In a recent Russian opinion poll, 1600 adults were asked what countries they regarded as Russia's greatest enemies and closest friends. The results, according to Novosti commentator Vladimir Simonov, were "a bombshell."
In the opinion of respondents, Russia's biggest enemies are Latvia (49 percent), Lithuania (42 percent), Georgia (38 percent) and Estonia (32 percent). Its friends include Belarus (46 percent), Germany (23 percent), Kazakhstan (20 percent), India (16 percent), and France (13 percent). Where's the U.S.? For a change, Russians seem to have no strong opinions about the U.S. one way or the other.
Simonov calls the U.S. "the archenemy of yesteryear," and he's not just evoking memories of the Cold War. The U.S. was perceived as Russia's enemy during the Clinton years, too. "In the 1990s," Simonov writes, "the Russia-U.S. relationship was largely determined by conflicts such as the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and 'unscrupulous' U.S. diplomatic maneuvers around Kosovo." Although many people expected anti-American sentiment to increase in Russia, "public hostility to the U.S. has plummeted" instead.
Simonov notes that "there are no disagreements of this scale between the two countries." He also thinks that the frequent description of the U.S. as a "strategic partner" by the Putin regime has influenced popular perception. Simonov makes no mention of recent events in the Ukraine, where U.S. and Russian interests diverged sharply, but then the Ukraine doesn't make the list of Russian friends and enemies, either.
Simonov sees a list of "enemies" that pose no actual threat as an issue of "wounded pride." The Baltic counties, for example, treat their numerous ethnic Russian residents badly, in the view of many Russians.
"Russia is a country of wounded pride," writes Simonov. "As a result, [Russians] take out their bitterness on minor states whose authorities are trying, rudely and tactlessly, to kick Russia whenever they can. . . . This is how a new, toy-like image of the enemy is being born. Russia's enemies today are not a threat but petty bullies."