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Book Review
Last Updated: 04/05/2006
Cold Peace
Stephan E. Nikolov

A Russian scholar presents an exhaustive examination of American public opinion toward Russia, from 1920 to the present day. An essential book for the libraries of experts and policy makers.


Author: V. O. Rukavishnikov
Title: Holodnaya voyna, holodnyi mir. Obshchestvennoye mneniye v SShA I Yevrope o SSSR/Rossii, vneshnoy politike I bezopasnosti Zapada [Cold War, Cold Peace. Public opinion in the USA and Europe about the USSR/Russia, foreign policy and Western security]
Publisher: Akademicheskiy proyekt, Moscow, 2005
Pages: 863

Public opinion is a mirror that reflects opinions of millions human beings. Tracing out fluctuations in the public opinion during a longer period of time - say, ten, twenty, or more years - may permit us to access deep changes in dispositions and attitudes, and then to seek factors causing them. Russian sociologist Prof. Vladimir Rukavishnikov has unearthed a huge amount of previously unfamiliar or poorly known (especially for the Russian audience) data from opinion polls, de-classified CIA reports, and data about military expenditures and USA/USSR nuclear arsenals during the Cold War. He has completed a meticulous analysis of this vast material, finishing with the very last days, which he calls ‘Cold Peace’. This is a term already accepted by many observers as an appropriate designation of the period directly following the cold war. Rukavishnikov shows that this term quite exactly reflects the situation in the present. And he concludes his presentation with an appeal for an openhanded attitude toward Russia in these conditions and circumstances.

The Cold War, and everything which is part of that term, surely holds several different, even completely opposite, meanings for different people – for example, in the mind of a Pravda editor (to say nothing of the doublethink of public speech and dialogue with self or the most trusted ones), and for the cynically disposed individuals; for the Party propaganda, and for the ordinary citizens; for the Russian and Polish intellectual. Prof. Rukavishnikov dedicates his monograph to the still quite sensitive problem of the Western attitudes toward Russia over a long time span: from the end of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s, to the very present. Rukavishnikov turns his attention to the dynamics of the public opinion concerning such issues as foreign and defence policies and relations between the USA and Western Europe on the one hand, and, on the other, the USSR/Russia. Challenges to the relationship with post-Soviet Russia are pointed out in the interaction during the emergence of the new world order, old and new security risks (especially the recent crises in the Balkans and Middle East), NATO reorganization and enlargement, building of the European military forces, and globalization. All this is considered background to another all-embracing topic – the Western public’s attitude toward nuclear arms and prospects for a new world war. Together with the already mentioned topics, the book also deals with other issues, such as manipulation with the public opinion and the impact of public opinion on foreign policy, propaganda rhetoric, anti-communism and Russophobia, as well as the methodological aspects of public opinion research.

The author considers his work a continuation of a long Russian academic tradition – works by Soviet/Russian academics and diplomats, mainly part of the elite think-tank US & Canada Institute that was prominent during the Soviet era. However, in addition to the high quality of the preceding research, Rukavishnikov adds entirely new features and value – that of the post-ideological scholar, who is free from the chains of the previous prejudices, schemes and ‘political correctness’. His advantage – and, indeed, that of his audience – lies also in the ever-growing opportunities for travel and access to the formerly closed archives and data bases, and he is one that definitely benefits from this state of affairs. Rukavishnikov is a smart thinker and analyst, staying a step ahead of many in his field. This means also that he is not only more comprehensive, but also diversified from the quite familiar and already obsolete one-sided approach, typical for the Soviet school of foreign policy analysis, that produces an entirely black-and-white picture, one of the ‘Good Russia’ and ‘Bad West’. Also, no other Russian author has dared to approach such a long historical period – most limited themselves to the separate periods, e. g., 1930s, WWII, 1940s, 1950s, and so on, or to one or another US President. In a sense, this book is a sort of Russian answer – in the most positive connotation of this word – to the well known American scholars in the field, Benjamen I. Page and Robert Y. Shapiro*, profound experts on US public opinion during the 1940s-1990s.

