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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

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Russia believes world sees it as 'force for good': Poll

A new BBC Russian Service poll reveals that most Russians believe that their country is seen as a force for good in the world, rather than a threat to other countries.

This is in contrast to the findings of a separate BBC World Service poll across 21 countries, which found that other nations have an increasingly negative view of Russian influence.

The GlobeScan poll reveals that two thirds (66%) of Russian adults believe that Russia is seen by other countries as a 'force for good in the world'. At the same time, very few Russians feel that other countries see their country as 'a threat to world peace' (13%) or as 'a threat to its neighbours' (12%).

Despite significant coverage in the global media of Russia's troubled relations with former Soviet states, fewer than one in three believe that the nation's image has been damaged either by last year's conflict with Georgia (28%) or by the recent dispute with Ukraine over gas (24%).

Russians' belief that their country is well-perceived outside its borders is very much in line with a growing opinion within Russia that the country exerts a positive global influence.

A regular GlobeScan multi-country poll on behalf of BBC World Service found earlier this year that 82 per cent of Russians feel their country exerts a positive influence in the world, up from 69 per cent in 2005.

According to the same poll, opinions outside of Russia are very different. Across the 20 other countries polled earlier this year, substantially more now have a negative view (42%) than a positive view (30%) of Russia's influence in the world.

The new BBC Russian Service poll also shows that as a period of strong economic growth comes to end, inflation rates run into double digits and unemployment stands at the highest level for over three years, Russians' concern is now focused on rising prices, declining standards of living and job security.

When asked to name the single most important issue facing the country today, 31 per cent mention a declining standard of living or financial concerns. Seventeen per cent point to high prices or inflation as the main issue.

Corruption also features prominently, with 23 per cent raising this as being the most important national issue.

Though only 6 per cent mention job security or unemployment as the most pressing issue facing the country, there are clear signs of an emerging nervousness here: over half of those in employment say they feel less secure in their job than they did a year ago (51%), compared to 37 per cent who feel as secure and 8 per cent who feel more secure.

The belief that Russia is viewed as a positive influence is reflected in Russians' advocacy of an active multilateral approach to foreign policy: exactly half think that Russia should use its power and influence to cooperate with other countries in solving international problems, compared to 26 per cent who believe they should be used to defend Russia's own interests and only 14 per cent who say that the focus should be on providing an alternative to US global leadership.

Though favouring cooperation, Russians do not see an obvious heavyweight partner for the country in the global arena. The countries most often named by Russians as 'main global allies' are neighbouring countries with pro-Russian governments and large ethnically Russian populations – Belarus (by 38%) and Kazakhstan (23%).

Of the major diplomatic players, China is seen as a main ally by 14 per cent, Germany by 13 per cent and France by 11 per cent. Over one in 10 say Russia has no allies (12%). Revealingly, young people are more likely to regard China as a key ally of Russia (20 per cent of 18-24 year olds).

Despite the election of a new US President widely considered to be less aggressive on foreign affairs than his predecessor, only 3 per cent cite the US as a main global ally.

GlobeScan Research Director Sam Mountford commented: "The oil and gas boom has clearly given Russians confidence that their country can be more than the sleeping giant of world affairs, and a force for good globally. But as the recession in Russia starts to bite, President Medvedev may need to watch for signs of growing social unrest."

Detailed findings

Despite the high level of concern about economic issues and job security, Russians are not pessimistic when they look to their future: only 12 per cent think they will be worse off in three years' time, with well over twice as many thinking they will be better off (32%). Around a quarter believe their situation will be the same (24%) while a degree of uncertainty is indicated by 31 per cent who say they are not sure.

Optimism regarding the future is in part inspired by a view that the government is doing all it can to combat the economic crisis (50% agreement versus 34% disagreement). Over twice as many maintain that they trust the government (57%) as distrust it (25%).

When asked to choose two from a list of potential priorities for the government in combating the economic crisis, 37 per cent feel it should work on diversifying the economy to ensure less reliance on oil. Investing more on social welfare and working with businesses to improve job security are also mentioned by a high proportion (both 30%).

On the subject of who runs the country, just 15 per cent of Russians believe that President Dmitri Medvedev holds real power compared to 27 per cent who say that it lies with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The most commonly held opinion is that power is shared equally between the two (41%).

With recent constitutional reforms on terms served by the President, instigated by Medvedev, speculation has increased that Putin intends to return to the position. Most Russians expect this to happen, with 57 per cent agreeing he will be the next occupant of the post and only 24 per cent disagreeing.

Regardless of who holds power, there is no clear consensus to whether the country is headed in the right direction: 30 per cent think it is, 24 per cent think it is not and a further 24 per cent 'partly right, partly wrong'. The results show that those who believe Putin will return are more likely to feel that things are headed in the right direction, suggesting that such a comeback is seen by many as representing continuity rather than change from the current arrangement.

The poll also uncovers mixed views on human rights issues and civil liberties under Medvedev: 32 per cent agree that these have improved since Medvedev came to power yet 39 per cent disagree, with the remainder taking a neutral position or unable to answer. At the same time this is not seen by Russians as pressing issue – in the question on issues facing the country, just 2 per cent mention human rights as being the most important issue.

In total a representative sample of 1,012 citizens across five Russian regions — Central (Moscow, North-Northwest, Central, Volgo-Vyatsky, Central-Chernozhem), Volga, North Caucasus, Ural and Siberia (West Siberia and East Siberia/Far East) — were interviewed between 6 and 17 February, 2009.

Polling was conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan and its research partner in Russia, CESSI. The margin of error is 3.07 per cent, 19 times out of 20. A separate poll across 21 countries was conducted by GlobeScan in late 2008 and early 2009, and results are referenced in paragraphs 2, 6 and 7. A full summary of the findings of this poll and methodological annex can be found at www.globescan.com/news_archives/bbccntryview09/

Notes to Editors

GlobeScan Incorporated is a global public opinion and stakeholder research consultancy with offices in London, San Francisco, Toronto and Washington.

GlobeScan conducts custom research and annual tracking studies on global issues. With a research network spanning 75+ countries, GlobeScan works with global companies, multilateral agencies, national governments, and non-government organisations to deliver research-based insights for successful strategies.

The BBC exists to enrich people's lives with great programmes and services on television,radio and online that inform, educate and entertain. Its vision is to be the most creative, trusted organisation in the world. BBC reporters and correspondents at home and abroad can be called on for expert coverage across a huge range of subject areas. With over 60 foreign bureaux, the BBC has the largest newsgathering operation in the world. BBC World Service provides international news, analysis and information in English and 31 other languages.

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