Nearly three years ago, in the wake of Western governments’ denunciations of the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and its invasion of eastern Ukraine, Russian approval of the United States and European countries plummeted. In the Russian media, sanctions placed on Russia by both parties were presented as proof of the West’s determination to destroy or ruin Russia.
But since those events, Russians’ approval of the United States and the West have slowly rebounded from the lows they hit at the beginning of the conflict.
At the beginning of 2015, only 13 percent of Russians had "very good" or "generally good" feelings toward the United States. By early 2016, that number had climbed to 23 percent, and then further to 28 percent in the last months of 2016. The Levada Center's latest polling on the question—conducted just as Donald Trump was inaugurated as US president—shows even a further jump in Russian approval of the US in the past two months, rising to 37 percent.
The US's popularity amongst Russians is still very much underwater, but the trajectory is markedly upward. Other Levada polling shows that Russians expect to see a positive change in US-Russia relations thanks to the election of Mr. Trump; only ten percent believe the relationship will worsen.
And indeed, fully 60 percent of Russians felt that the election of Donald Trump would be best for Russia. Only 5 percent preferred Hillary Clinton, while fully 35 percent gave no answer. The vast majority of those who saw Trump as being better for Russia believed he would “have a friendlier attitude towards Russia.”
And while some of these hopes for improved US-Russia relations were the product of a Russian state-controlled media that was clear in its preferences for Trump over Clinton, that enthusiasm has not yet waned. During the month of January 2017—the month that President Trump was inaugurated—the Russian news media mentioned Trump 202,000 times. In the same period, Russian President Vladimir Putin had only 147,700 media mentions.
And the tone of those mentions is generally positive. In fact, while the United States is still often mentioned in a negative tone, Trump is lauded as a man who is working to fix the United States and deliver it from its disreputable ways. Well-known Russian news anchor Dmitri Kiselev has praised Trump for “crack[ing] the rotten, elite American system,” while others compared him to the kindly Uncle Sam, and called some of his actions “brave.”
BBC’s Steve Rosenberg has followed this trend in Russian news coverage of the new Trump administration, noting how differently the Russian press has treated Trump versus Obama. Of course, not all articles or news mentions are positive, with some commentators doubtful that the Trump administration’s policies will be good for Russia.
These raptures of measured praise for President Trump will likely vanish if or when the Kremlin’s political needs require it. But for now the Kremlin seems interested in preparing the Russian people to accept a new kind of relationship with a new kind of American leader.