Who do Russians believe are their closest allies? Their enemies? A new survey by independent pollster the Levada Center attempts to answer these questions. The annual poll is traditionally a good reflection of Russia's geopolitical position as well as the Kremlin's messaging to its people. This year's results offer particular insight.
Belarus, Russia's western neighbor, has long held the top friendly spot and does so again in the poll. This year, however, longtime second-place ally, Kazakhstan, was displaced by China. Clearly, Beijing's increasing economic, financial and political ties with Moscow are picking away at decades of mistrust of China by the Russian people. The positive outlook on Russia-Syria ties continues to rise as well. Since 2015, the Kremlin has maintained an extensive state propaganda campaign promoting Russia's patriotic duty to intervene militarily and politically in the war-torn country. It's made an impact.
On the other side of the spectrum, Russians continue to view the United States and Ukraine as the states most hostile to their country. The trend began in 2014 once the conflict in eastern Ukraine began and Western sanctions fell on Russia. Moscow has benefited from the public's strong negative views of Washington and Kiev, using this perception to rally popular support for the Kremlin during its difficult period. The Russian government would've likely faced even larger protests had it not been able to blame the United States and Ukraine for the country's poor economic conditions. Animosity toward Germany has also increased, jumping ahead of Turkey, which fell out of the top five this year after a break in relations in 2016. Berlin's tough stance on Russian meddling in Europe and sanctions have deepened the divide between the countries. Typically, sour relations with Germany don't register among the Russian people. The severe drop in trade and an aggressive Kremlin information campaign portraying an assertive Germany, however, has seeped into the national consciousness.