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The European Union mirrored through the Russian Public opinion.

The relations between Russia and the united Europe make one of the most important focal points of Russia’s foreign policy. The European Union is not simply a large   association of states, having common borders with the Russian Federation, but it’s also Russia’s essential business partner.  In 2013 trade turnover between our countries exceeded $400 billion. Export of goods from Russia in 2013 (before sanctions) made up 213 billion Euro, imported goods from EU to Russia - 123 billion Euro. EU has the lead in foreign trade of Russian Federation, while Russia is the third in the EU foreign trade list following USA and China.

After escalation of the political crisis in Ukraine relationship between states of the West and this country has hugely deteriorated. We consider it of importance to explore how our people’s perception of the European Union has changed after December 2013.

 

The absolute majority of Russian citizens (89% in April-May 2014) supported steps undertaken by the government and the President in connection with the Ukrainian crisis. This spring V.Putin’s foreign policy has been supported by 88% of respondents, interviewed by Bashkirova and Partners. Policies run by head of state in the sphere of national security were supported by 85% of the Russian society, and the official stand in the Ukrainian conflict - by 82% (for reference, economy policies pursued by V.Putin at the same time was supported by 68% of Russians interviewed, while his policies in the field of education and public health – by less than half). The European Union’s stance (associated above all with the stance of Germany, France and Great Britain) was supported only by 11% of Russian interviewees in April (measures by Ukrainian government was approved by only 9% of our citizens).

 

National television is still said to be the main source of information, Russians use to learn about developments in the international stage.  78% of respondents watch it daily, 62% trust in what they learn from newscast on the government television channels (73% in the category of retired and 31% in the young under 25 y.o.).  Despite the fact that two thirds of Russians have access to the World Web, online media don’t enjoy confidence with total majority of Russians. Amongst the young people, only 25% prefer it to television newscast. The perceived generated vision of the conflict in the Eastern Ukraine as well as attitude towards players involved in the conflict, depends also on the number of accessible (exactly - actually used) information sources. This explains the below described trend of more positive perception of European countries amongst the young respondents, residing in large cities, respondents with higher education, and normally with higher income level.

  

Over the past year starting from last autumn, as the conflict in the East of Ukraine developing and the relationship between RF and EU worsening (after mutual sanctions having been imposed) we are evidencing anti-Europe moods growing. 45% of Russian respondents in November 2014 regarded European Union negatively, while such audience had made a third (36%) in June 2014, which is as twice as greater compared to the figure in December 2013 (only 17% of the interviewed were perceiving EU negatively). A share of Russian citizens, having positive mindset in relation of our neighbors in the West, has reduced over year of 2013 by 14 p.p. from 27% in 2013 down to 17% in summer, and down to 13% in autumn 2014.  We have noted considerable reduction from 43% to 36% in percentage of respondents, perceiving EU neutrally. Some of our people who might still have felt indefinite in summer, have gained a foothold on their negative attitudes towards states of Europe.

The greatest percentage (16%) of respondents, sympathizing with EU, is found amongst the young between 15 and 24 of age. The least number (11%) has been detected in the retired, who have got used to regard states of Western Europe as “potential enemy”. Highly educated people and urban dwellers perceive EU more positively, than people with secondary education and rural residents. It’s worth noting that the group with positive impression from EU used to be reducing in number  faster in the categories of young and large cities dwellers, than that amongst elderly people and residents of rural areas.  Respondents of 15-24 years of age have got disappointed about Europe. In 2013 the percentage of those having selected “positive” amongst the young, made up 37%, while in summer 2014 the figure was 24%. By the autumn we were already having 14% of positives left only.

While in summer 36% of people in multi-million-strong cities were perceiving EU positively, we have found only 17% of such left by the autumn.

People with higher education used to get disappointed in European states less often, than their compatriots, having vocational secondary education.

Similar trend – i.e. greater number of “pro-European” responses in the young, high education diploma owners, as well as large cities residents, - can be traced on all the questions, asked to respondents. The given categories of people, typically have higher income level, access to various sources of information, more travel opportunities. However percentage of Russians in the indicated categories, sympathizing with Europe, usually differs from the mean by 10 p.p. at most. This can be the evidence of a circumstantial consensus within public as well as dominating of similar perception stereotypes among groups of Russians distinguished significantly through lifestyle.

  

Percentage of respondents defining EU-Russia relationship as bad has increased twofold since the Ukrainian crisis commence. It has grown from 27% in November 2013 up to 54% for summer 2014 and up to 65% in autumn of the same year.

