mikhail Kochkin

The radical changes in Russia’s foreign policy that followed the events of September 11 last year are often interpreted as the personal achievement of Vladimir Putin, who had challenged Russian public opinion. His line on supporting the United States in the fight against international terrorism and Russia’s active participation in the antiterrorist coalition, as well as the impressive warming of Russia’s relations with America and NATO–all this looks outwardly like an act of extraordinary courage by our president. In Russia it is often said that, in pursuing this policy, he runs the risk of losing public support. Many political and social analysts observe that deep-rooted anti-Americanism (for many a legacy of the Cold War period), and the hostility towards the United States as world leader that has developed in the last decade, are stronger than any feelings of sympathy for the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, or any sense that the Russian and American peoples are united in suffering from international terrorism, the common foe.

Of course, Putin really did achieve a huge and audacious turnaround in Russia’s foreign policy in 2001. It is also true that this turnaround ran counter to the established positions of many members of the political elite and the inclinations of a significant part of society. Russians still, and consistently, take a dim view of the United States’ role in the world, though, paradoxically, this does not stop half or more of them supporting, equally consistently, the development of partnerships or alliances with the United States and NATO. Perhaps it is because of the influence of Putin’s pragmatism that ever more Russians now tend to regard Russian-American relations not from an emotional standpoint, with the wounded pride of a former superpower, but with an appreciation of the real pros and cons of cooperation. To understand the roots of this state of affairs, it is vital to look at the dynamics of the sympathy and antipathy felt for the United States in Russia over the last decade, and to try to identify just what provoked the various changes.