The Second Eurasian Women’s Forum held in St. Petersburg last week reportedly brought together 2,000 politicians, entrepreneurs, scientists and public figures from 110 countries to discuss a raft of political and economic issues.
According to organizers, “the highlight of the event” was the plenary session titled “Women for Global Security and Sustainable Development,” featuring an address by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But for Russian state media, an event dedicated to the empowerment of women was seized on as an opportunity to lavish praise on the Russian president.
One video, published by Russian Insider under the title “Women Went Crazy Around Putin! Russian President Was A Superstar At Eurasian Women’s Forum,” insinuated that the Russian president was the reason the women had gotten “dolled up” for the event.
While footage from that report shows attendees giving Putin a cordial welcome, Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of RT, told Russia-1's “Evening With Vladimir Solovyov” that the Russian president received a reception more befitting of a “rock star,” claiming that a “serious international audience” of women were “rushing in a last ditch effort to meet him like schoolchildren at a Beatles’ concert.”
But when Solovyov pitched a seemingly pre-prepared question -- “Why do women from different countries, not all (of whom) treat Russia unequivocally well, why do they react like this to Putin?” – Simonyan responded with a false claim.
“I’m always arguing with my acquaintances and friends working in the so-called or not so-called opposition media … who love to repeat the phrase: ‘the whole world is against us’…,” Simonyan said. “I always want to point out to my friends: ‘And what, China isn’t the world, India isn’t the world, the Arab world, almost all of which is completely on our side, well a significant part of it, isn’t the world? Latin America isn’t the world? People don’t notice their own snobbism and their well, what borders on xenophobia. They don’t respect other nations, because for those people, the world is the Western world, and not just people from the so-called Western world, but the Western establishment…”
Simonyan went on to state that the largest part of the world in terms of population shares Russia’s annoyance with the “hypocrisy emanating from the West,” adding that even Nino Burjanadze, former chairperson of Georgia’s parliament, reacted very positively despite the fact that Georgia is the only country with which Russia “has officially gone to war.” She added that American representatives were also in attendance.
But what about the claim that disdain for Russian policy in general and Putin in particular is strictly a manifestation of the Western establishment?
According to 2017 poll results released by Pew Research Center, “Russia’s international image is more negative than positive,” with 34% of respondents viewing Russia “in a positive light overall,” and 40% viewing it “negatively.”
Decidedly mixed opinions were found in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
Of the countries surveyed in the Middle East, where the United Nations has implicated Russia in war crimes in Syria, 93% of Jordanians, 62% of Turks and 61% of Israelis expressed a negative view of Russia, according to Pew. The Lebanese were relatively split, with 48% expressing negative sentiment vs. 47% positive, while Tunisians were also narrowly divided at 37% negative vs. 39% positive.
But Simonyan was correct that Indians do generally hold a favorable view of Russia, with 47% expressing a favorable view and only 13% indicating an unfavorable one.
Data for China was unavailable, but a plurality of South Koreans (41%) and a majority of Japanese (61%) hold an unfavorable opinion of Russia. By contrast, 83% of Vietnamese and 53% of Filipinos have a positive view of Russia.
In Latin America, a slim plurality of Brazilians (36%) expressed a negative view of Russia (vs. 35% positive). Argentinians were split at 27% each, while a slim plurality of Columbians (32%) expressed a positive attitude toward Russia (vs. 31% negative). Other countries where pluralities expressed positive sentiment were Mexico (32%), Peru (41%) and Venezuela (38%).
A plurality of South Africans and Kenyans expressed a negative view of Russia (40% and 29%, respectively), while a plurality of respondents in Ghana (33%), Nigeria (45%), Senegal (34%) and Tanzania (45%) maintained a positive attitude towards Russia.
Regarding the Russian president, the center reported that worldwide, a median of 60% say they lack confidence in Putin’s global leadership.
A 2017 survey by the Worldwide Independent Network/Gallup International Association (WIN/GIA) did find the Russian president had gained ground, moving from a 33% favorability rating in 2015 to 43% in 2017 (with 40% that year holding an unfavorable opinion). But that plurality of support falls far short of a global embrace.
In January, Gallup International released its 41st Annual End of Year Survey. While that survey did find that Putin is globally more popular than U.S. President Donald Trump, majorities from India, Iraq, South Africa and nearly two dozen other countries “reject both Trump and Putin.”
As noted by Gallup International Association (GIA) Vice President Andrey Milekhin: “The choice between these two Presidents is not an easy one and at the end the candidate ‘against both’ won.”
As for Georgia, Simonyan’s account of Burjanadze’s warmth towards Putin doesn’t erase the fact that 75% of Georgians have an unfavorable or very unfavorable attitude toward the Russian president, according to the results of a GORBI survey released this month.
So while global opinion on Putin and Russia is clearly mixed, claims that opposition to the Kremlin is the sole purview of the Western establishment are patently false.