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Cablegate: St. Petersburgers Hesitant to Label U.S. An Ally, Poll

R 051341Z AUG 08
FM AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 2590
INFO AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG
AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK
AMEMBASSY TALLINN
AMEMBASSY RIGA
AMEMBASSY VILNIUS
AMEMBASSY KYIV
AMEMBASSY HELSINKI
AMEMBASSY BEIJING
AMEMBASSY BERLIN
AMEMBASSY TOKYO
AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG

UNCLAS ST PETERSBURG 000148

STATE FOR EUR/RUS, INR/REE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KPAO KDEM RS
SUBJECT: ST. PETERSBURGERS HESITANT TO LABEL U.S. AN ALLY, POLL
SHOWS

REF: ST. PETERSBURG 082


1. Summary. According to a recent poll, only a minority of St.
Petersburg residents consider the U.S. to be a "friend" of
Russia, while the perception that China is a close Russian ally
is quickly growing. At the same time, however, a majority of
residents now deem the U.S. to be closer to a friend of Russia
than an enemy in a significant shift over the last six years.
The poll's lead researcher told us that negative attitudes could
be attributed to lingering cold war animosity, while exchange
and travel to the U.S. were positively influencing opinions, an
idea borne out by our research (See reftel). End Summary.

2. In June 2008 the Agency for Social Information, a respected
independent research organization, polled 500 area residents on
their attitudes towards foreign nations. According to the
results, just 34 percent of St. Petersburgers believe the U.S.
is a friendly nation vis-`-vis Russia, down from 39 percent in
2002. In more encouraging news, the percentage of residents who
consider the US to be either "friendly" or "friendlier than
hostile" increased from 48 percent in 2002 to 57 percent in
2008. The rise is linked with an 11 percent drop in locals who
are neutral in their opinions of the U.S., decreasing from 31
percent in 2002 to 20 percent in 2008.

3. Meanwhile, eight percent of respondents view the U.S. as
Russia's enemy. This figure is up two percent from 2002, which
falls within the survey's standard error. The percentage of
those who consider the U.S. to be more hostile to Russia than it
is friendly remained constant at 16 percent.

4. In contrast, a majority (62 percent) of residents consider
China to be a solid ally of Russia, with just less than 2
percent viewing it as an adversary. Perceptions of China
changed significantly from 2002 to 2008 during which the
percentage of Petersburgers who believed China to be either
friendly or friendlier than not jumped from 54 to 77 percent.
Only 5.8 percent of those polled felt China to be more hostile
to Russia than friendly.

5. The country enjoying the highest regard as an ally among
Petersburgers is neighboring Finland at 83.3 percent. The
majority of respondents (69 percent) also viewed Japan and
Germany more favorably than not. Iraq, on the other hand,
received the lowest results with just 30.5 percent viewing the
country as Russia's ally and 2.7 percent believing that Iraq is
an enemy.

6. The poll did not query for explanations of respondents'
views, and the lead sociologist at the research institute was
hesitant to draw conclusions from the results. However, he told
us that in his opinion a cold-war hangover among senior citizens
and their influence on their grandchildren, whom they often help
raise due to working parents, might explain the relatively high
"enemy" rating for the U.S. On the other hand, he speculated
that increased travel by locals to the U.S. has engendered
positive attitudes towards the country, and he stressed that
more cultural and people-to-people exchanges were important to
overcome differences. Concerning local media, he conceded that
the press plays a role in shaping opinions, but did not say to
what extent.

7. Comment. The poll reveals a St. Petersburg society divided in
its opinion of the U.S. The survey, however, falls short of
exploring the complexity of driving factors behind the current
trends. If true that views of area youth are being negatively
prejudiced by nostalgic grandparents, our research shows that
growing travel to the U.S. among young people is counteracting
this bias. In Post's questioning of returned Summer Work and
Travel participants, the vast majority said their U.S.
experience and interaction with Americans positively influenced
their opinion of the country, an indication that
people-to-people contact can indeed play a constructive role in
creating positive attitudes towards the U.S. End Comment.


GREENBERG

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