July 23, 2014 | By Dina Smeltz

Russia Reality Check

By Kjell Engelbrekt

US-Russia relations appear to be at an all-time low ever since the establishment of the Russian Federation in the fall of 1991. The new Chicago Council Survey figures clearly demonstrate this general trend, even without accounting for the presumable further damage done by the shooting down of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17th. That incident may very well have been a horrible mistake by pro-Kremlin separatists. Yet while consistent efforts by the Kremlin to conceal its role in supporting the separatists and furnishing them with heavy weapons, such as sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems, might succeed in keeping Russians misled, they will deepen distrust in the United States and the West at large.

There are various interpretations as to how US-Russia relations evolved from the initial attempt by the first Obama administration to improve ties through selective engagement on issues of common concern (the ‘reset’ approach) to the mutual frustration of the mid-2010s. In fact, the deterioration accelerated sharply over just 12 to 18 months. As long as Dmitry Medvedev occupied the presidential post (that is, until early 2012), some aspects of the bilateral relationship—such as cooperation on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—were actually moving in the right direction.

But in 2013-2014 presidents Putin and Obama repeatedly misjudged each other at critical junctures. Putin appears to have believed he would have a free hand at bullying neighbors into accepting higher prices on Russian gas and coercing them to accept his own deeply asymmetric version of the European Union. Supposedly, he also thought his insistence on placing Ukraine at the center of his strategic vision would be tolerated by Western governments.

Few political leaders in the transatlantic community recognized the full potential for conflict inherent in Ukraine’s Maidan movement. Obama and his advisors were also slow to realize that Putin not only sought to rebuild Russia, but a Soviet Union--minus the ideology yet including its international political prominence. Putin’s diplomatic envoys have in fact been working overtime to create conditions that would blunt US influence not just in Russia’s ‘near abroad’ but in the Middle East, Europe, as well as in Latin America.

The realization that the Kremlin is not just ‘sticking it to the Americans’ (in extending asylum to Edward Snowden, for instance) but is actively trying to undermine US primacy in world affairs is gradually catching up with American public opinion. And Russia’s covert military operations in eastern Ukraine—after already having conquered Crimea through a well-executed stealth operation in mid-Spring—and the ongoing cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the downing of flight MH17 now provide a sobering reality check for many others in the international community, not least those preoccupied with international law and order. To the extent that leaders in Europe, Southeast Asia and elsewhere respond adequately to this situation, the US government will be in a better position to limit the Kremlin’s opportunities to further exploit Western and international benevolence and neglect.

---

Kjell E. Engelbrekt was a visiting fellow at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Illinois at Chicago this past spring. He is currently working on a manuscript that examines the impact of a changing distribution of power on the diplomatic practices of great powers in international institutions, especially the UN Security Council and the G8/G20. His recent writings have focused on NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya, the US-Russia ‘reset’ policy, and evolving relations between Asia’s great powers and the United States and Europe. Engelbrekt holds a PhD in political science from Stockholm University. He is associate professor at the Swedish National Defense College and member of the Swedish Royal Academy of War Sciences. He has served as a research fellow at Columbia University (New York), Humboldt-Universität (Berlin), and the European University Institute (Florence). In addition to his academic record, Engelbrekt has served as secretary-general of the Swedish North Atlantic Treaty Association, research analyst at the RFE/RL Research Institute, and consulted for the UN Development Program and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

Archive

| By Bettina Hammer

Peace to Prosperity Misses the Mark with Palestinians

At the June 25-26 Bahrain Peace to Prosperity Workshop, Jared Kushner presented the first component of a U.S. peace plan for the Middle East and emphasized the U.S. commitment to the Palestinian people. The stated  goal of the Peace to Prosperity plan is “to empower the Palestinian people to build a better future for themselves and their children.” But how does this plan sit with the Palestinian public?



| By Dina Smeltz, Brendan Helm

Scholars vs the Public: Collapse of the INF Treaty

In early February 2019, the United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty following President Trump’s October 2018 (and the Obama administration’s July 2014) accusations that Russia was failing to comply with the treaty. Russia withdrew from the treaty the next day.

Findings from a February 2019 Chicago Council on Global Affairs general public survey and a December 2018 Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) survey of International Relations (IR) scholars around the world illustrate how these different populations perceive the collapse of the INF Treaty.



| By Craig Kafura

Expert Panel Survey: US Focus on the Denuclearization of North Korea

Despite expectations for the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, their recent summit in Hanoi ended with no agreement toward denuclearization. With that in mind, we asked our panel of foreign policy experts whether the United States should continue to focus primarily on denuclearization, or shift to arms control and non-proliferation.



| By Dina Smeltz

Opinion Landscape Not Ideal for New Mideast Peace Plan

At a Middle East conference this month in Warsaw, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and Mideast adviser, said that the administration will unveil its much-vaunted Middle East peace plan after the April 9 Israeli elections.


| By Karl Friedhoff

America the Dangerous

The Trump administration has taken a hard line on China, but has failed to convince the American public or many allies to follow suit. Instead, publics around the world now see the United States as a major threat.






| By Craig Kafura

2018: Year in Chicago Council Surveys

It's been a busy, eventful year around the world. Throughout 2018, the Council's polling team has captured public and opinion leader attitudes on some of the most pressing foreign policy issues, including US-Russia relations, American views of China, public support for internationalism and trade, and how the rising generation of Millennials think about American foreign policy.


| By Karl Friedhoff

Confidence in Congress Low

As the House becomes majority Democrat, there is low confidence among the American public for Congress--and several other institutions--to shape policies that benefit the United States.