Putin’s antics have left much of the world against him, but he still has some surprising support


Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech in Moscow on July 1. (Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters)

A Pew Research Center report on Russia's global image has just been released, and it might make for some sobering reading for Russians.

One man in particular might be dismayed at his international reputation. Of the 45 countries surveyed by Pew, just seven felt more confident than not that Russian President Vladimir Putin would "do the right thing" regarding world affairs.

(Pew Research Center)

From the view of an American or someone from Western Europe, the masses of negative feeling in this chart make total sense: Putin has taken over part of a neighboring country, propped up a Syrian dictator and generally been the face of the global fight against modern values. His status as a pariah in Madrid or New York City isn't exactly surprising.

But what's more interesting is the countries where the Russian president is still viewed positively. In Bangladesh, China and Vietnam, positive views of Putin's global influence far outnumber negative views, and in many of the African nations polled, positive views about him are equal to, if not higher than, negative ones.

The divide is more stark when you look at the next chart from Pew, which shows the percentage change in unfavorable ratings for Putin between spring 2013 (before the Ukraine crisis) and spring 2014 (after the crisis):

(Pew Research Center)

As you can see, in the vast majority of countries, negative approval ratings for Putin have grown over the past year — unsurprising when you consider the Ukraine crisis and everything that came with it. But it's not the same story in every country. While almost all of Western Europe and the United States show a growth in negative approval ratings, in China they dropped by 16 percent.

China is a key part of Putin's "pivot" east, and perhaps it's not so surprising that his approval rating has gone up there. In other countries, the link is harder to pin down – what explains the rise in support for Putin in both Israel and the Palestinian territories?

Whatever the reason, it's a useful reminder. As I noted earlier this year as Putin's approval ratings at home hit a three-year high, millions of Russians buy into his exaggerated fears of "Russophobia" and rose-tinted memories of a grand Russian empire. What's even more suprising is that the message seems to have some limited resonance abroad as well.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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