Russia has a major PR problem

July 18, 2014

We still know very little about precisely what happened Thursday in Ukraine. What we do know is that few people in key countries are going to give Russia the benefit of the doubt.

Last week, the Pew Research Center released a poll detailing the world's opinions on Russia -- and how they had taken a sharp turn for the worse in the past year.

In the United States, unfavorable views of Russia had jumped by 29 points in just one year. Similarly, in Europe, they climbed 20 points. Latin America, Asia and Africa had also seen their opinions of Russia grow more guarded, albeit by a far smaller margin.

In sum: more than two-thirds of people in the United States, Europe and the Middle East -- all the regions most interested in what comes next -- are pretty much anti-Russia.

Any way you slice the data, Russia has few allies beyond China and a smattering of others that include Greece, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Given the chilly reception Russia has prompted from the world, the reaction to the airplane tragedy in Ukraine wasn't too surprising  -- regardless of the dearth of facts as of Thursday night/Friday morning.

Many began pointing fingers at Russia -- or at least the Ukrainian separatists who had sided with Russia.

A Ukrainian newspaper quoted a security spokesperson saying it was "yet another act of provocation ... carried out by Russia." Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said it would be "very embarrassing and really inappropriate" to jump to conclusions," but "if it is the result of either separatist or Russian actions mistakenly believing this was a Ukrainian war plane, I think there’s going to be hell to pay and there should be.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) suggested Russia could be at fault even if it or its supporters weren't directly involved:

Even Hillary Clinton, who has been carefully crafting her words for years as America's top diplomat, pointed to Russia:

As with all tragedies still in their immediate aftermath, speculation is rampant and public facts are few. All we pretty much know, according to intelligence reports, is that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

But you can tell a lot about the state of politics -- domestically or internationally -- by instinctive reactions to crises. And, right now, the world (and U.S. politicians) pretty clearly think Russia is at fault.

Other polling shows why.

Just last week, a poll showed Americans see Russia as the No. 1 threat to the United States. And another poll shows that more Americans think of Russia as an enemy now than any point in the past 15 years:

In March, a majority of Americans supported sanctions as the best option the United States had for resolving the tense standoff between Russia and Ukraine, as Russia effectively annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

The Obama administration had introduced tougher sanctions a day before the airplane crash. Europe also announced new economic punishments against Russia this week.

The world's negative views toward Russia have been hardening for months, mostly because of the country's role in the Ukraine crisis. And when it comes to what happens in the days ahead -- both politically and otherwise -- that matters.

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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