In anticipation of this event, Russian pollster VCIOM asked the Russian public this week about how they viewed the American president and US-Russia relations. Though an authoritarian country, public opinion is still an important factor that the Russian government takes into account when making policy.
On one hand, VCIOM’s poll shows a Russian public with rather negative views of the American president and the United States. However, the majority of Russians want ties with the United States to strengthen and a sizable portion is optimistic that US-Russian relations will improve. Dangerous Donald
When asked how much they liked Donald Trump, 10 per cent of respondents had a favourable opinion as opposed to 71 per cent who had an unfavourable one. Nearly 1 in 5 had no opinion of the American president.
Russians were also asked what they thought of Donald Trump. Large percentages of Russians view Donald Trump as “self-centred” (77 per cent) and “dangerous” (58 per cent). About half would characterize him as “charismatic” (49 per cent). A minority of Russians believe Trump is “strong” (34 per cent) and very few would describe him as “trustworthy” (16 per cent).
Aggressive and meddlesome US
In comparison to Trump, Russians have a more favourable opinion of Americans, though it is still overall negative. About one-third (30 per cent) of Russians view Americans favourably, 44 per cent have an unfavourable opinion of Americans, and 27 per cent have no opinion. The large percentage of Russians who expressed no opinion indicates a great deal of ambivalence toward Americans as a people (as opposed to the government).ALSO READ: Trump's date with Putin is significant but it may not change anything
However, when asked about the image of the United States, the picture that exists in the minds of most Russians is not pretty.
Russians overwhelmingly describe the United States as “interfering with other countries” (86 per cent) and “aggressive” (76 per cent). Few Russians believe the United States is “trustworthy” (13 per cent), “open to the world” (26 per cent) and “democratic” (37 per cent).
On the positive side, large percentages of respondents do describe the United States as having “advanced science and technology” (73 per cent), being “influential” (66 per cent) and having a “high standard of living” (57 per cent).
Strengthen or weaken ties? A slim majority of Russians want ties between the United States and Russia to strengthen, rather than weaken, in most areas of potential cooperation. Strengthening cultural ties with the United States has the greatest support among the Russian public (54 per cent), followed by cooperation on security (52 per cent) and political issues (51 per cent).
The least support among Russians is for greater economic ties between Russia and the United States (46 per cent), supporting strengthening economic ties as compared to 13 per cent who wish to weaken ties in this area.
Stoicism vs. hope
Does the Russian public expect the July 16th Trump-Putin summit to change US-Russian relations?
The majority (59 per cent) of Russians believe nothing will fundamentally change after the summit. Yet a sizable portion (40 per cent) of the Russian public is hopeful that the US-Russian relationship will improve due to the summit meeting.
Now the question is whether the summit will be a success or failure in the eyes of the Russian public.ALSO READ: Indictment of Russian officers puts pressure on Trump at Putin summit
The summit is already a success for Putin no matter the outcome. And if it fails to improve relations between two countries, additional polling by VCIOM suggests that Donald Trump will take the blame as the Russian public is already suspicious of his goals.
This indicates the summit is a risky enterprise for U. S. public diplomacy and outreach to the Russian people. It may set back some recent thawing in negative opinions of the United States since the 2014 Crimean crisis and the cautious hopes of many Russians for better relations with the United States.
Erik C. Nisbet, Associate Professor of Communication, Political Science, and Environmental Policy and Faculty Associate with the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, The Ohio State University and Olga Kamenchuk, Associate Professor (clinical) & Research Associate at the OSU Mershon Center for International Security Studies, The Ohio State University