Inventing the American Threat

Blogging at the Power Vertical, Robert Coalson points out that the Russians may be disinclined from trying very hard to repair relations with Washington when there is so much to gain from anti-Americanism and the permanent fear of an outside enemy.  He points to Levada poll statistics that show a 10% increase in the public’s fear of invasion since 2006 – the result of the propaganda machine grinding away?  This is one common trait of all the petrostates – Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is running from the same playbook.

There are many reasons why relations “degraded significantly” over the last few years, and the Kremlin never seems to tire of enumerating the ones that have their roots in Washington — the arrogance, ignorance, monomaniacalism, etc., of the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. It is true now that there is a new administration in the United States, so perhaps it is reasonable to assume that some of the obstacles to better relations have been removed.


But not all of them. Despite Moscow’s interest in promoting their “liberal, young president” on the world stage, there has been no regime change in Russia. The Kremlin, after all, made “stability” and “continuity” the main themes of its 2007 and 2008 election campaigns. And it is hard to deny that anti-Westernism, particularly anti-Americanism, is an important pillar of the Vladimir Putin political system in Russia.


The Kremlin has devoted a lot of time and energy over the last few years to convincing Russians that the country faces an existential threat from the United States — that without the tough vigilance of Putin and his team, Russia would be partitioned and plundered. And this belief has taken root among Russians. A BBC poll last month found that just 7 percent of Russians believe the United States is a positive force in the world, while 65 percent view it as “mainly negative.” Among the 20 countries surveyed, the average “positive” view of the United States was 40 percent.