70% of Americans now see Russia as unfriendly or an enemy to the United States, while positive views about U.S.-Ukraine relations have increased
The annexation of Ukraine's Crimea by the Russian Federation, denounced by leaders in the United States and Europe and hailed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has threatened to imperil relations between Russia and the West in a manner not seen since the Cold War. YouGov’s polling suggests that negative feeling towards Russia are now at an Obama administration-era peak, but they had already been growing long before the most recent crisis.
The perception of Russia as either an unfriendly nation or an enemy of the United States is now at its highest point since June 2009, when YouGov first asked about U.S.-Russia relations. Then, around a third of Americans (40%) viewed Russia as either an enemy or unfriendly to the U.S. Now, the number is 70%. The proportion seeing Russia as either an ally or a friend has also decreased from 34% to just 13% today.
Over the same period, the number viewing Russia as specifically an "enemy of the US" has doubled, from 12% to 24%. However, negative public perceptions about U.S.-Russia relations have remained at 50% or higher since as far back as July last year.
Around a third viewed U.S.-Russia relations positively and under half viewed them negatively for much of the first two years of the Obama administration, during which the White House publicly sought a “fresh start” in relations between the former Cold War adversaries.
However, a noticeable shift in views about the relationship takes place between mid 2011 and mid-2013, a period when Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency and U.S. and Russian interests significantly diverged over the Syrian civil war and Iran’s nuclear program.
Some of the most and the most rapid change in public opinion regarding Russia came in the second half of 2013 and early 2014. Early last summer Moscow passed harsh anti-“gay propaganda” laws that were roundly criticized in the West, granted asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden against White House protests, and openly opposed U.S. efforts to punish Bashar al-Assad for the alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians. Over the same period, the number of Americans viewing Russia’s association with the U.S. as amicable gradually declined and the number seeing enmity increased.
Of course, the cooling of U.S.-Russia relations has not taken place in a vacuum. A key part of U.S. and European Union strategy in dealing with the crisis has been seeking closer ties with Ukraine.
Many Americans may have picked up on these efforts, if not on the idea that it is Ukraine that has been on the receiving end of a Russian incursion. Whatever the explanation, 50% of Americans now view Ukraine as a friend or an ally to the U.S., up from 38% last December.
Interestingly, the number seeing Ukraine as unfriendly or as an enemy is virtually unchanged at 23% – it is the number who are not sure that has declined, from 42% December 2013 to 27% this March, suggesting the crisis, in a manner of speaking, put Ukraine on the map for many Americans.
Full poll results can be found here.