It’s remarkable that some group of respondents despite sanctions and supports to different parties in the Ukrainian conflict, believe relationship between our countries could be defined as good. Last autumn 43% of interviewees were thinking so, and in one year time their number went down by twice and made just 18%.  Being bias free, such responses could be interpreted as expressing a wish rather than stating an actual fact.

This is proved by a survey, conducted by Bashkirova and partners earlier, according to which between 40% and 45% respondents find Russia – West cooperation on individual foreign policy matters (Syria crisis settlement, Iranian nuclear program etc.) desirable.

Strange as it might seem, the greatest percentage of respondents, describing relationship between Russia and EU as good, is found in the group of young people under 25 y.o. and people of preretirement age (55-65 y.o.).  The fact like this can be explained by that respondents of this age (55-65 лет) make the generation, whose youth (25-35 years old) had fallen on to the “Perestroika” time where the idea of “Westernism” was typical for considerable masses of Sovjet people (young people above all).

Within respondents, using Internet most often, the percentage of positivists in terms of Russia-EU relationship is by 7 p.p. higher, which proves the thesis on correlation between the breadth of range of information sources and the respondents’ sympathies towards the European Union. We should note that this gap is not that big to make us speak of any “Internet Party” and “Television party”, adherent to totally opposite looks at political processes in Russia and the world.

 

It’s not a surprise, some part of our compatriots don’t mind cooperation with EU. Nearly two thirds (60%) respondents are convinced Russia and European states have great deal of common values which would enable adequate cooperation. What is also important, a share of respondents thinking so, is consistent and does not show dependence on actual political agenda.  Urban residents mention such values by 10 p.p more often than those of rural areas (64% vs. 49% accordingly, where  residents of multi-million-strong cities make even greater percentage - 72%),  and people with higher education do so by 10 p.p. more often compared to those who don’t have higher education. It’s interesting, that the gap in opinions on this question between high education audience and the rest of Russians has grown twice from 5 to 10 p.p. over 6 months period. And the distinction in views of different generation representatives, versa, has blurred. Half a year ago young people used to answer the question affirmative by 12 p.p. more often than the retired did. We may assume in answering the question the broad cultural outlook (expected in people with higher education) has appeared more influential than their being part of the young generation, who under impact of topical political conflicts, are willing to adjust their opinion on this matter.

More than half of Russians (52% in November and 54% for 6 months ago) are of opinion European Union is an important partner to this country. The given view is equally common within respondents nearly of all ages. These are however only retired, having traditionally been used to see a “potential enemy” about NATO state first of all, who are willing to agree, and who make up noticeably small percentage (46% only).

We should also note that amongst people with higher education, percentage of citizens, realizing the importance of partnership with EU is by 9 p.p. greater compared to respondents with secondary or secondary vocational education certificate.   

Urban residents (large cities in particular) used to define EU to be Russia’s important partner more often, than people from rural areas.

A quarter of respondents, interviewed in November, and one-in- three of interviewed in June, agree European states’ aid and assistance hugely contribute to this country development. Neither education level nor place of residence influence respondents’ responses in this case. But despite this as well as in multiple questions described above, the young, and respondents - active Internet users were more often giving positive attributes to EU’s impact on this country. 

Just 19% (still in summer we had by 6 p.p. (i.e. 25%) greater number of agreeing respondents) believe EU brings stability to regions surrounding Russia.  This confirms the general trend where percentage of affirmatives to this question is somewhat greater within the young, large city residents and respondents who are active Internet users.

  

About two thirds of respondents – 74% believe Russia should cooperate with European states in the sphere of peace and security preservation. Despite both parties have appeared in the Ukrainian conflict on opposite sides of barricades, effective cooperation is still possible in settlement  of military conflicts in the Middle East region (Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria above all), joint fighting against terrorism, proliferation of nuclear weapons technologies, epidemic threats, global environmental issues.

Percentage of supporters for energizing trade relationship has somewhat decreased. In summer 46% of our citizens were keeping to this opinion, but the figure has gone down to 40% by autumn. A reason for this might be realizing the aftermath for the Russian economy of several waves of sanctions, imposed by EU and responsive steps on the part of the Russian government. Europe is Russia’s largest trade partner, and its well-being depends significantly on importing Russian oil and gas. At the same time Russia depends on European investments (75% of straight foreign investments), technologies transfer, imported food products, medicine (77% for monetary and 56% for physical volume) and medical equipment.

