Poll: Fewer Russians approve of how Putin deals with U.S.

As relations between the United States and Russia have deteriorated in recent years, so too has the opinion Russians hold of their president’s dealings with his nation’s former Cold War adversary.

Seventy-three percent of Russians reached in a Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday said they approve of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s handling of relations with the U.S., a robust number that nonetheless represents a 12 percentage point drop from the 85 percent who said in 2015 they approved of Putin’s stance toward the U.S.

Relations between the two nations, once on the upswing amid an effort at a “reset” at the start of former President Barack Obama’s administration, have more recently devolved over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea away from Ukraine, Moscow’s support for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and the Russian government’s campaign of cyberattacks aimed at interfering in last year’s presidential campaign, allegations the Kremlin has denied.

The latter has prompted multiple ongoing investigations in the U.S., including probes conducted by special prosecutor Robert Mueller as well as the Senate and House intelligence committees. The investigations are expected to examine not only Russia’s campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential race but also the possibility that individuals with ties to President Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Kremlin. Trump has loudly denied that any such connection exists.

The president, who for weeks refused to accept the unanimous conclusion of all 17 federal intelligence agencies that Russia was indeed behind the campaign of cyberattacks, has decried the investigations as a “witch hunt.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, pledged at an April bilateral press conference in Moscow to try to warm relations between the two countries, even as Tillerson conceded that the relationship was “at a low point.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in March that the U.S.-Russia relationship had sunk to the level of a “new Cold War” or “maybe even worse.”

But while approval of Putin’s handling of U.S. relations has dipped somewhat, respondents to the Pew poll said Putin has improved Russia’s standing in the world. Fifty-nine percent said Russia plays a more important role in the world than it did 10 years ago, while just 17 percent said Russia’s role on the international stage has diminished.

Thirty-four percent of those polled said Russia is as respected around the world as it should be, up from 16 percent in 2012. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said they have confidence in Putin to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs, while 12 percent said they had no confidence.

NATO, the trans-Atlantic military alliance that Trump labeled “obsolete” during last year’s campaign and whose members he has harangued about upping their defense spending, is viewed as less threatening to Russia than it once was, according to the poll. Forty-one percent said they view NATO as a “major threat,” down 9 points from 2015. Thirty-nine percent said they see NATO as a “minor threat” and 16 percent said it was not a threat at all.

The Pew Research Center poll was conducted via face-to-face interviews with 1,002 Russian adults nationwide from Feb. 18 to April 3. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 points.

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