Has Russia Won Over the Rest of the World?

Has Russia Won Over the Rest of the World?

Outside of the West, criticism of Russia is far more subdued, confirming Putin’s much-vaunted pivot to the East and Russian diplomacy in the Global South.


America’s democratic backsliding poses real problems for its soft power and global influence. The United States suffers from political violence and intimidation (ranking below Romania and India on this dimension, according to Freedom House), discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities (where the United States ranks below Uruguay and Portugal); and illegitimate attempts to overturn executive elections (here the United States scores below South Korea and Chile). In a 2021 Pew Research poll of sixteen countries, large proportions of U.S. allies and partners said democracy in the United States “used to be a good example for other countries, but is not now,” ranging from a low of 54 percent in Germany to 73 percent in South Korea. Most had a positive view of the United States, and overwhelming majorities were delighted to see Trump replaced with Biden, but political dysfunction has tarnished America’s image.

And most Americans seem to agree. In another 2021 survey by Pew Research, 65 percent of the American public said their political system needed “complete reform” or “major changes.” A slightly larger percentage agreed that “most politicians are corrupt,” 43 percent said they trust their government “not much” or “not at all,” and only 9 percent were “very satisfied” with the functioning of democracy. On all these measures, Americans scored lower than their counterparts in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. These results are not surprising considering the high degree of partisan polarization, attacks on media freedom, opaque campaign financing, inability to deal with gun violence, attempts to manipulate elections, and disregard for the rule of law. In Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World report, America still ranks in the “free” category, but just barely, with an overall score of eighty-three out of 100, slightly above Poland and far behind European democracies.


Are Putin and Xi responsible for all this? Not all, but the war in Ukraine is fueling inflation and limiting critical supplies of food to vulnerable countries. And to the extent that Putin and Xi rule as brutal authoritarian dictators, and support other autocrats who are intolerant and violent, they encourage larger flows of refugees and migrants that feed the nationalism, tribalism, and fear of immigrants that strengthen undemocratic, illiberal movements. While American and European right-wing nationalists may have little in common with Xi Jinping, many admire Putin as a white Christian nationalist who stands up for traditional values while dismissing his autocratic rule as inconsequential.

Putin counted on winning the support of the Rest in his struggle against the West, and to a certain extent, he has succeeded. Over the long term, however, the war in Ukraine will make Russia more isolated, poorer, feared, and less influential around the world. In seeking to make Russia great again, Putin has done just the opposite. Even Russia’s closest partner China is conflicted, while many countries that resisted sanctioning Russia in 2014 are (at least for now) fully on board with the United States. Those in the Global South and Asia are trying to avoid taking sides for various reasons, but Russia’s flagrant violations of sovereignty, blatant disregard for international law, and the brutal atrocities of its forces in Ukraine have undeniably damaged the country’s international standing. Whether the United States can capitalize on this colossal blunder is another question.

Charles E. Ziegler is Professor of Political Science and University Scholar at the University of Louisville.

Image: Reuters.