One-in-three of the surveyed (33%) consider cooperation in the cultural and educational sphere effective, and nearly the same number of people (28%) admit scientific cooperation, mutually beneficial for scientists of both parties cooperation quite reasonable. The most well-known instance of successful scientific cooperation is Russian professional scientists’ participation in creation of the Large Hadron Collider in the European Organization for Nuclear Research. We could also recall to the International Space Station and many other projects both in the field of natural and humanitarian sciences. Respondents have also pointed to such popular cooperation areas as: environmental protection, fighting poverty and human rights field. It’s indicative that the distinction in assessments of the cooperation importance in cultural and educational field reaches 10 p.p. should we compare urban and rural residents’ responses. (Apparently, due to total lack of or limited access to  cultural benefits, rural population finds these attributes less valuable or simply does not realize importance of international cooperation on the given areas).  

 

The classical Russian Literature, Russian music, fine arts of XIX- XVIII centuries make without a doubt a part of European cultural legacy, Tolstoi, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov whose works are well known both in the West and Homeland. The avant-garde of 20-s of the XXth century also make part of the European culture. These include also literary works and fine arts of the second half of the last century, e.g. poetry by Brodsky, books by Solzhenitsyn, works by Shemyakin and some other contemporary authors.  The Russian literature, theatre, painting might serve a cultural  bridge between our countries, severed by the political confrontation.

  

Only 10% of our people know that the EU provides financial support for this country under certain cooperation programs.  2,4% of Russians said they could recollect names of specific programs in Russia, being financed by the European Union. Most often these have been different educational programs that mentioned.

 

 

More than half of Russians believe the European Union could render support to Russia in the peaceful initiatives. Russians are willing to accept this support in the area of trade, fighting poverty, managing culture and education issues, helping human rights and environment protection.

  

More than half of our compatriots are sure there is enough information about EU available in Russia. Over the last 6 months the number of Russians, who said affirmative to this question, has grown by 5 p.p.

Perhaps EU relevant information availability depends on the sources of information a respondent prefers. Thus, within Russian population going online on daily basis we can find by 10 p.p. more satisfied in this terms respondents compared to the number of those watching television regularly.   Besides a respondent’s awareness is also affected by the respondent’s place of residence. Residents of large cities with population above 500 000 appear most aware. Least aware are residents of rural areas and small towns, villages (the difference constitutes 10 p.p.).

 

It’s worth noting, that a very minority of our people is familiar with EU states from their own experience. Thus over 12 months time 6% of Russians have visited Europe in time of vocations. Additionally 2% mentioned going on business trips to Europe. 6% of respondents have relatives, living or having lived in Europe before.  2,6%  have relatives, working in one of the European countries. Plurality of Russian citizens acquire information about our Western neighbors exclusively from the media, and therefore quantity and quality of this information depends directly on their access level to various sources of information.

 

Cooperation of EU and Russia gives multiple economic benefits to both parties, which include export of power resources, benefits in financial sector, transport corridors and technology transfers. The current confrontation sooner or later is going to come to an end, and our nations will have to re-establish a meaningful dialogue. What could be a ground for the new (renewed) partnership? The Ukrainian conflict has split our countries and political relationship is likely to be hindered still for long time. Even if elites succeed in finding a new compromise formula comfortable for everyone, the states of the West will continue being perceived by the Russian population as enemies, who aspire to impair this country, thinking of new reasons for confrontation.

In the given situation we should focus on intensifying cooperation in the field of culture, education, science and peaceful initiatives, where political interests of our countries are not involved, e.g. fighting radical Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East. In the vast territories or Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan we can see the deficiency of force, so joint initiatives of large countries with political, military and economic resources will be able to bring stability to the situation and stop the expansion of “Islamic State” (which has declared activation of militant action everywhere including the Northern Caucasus of Russia). 

Plurality of Russian citizens (60%) is sure, that this country and Europe have common values, which could serve an adequate pillar for the dialogue. Significant share of respondents interviewed, is supporting the cooperation with EU in the area of culture, science and education. Energizing joint initiatives in these fields does not produce hostility in those massive Russian elite groups, whose business and political interests are currently in conflict. Both parties would win from joint educational and scientific programs. The Russian business elites will win too, as they would gain access to new technologies and global specialists.

 

Ecology related projects could also be a promising cooperation direction. Russia is preparing for shelf plate development and the Northern Sea Route. Despite the delivery block imposed for oil producing equipment and technologies for Russian companies, our countries could jointly develop a program to monitor and improve ecological situation at seas of the Arctic Ocean. Such a program would bring economic benefits both to the Russian Federation as well as to the global community, concerned by growing ecological issues and the realization of “sustained development” concepts. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





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