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Analysis & Opinion
22.11.10 Cold War Hangover
By Svetlana Kononova

Most Russians are not interested in cooperation with such powerful international organizations as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a recent poll conducted by the independent Levada Center found. They believe that the WTO and NATO pursue goals that go against Russia’s interests.

Levada’s survey established two alarming trends. Firstly, the number of people who support the idea of cooperation with large international organizations has significantly decreased over the last several years. For example, only 22 percent of respondents said that rapprochement with NATO might be beneficial for Russia. This is the lowest rate documented since 2004. NATO is the least popular potential partner for Russia, the pollster found: forty-five percent of respondents said that Russia should not build a relationship with this organization. Men and people with a higher education have the most negative attitude toward NATO.

Public opinion about the WTO is more positive. Only a quarter of respondents are strictly against Russia becoming a WTO member. People with a university education and residents of big cities believe that joining the WTO would benefit Russia’s economy. But the number of people who like this idea has decreased during the past several years as well. Meanwhile, the number of respondents who doubt that Russia should become a member of the WTO has grown. Russians with low incomes said that they have no opinion on the issue.

The EU is the most wanted partner on the list of international organizations Russians would like to see a partnership with, the survey found. The number of people who support this idea has remained the same over the last several years. Fifty-six percent of respondents want to see Russia become a member of the EU, while only 23 percent of respondents are against the idea. Paradoxically, most respondents who sympathize with the EU are residents of small towns and people in the 40 to 54 age group. As a rule, both of these groups have low incomes in Russia.

So why do so many Russians believe that influential international organizations are not potential partners, but enemies? “The Russian society is now experiencing a so-called ‘post-imperial syndrome,’ political analysts say. This situation is exemplified by the deep contradictions that appear in social life, politics and culture. On the one hand, we got used to spending holidays abroad, watching Hollywood movies and buying foreign brands. But on the other hand, we are nostalgic for the Soviet Union and the times when ‘everybody in the world was afraid of us’,” said Ilya Yashin, a leader of the Solidarity opposition movement. “The authorities ably play on these controversial attitudes using state propaganda. People from the Kremlin build a partnership or even a friendship with the representatives of NATO and the WTO in the area of foreign policy, but then discredit these organizations inside Russia, juxtaposing them with Russian uniqueness. Creating such a ‘slightly hostile’ image of the West gives the leaders of the state the opportunity to increase their popularity in politics,” he added.

The second trend revealed by the poll is that most young people are opposed to the idea of cooperating with international organizations. This may mark the appearance of a young “pro-Kremlin” generation, which tends to reject the values of the West. “Young people are more influenced by such propaganda than people of age. That’s probably because the personalities of young people, who are now in their mid-20s, were shaped during an era of sweeping changes. That influenced the mentality of an entire generation,” Yashin said.

The negative attitude toward international organizations may also be ascribed to the long-lived images of “enemies,” which are deeply rooted in the Soviet past. Another poll conducted by the Newsland.ru Internet portal found that most respondents are simply scared of NATO. Sixty-four percent of those polled opined that if Russia were to become a NATO member, it would no longer be a sovereign democratic state. Only seven percent believe that membership in NATO might mean decreased military spending and ensure professional military protection of the country.

“Some people are also concerned that membership in NATO would oblige young men to do military service in such hot spots as Afghanistan. They still remember the long Soviet war in Afghanistan, where so many soldiers died,” said Vladimir Lobanov, an independent political analyst. “The respondents’ negative attitude toward the WTO is also easy to explain. The Russian economy can hardly compete with the quickly developing economies of other countries. Many goods in Russia are still much more expensive than in west European countries or the United States. Russia still has a low labor capacity. If Russia joins the WTO, the market will be flooded with cheap foreign goods, and those businesses that survive by reselling overpriced goods would lose their profits,” Lobanov added.

Meanwhile, this weekend NATO and Russia agreed to cooperate on a range of issues, notably a missile shield to protect Europe. The accords reached between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and 28 NATO leaders could be the beginning of a long-term strategic and security partnership, many news outlets reported. However, Medvedev pointed out that Russia’s cooperation must be “a full-fledged strategic partnership between Russia and NATO,” and not just a nod in Moscow’s direction to spare Russia’s feelings while Europe tends to its own defense alongside the United States.
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