Russian Media Coverage of Trump Helps Boost Positive Views of the West (Report)

Russia Foreign Ministry Building Moscow - H - 2015
Associated Press

Pollsters find 71 percent of Russians favor closer "economic, political and cultural ties, rapprochement with the West."

Positive views of the west among Russians have risen to a 16-year high, with 71 percent in favor of closer "economic, political and cultural ties with the West," a new survey has found.

Analysts say Donald Trump's victory in the U.S presidential race and the way Russian TV and media covered it played a key role in lowering anti-Western sentiment, which the survey by Moscow-based independent pollsters the Levada Center show has sharply dropped in the past two months.

In a survey of 1,600 Russians aged 18 and over carried out in cities, towns and villages across Russia November 18-20, most said they wanted a reset in relations with the West.

Responding to a question on what sort of Kremlin policies they would support, 71 percent agreed that "further expansion of economic, political and cultural ties, rapprochement with the West" was desirable.

The last time the figure was this high was in March 2000 — a few months after Vladimir Putin had succeed Boris Yeltsin as Russian leader, when 76 percent of Russians wanted better relations with the West, up from 69 percent in November 1999.

The rise in pro-Western sentiment is also reflected in a decline in negative attitudes towards the U.S. and the EU: 54 percent of Russians view the EU negatively and 56 percent feel that way about the U.S., down 8 percent compared with two months ago.

Sentiment against the West swung sharply downwards two years ago, coinciding with deteriorating bilateral relations between Washington and Moscow over Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, falling oil prices and a collapse in the value of the ruble.

As the Kremlin increased anti-Western rhetoric, public television — which most Russians continue to rely upon for news, even if they do not always trust it — picked up the tone. In one notorious incident, talk-show host Dmitry Kiselyov remarked that Russia was "the only country in the world that could realistically turn the U.S.A into radioactive ash."

But a recent softening of state television's approach to the West, which coincided with positive coverage of Trump during the presidential race and a warm welcome of his victory from influential media figures such as RT head Margarita Simonyan (who tweeted November 9 that she planned to "drive around Moscow with an American flag" flying from the window, "they deserve it.") appears to have influenced public opinion.

"Russian mass media actively circulates … pro-Russian views [of Trump and other, European, right-wing politicians], which obviously conditions the layman's perception of Western countries," political analyst Mikhail Komin, told Russia Beyond the Headlines, a website sponsored by Russian government newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta.