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Commentary Who are Russia's enemies?
MOSCOW, (UPI) Oct. 11 , 2004 -

According to a recent public opinion poll, 68 percent of Russians asked believe Russia has external enemies. Twenty-five percent polled also believe the United States could unleash a war against Russia at anytime.

Russia is not the most liked country in the world, but its real enemies can be found within. State incompetence, greed, indifference, corruption, and poverty at home breed fear and distrust among average Russians, making foreign enemies the least of Russia's problems.

Russia's Public Opinion Fund, according to the Interfax wire service, found that of the 1,500 respondents polled in early October a full 68 percent of Russians believe enemies surround the country. Opinion of the United States fared poorly - 25 percent polled believe that the U.S. could attack Russia at anytime. Why the respondents believe this to be true was not made clear. However, the constant coverage of the continuing conflict in Iraq on Russia's major state-controlled television networks - which ranges from ambivalent to hostile -- may help to provide an explanation.

Ranked second as an external enemy of Russia is an undefined group coming from Arab and Islamic countries - polled at 7 percent. This is a remarkably low number considering the all but official media offensive against anything to do with Islam, particularly after Arab outsiders were initially alleged to have been involved in and responsible for the slaughter of Russia's children at Beslan's School No. 1.

An even more remarkable finding is that Chechnya is deemed an external threat - found to be the same as Arab and Islamic countries at 7 percent. Is this is because of the perception of Chechnya as not being really part of Russia any longer, or due to the belief that outsiders have infiltrated Chechnya? Either way, the Kremlin shines poorly: All Chechens are now seen beyond the pale and/or the authorities cannot effectively control the country's borders. If the poll data correctly reflect popular public opinion, it is hard to conceive of a more damning indictment of the Kremlin's Chechnya policy over the past decade.

Other single-digit enemies include Georgia (5 percent), China (3 percent), Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan, and Britain polled all at 2 percent. The Interfax report does not mention if the Public Opinion Fund prompted respondents with country names or respondents offered up Russia's enemies and friends on their own.

Among those polled, again according to Interfax, Russia does have friends in the world too. Interestingly enough, two of Russia's friends are also on the enemies list. Germany (at 16 percent) is deemed a friend, followed by France and Belarus (12 percent), Ukraine (9 percent), the United States (8 percent), China (7 percent), Kazakhstan (5 percent), the Commonwealth of Independent States collectively (5 percent), and Europe as a whole (4 percent), with India and Britain coming it at 3 percent each. The United States and Britain have the singular distinction of being Russia's enemy and friend at the same time for many Russians.

Russia's enemies and friends vary for reasons that are not completely understood. Clearly old Cold War prejudices persist in Russia, as in the United States and the West. Daily television coverage of American military actions around the world only help to fuel old Russian habits and attitudes concerning its former archrival - a perception that is markedly visible and promoted among Russia's outdated and still out of touch military establishment.

While Russians are asked to name or identify external enemies, enemies abound at home; they don't have to look far to understand who threatens Russia's well-being. Russia's real enemies don't have an address or a singular personal identity. Russia's enemies are homespun and well-known maladies. Russia's real enemy is itself. Russia does have foes abroad, but its foes found at home are far more threatening than any force beyond its borders.

Russia has real and imagined foreign foes because it hasn't addressed what alienates the average Russian at home. The state demands citizens to watch out for suspicious behavior in public that may lead to terrorist acts against the innocent, but it won't rein in those who represent the state - those extorting, intimating, and obstructing the law, all of which assaults many Russian citizens on a daily basis.

The Kremlin adheres to a double standard at home. As a result, it is not surprising the average Russian can't really identity Russia's enemies or friends. If the state can't live up to its own standards by upholding the law, it is not surprising the rest of the country can't do the same. The Kremlin sends mixed signals, and the population reacts accordingly.

President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin has amassed enormous powers not seen since the Soviet period. However, all this power is useless to fight foreign foes when the real foe is within - the state.

Peter Lavelle is an independent Moscow-based analyst and the author of the electronic newsletter on Russia Untimely Thoughts untimely-thoughts.com.

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