The Russian invasion of Ukraine that began one year ago has provoked widespread international condemnation of the Russian military action and President Vladimir Putin personally.

Over the last 12 months, how has the view of America by Russian citizens changed? And what do Americans now think of Russia?

Always Enemies?

As Cold War protagonists for much of the late 20th century, Russia and America have frequently been adversaries. Importantly, regardless of the state of diplomacy between the two nations, the two countries have been portrayed as enemies in countless films and books, which helps shape public opinion.

The allegations of Russian interference in U.S. elections, particularly the 2016 presidential election and subsequent Mueller Report, has also maintained Russia’s reputation as a malign force.

In fact, the U.S. and Russia have lined up supporting opposite sides of many conflicts, from Afghanistan in the 1980s to Syria more recently.

So how has opinion in either direction changed?

The chart above shows: for Americans, the net view—the percentage of positive responses minus percentage of negative responses—has dropped from a pre-Ukraine invasion typical score of -60 to around -80, a shift of 20 percent. The view is taken from the regular question put by the polling company Gallup: “Do you consider Russia to be an ally or an enemy of the United States?”

However, the Russian view of America has altered even more dramatically. Pre-war, it was relatively stable, with a net score of around zero (meaning around the same level of positive and negative opinions), going as high as +7 in November 2019. That has now dropped to around -60. The data is from the Levada Center, which regularly polls Russians on various questions around politics and the economy.

Why has the Russian view of America dropped so radically, when it is Russia that is the aggressor in this conflict?

Stephen Sestanovich, senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Newsweek: “Since the war started Russian state media have been in a full-on, nationalist propaganda frenzy, and the U.S. is the prime target. Commentators vie to be the most hostile to America.”

Putin on Russian TV
A family watches a TV broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual state of the nation address in Moscow on February 21, 2023. Putin’s popularity has soared since the Ukraine invasion one year ago.
Getty Images

For Russia, the U.S. is the driving force of NATO expansion, encroaching on Russia’s borders. Sestanovich said: “We’re the center of their universe—of their angry, resentful theory of the universe—in a way that’s not true of how we view them.

“Also, our coverage of Russia tends to focus—very appropriately—on Putin as the master criminal, less so on the country as a whole. Russian media don’t have special villains in their picture of America. For them, the entire system is all Satanism all the time.”

The U.S. has led the way in imposing sanctions on Russia, with nearly 2,000 since the invasion, more than any other country. Many American companies have pulled out of Russia, including McDonald’s, which was a symbol of warmer U.S.-Russian relations when it first opened in Moscow in 1990. And the U.S. has also supplied the most in military aid to Ukraine, donating around $46 billion, on top of other aid commitments.

Putin’s Popularity

At the same time as Russians’ view of America has plummeted, the view of Putin within Russia has improved. The chart below shows how his net rating has gone from around +30-40 points to +60-70. An almost identical shift in opinion happened in February 2014: a big drop in attitude to the U.S. combined with soaring approval for Putin. That coincided with the annexation of Crimea, part of Ukraine, by Russia. For Putin’s popularity at home, as far as the polls go, invading Ukraine works.