Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating is at 62 percent, its “lowest in more than 12 years,” according to Russian survey group Levada.
While 62 percent may sound high, the number represents the drop from Putin’s tremendous popularity 12 years ago—75 percent. Faced with mounting opposition to his rule, Putin may look to history and invoke the Russian autocratic tradition of blaming the West. He’s already getting help from other Russian officials.
The State Duma has proposed a bill that would ban journalists with foreign citizenship from appearing on national TV, including Vladimir Pozner, a veteran of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika era.
United Russia officials are debating a series of measures to protect the country from perceived foreign threats. These include restrictions on the number of foreign films that can be shown and preventing government officials from marrying foreigners.
The odious Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the head of Russia’s Liberal-Democratic Party, announced that his party is working on legislation to “liberate the Russian language from trash and foreign words,” including various “Americanisms.”
This all comes about after the Duma passed the Dima Yakovlev law, which banned Americans from adopting Russian children and supporting Russian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Some Russian senators and journalists even insinuated that Americans are adopting Russian babies to get organs for transplantation and to collect disability payments.
Some Russian NGOs may now have to close due to lack of funds as a result of this anti-American measure. Russian democracy is not the only victim, however, because many Russian orphans will now be deprived of loving homes.
The anti-American hysteria at home pales in comparison to the Russian effort to influence public opinion abroad. Russia Today, a state-funded news organization, broadcasts in English, Arabic, and Spanish and hosts one of the most popular YouTube news channels. Russia Today’s goal, however, is to broadcast a Kremlin-created narrative that is unadulterated U.S.-bashing. Russia’s soft power is anything but soft.
The Heritage Foundation has warned before that the United States is losing the public diplomacy battle to countries such as Russia, China, and Qatar. Congress and the State Department need to meet this challenge by funding, designing, and implementing a cutting-edge and effective system of international broadcasting for the 21st century—or risk losing ground in the emerging public diplomacy battle.
Benjamin Tigay is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.