Conversation: The U.S. Media’s Misleading Portrayal of Russia

MIN READJun 29, 2015 | 14:19 GMT

Lauren Goodrich: Hello, my name is Lauren Goodrich and I'm the senior Eurasia analyst here at Stratfor. I'm joined by Jay Ogilvy, who is Stratfor contributor and also the foreman of our editorial board. Jay, you wrote a fascinating article for Stratfor in which you described how the American media has really gotten Russia wrong. This is something that myself and Stratfor have promoted for quite a long time, that America just doesn't 'get' Russia

Jay Ogilvy: We're still coming to Russia from the old Cold War narrative. And it's not just the politics, I mean whenever Hollywood needs like a really bad villain, it's likely to be a Russian. And this is sad because, as de Tocqueville pointed out so long ago, looking to the future, the United States and Russia are two of the globe's great superpowers. If we're not getting along, if we're not understanding one another, it's just bad for all of us.

Lauren: Yes, it's interesting that a few months ago the latest Gallup poll that was released showed that, for the first time in twenty years, Russia is now considered by most Americans as the number one enemy of the Untied State, ahead of Iran, ahead of North Korea, a lot of the stereotypical 'batties' out there.

Jay: Yeah. And I'm not the Russia expert you are, and I feel privileged to be in the room with you. I've been involved in citizen diplomacy with Russia for 35 years, now, first visit in '83 again in '85, 2001, 2006, and so back and forth, back and forth, but also hosting a series of very high-level Russian to annual meetings in California year after year after year. We call it 'Track II' diplomacy, Track I being the official government relationship, but Track II, getting psychologists together with psychologists, philosophers with philosophers, and talking shop and discovering that we are all human beings and want some of the same things. And so to me, personally, it's very sad that this misunderstanding is happening. To make one clear point on this, that I want to ask you about what your opinion on this is: I'm so intrigued with how much support there is for Vladimir Putin inside Russia and how Americans cannot understand that.

Lauren: They think that Putin is a dictator, instead of actually having a popular support on the ground, and what we've seen over the past year is that Putin's popularity has just grown, even as the hardships are taking place inside of Russia economically, financially, and with this growing 'new Cold War' with the West, Putin is as popular as ever. His popularity rose from 85 percent to 89 percent, which is astonishing for any leader of any country. And it's because Putin has made good for 15 years on his social contract with the people. He told the people he would keep the economy relatively stable, he would get it back into Russian hands, instead of in foreign hands or in oligarch hands, that people would get a steady paycheck, that there would be grocery stores and food on the shelves, all of these small social contracts Putin has really come through, and until he starts failing on those social contracts, his popularity is going to remain.

Jay: Even despite the fact there was a piece, I think in the Guardian on June 7, that pointed out that we think the sanctions are hurting people in Russia. Well, this article got very close to the ground talking about all you hear people talking about is cheese. Where are we going to get our Camembert, our Gorgonzola. But they can do without it, they'll just take the Russian substitutes that are not as good, but they'll live through that.

Lauren: And we're also seeing the Russian people kind of embrace these sanctions, in which there was a case in St. Petersburg where you had people running into the grocery stores buying foreign cheese and then dumping it into the sea in order to show that they supported Putin putting food bans on European food in countersanctions.

Jay: And I'm not here to say Putin's a great hero or that they have been without faults in eastern Ukraine. They're doing things they should not be doing. But I just feel that the Stratfor analysis, largely developed by you, has been very helpful in showing the degree to which we punched first.

Lauren: The way that the American media has put it out there is that Russia is being the aggressor, and instead we're seeing Russia be very reactive instead. NATO starts to build up, then Russia starts to build up. The United States helps support the revolution that took place in Ukraine this past year, Russia then takes Crimea and goes into eastern Ukraine. So it really is a reaction to what is taking place out of the United States and out of NATO.

Jay: I just hope, with work like yours and correctives to the dominant American narrative, we can turn this thing around and create a better earth through peace than confrontation.

Lauren: Well also just in understanding how our actions are causing reactions out of Russia. Very interesting. Thank you so much, Jay. For more on this, please turn to 

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