A lot has changed between Russia and the United States in the last year: with the 2020 presidential election shaking up the United States and signaling the start of the new administration, perceptions between the two countries have also changed. In a recent poll conducted by the independent Levada Center in May 2021, only 31% of Russians reported a favorable view of the U.S., a drastic drop of 16% from a similar November 2019 poll that showed a 47% favorability rating toward the U.S. On the other side of the aisle, only 22% of Americans held a positive view of Russia in a recent Gallup poll, a fall from 28% in 2020. What accounts for these drops in both America and Russia over the last year and what does it tell us about the direction of U.S.-Russia relations?
Recent Events that Impacted Perceptions Between the Two Countries: Navalny’s Poisoning, Biden’s “Killer” remark, alleged Russian hacking)
Although relations between Russia and the United States have deteriorated since the Ukrainian Crisis in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea (ever since 2014, Russia’s favorability rating has steadily dropped, according to Gallup’s regular polling), the last year has been particularly antagonizing for diplomatic relations.
The recent rise in hostility between Russia and the United States can be traced to the poisoning of Alexei Navalny in August of 2020. While the Trump administration did not retaliate against the Russian government’s alleged responsibility in the poisoning, a few months after Biden took office, he imposed sanctions on Russia for the poisoning and jailing of Navalny, including sanctions on senior members of the Russian government, new export restrictions on items that could be used for biological agent and chemical production, and visa restrictions. In addition to these sanctions, Joe Biden branded Putin “a killer” in an interview with ABC News, to which Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, responded “It’s clear that [Biden] doesn’t want to normalize relations with our country. This is what we’ll be guided by from now on.”
In another wave of sanctions, the Biden administration announced on April 15 the expulsion of Russian diplomats and the imposition of sanctions against 32 individuals and six Russian technology companies to hold the Kremlin accountable for interference in the 2020 presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies. Russia retaliated the next day, expelling ten U.S. diplomats and advising the U.S. ambassador stationed in Moscow to return home to the U.S. Many experts suggest that Biden’s economic punishments could have gone farther and that Biden had opted for a more moderate form of sanctions because he wanted to avoid an extreme escalation of hostilities. Nevertheless, in the following interview with NBC, Vladimir Putin said that the “U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship has deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years,” to which Biden responded with: “I think he’s right, it’s a low point.”
What do Russians and Americans Think of Potential US-Russia Collaboration?
While favorability ratings between Russia and the United States are grim, there is hope for future collaboration between the U.S. and Russia. Despite indicating unfavorable ratings toward each other, both Russians and Americans expressed hope that the two countries can collaborate on certain issues, although the most important areas of U.S.-Russia cooperation diverge. In the above Levada Center poll, joint efforts to overcome the pandemic are at the top of the Russians’ list at 82%, while Americans prioritize nuclear arms control in North Korea and Iran at 71%. The two groups disagree over cooperating in curbing China’s influence in the world: 37 percent of Russians versus 53 percent of Americans see joint efforts in this area as necessary. In agreement, 70 percent of Russians and 65 percent of Americans agree that both countries’ nuclear arsenals should be decreased.
Impact of the U.S.-Russia June Geneva Summit
At the height of hostility between the U.S. and Russia, Biden and Putin agreed to a bilateral summit, which took place in June 202. During the conference, the two leaders discussed a wide range of issues— from the restoration of diplomatic relations, cybersecurity, and the Ukraine crisis, strategic stability, and other areas of potential cooperation. At the concluding press conferences after the summit, Putin stated that it was “substantive, concrete” and Biden asserted that the talks were “good and positive.” The two presidents accomplished what they set to achieve: they identified areas of mutual interest, reversed the tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions, and were able to exchange each other’s national perspectives. The Geneva Summit set a solid foundation for future collaboration between the U.S. and Russia, and only time will tell if the two countries can heal ties and mend perceptions between each other.