This is also a monumental work, with its 863 pp., 16 chapters, and rich bibliography composed mainly of works of American authors (and not the reverse, as most often used to be the case), as well as many charts and graphs. Rukavishnikov does not intend to probe history and the theory of international relations during the cold war period. Instead, he tries to find – and does this quite successfully – an interconnection between and behind the various events, deeds and statements ‘that stem from the specificities of the current situation, through the prism of the values’ conflict or the collision of ideologies‘ (p. 8, emphasis his). His starting point lies in the firm assumption that all attitudes of both the elite and the masses in the West toward the USSR/Russia spring from myths, prejudices and manipulation – especially the notorious ‘Soviet threat’. Such an absolute standpoint, however, may not be the most constructive for such an analysis. It would probably be important to find out whether these attitudes have been invariably and uniformly negative all the time, since the 1920s until the very crumbling of the Soviet Empire. And are there reasons other than Western tactics, plots and set ups, ones that lie in the ill-conceived and badly executed Soviet communism that have prompted such ways of thinking?

Rukavishnikov is keen to hold firmly to the academic definitions of both basic and related concomitant terms like public opinion and polls, and in a simple and accessible way explains essential requirements to the surveys conducted in the sociological, psychological, and political science’s surveys. Moreover, he readily accepts established Western definitions, accurately indicating their advantages and shortcomings. It is important to note that the author is careful to specify not only the numerical data from the surveys, but the exact wording of the question, sample, and circumstances of the concrete survey – data, without which quantitative outcomes are only empty, meaningless figures.

The presentation starts with the 1930s contest between the efforts to formally recognise the USSR and develop accordingly political and economic relations and exchanges on the one hand, and on the other – pressures toward isolation and confrontation. Since developments in Soviet Russia happened almost simultaneously with those in Nazi Germany after Hitler’s coming to power, many observers misleadingly perceive both as ‘one and the same’ – or, as ‘Red Fascism’ and ‘Brown Bolshevism’. Thus, largely spread fears against the Nazi threat extended likewise over the Soviet Russia – especially after the signing of the notorious Stalin-Ribbentrop agreement. Not saved are American communists – hard-heartedly used by the Soviet foreign intelligence even for apparently dirty actions as preparing to murder Trotsky and stealing technological know-how. This seriously eroded the already poor reputation of the CPUSA. Surveys quoted in the book confirm the existence of equally negative attitudes toward the Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany – with even more favourable opinions toward the later as far the Anti-Fascist People’s Front movement, initiated by the Komintern’s 7th Congress, has never been as considerably rooted on the other side of the ocean as it was in Europe. Communist parties all over the world made terrible mistakes and often worked against the interests of their own electorate, executing often bizarre instructions from Moscow. The long arm of Moscow, Moscow money, Stalin’s gifts – those and many other expressions became expressions that instigated murders, fires, blasts and revolts ‘in the name of world proletariat and the poor’. Indeed, we may not completely and one-sidedly identify all world evil with the ‘communist conspiracy’ - that would be nonsense. However, blaming only the ‘bourgeois propaganda’ for shaping negative attitudes toward the USSR, communism, and the communist parties in the USA and elsewhere would also be wrong. Certainly, in a large degree changes in these attitudes are a function of the cyclical changes in the USA-USSR/Russia relations – rapprochement during the WWII led to more positive attitudes, and even to growth in the CP and leftist organization affiliation, while confrontation in the second half of 1940s and most of the 1950s showed a reverse trend in public opinion (p. 28). However, it would seem an over-simplification to seek the reason for this change in the prevailing propaganda, and not in such circumstances as the exposure of Stalinist repression by defectors or by Soviet media too during the Khruscev’s period of ‘melting’ (‘ottepel?’) (1956-1964). Here we might recall also that even the famous ‘Moscow trials’ in 1937-38 have been portrayed by US diplomats and observers – and certainly not the leftwing ones – according to the official Kremlin version (p. 33).

As a whole, it is important to see how the US public opinion, too burdened with isolationist and selfish leanings, was slowly and reluctantly changing in direction of supporting the USA involvement in the war against Nazi Germany and its allies, Fascist Italy and Japan, in 1939-40 (p. 73). Interestingly enough, confirming more Western understanding of manual workers as a conservative force rather than the Marxist assumption of the proletariat as the ‘most progressive’, it is the upper class (53%, April 1943), University and College educated (58%), senior managers and businessmen (64%) as well as ‘white collars’ (62%, August 1945), and not the ‘poor’ (41%, April 1943), or workers (48% for both industrial and agricultural, August 1945), who hoped that Russia and the USA will continue their cooperation after the war as well (p. 98). Rising doubts that the USSR is sincerely interested in further cooperation with Western allies spread widely not only in the USA, Great Britain, and France, but in the neutral countries like Sweden too (pp. 101-2). Rukavishnikov meticulously studies the details of cooperation between Russia and allies from the anti-Nazi coalition, indicating the real size of the US support under the land-lease agreement (November 1941 - long time disparaged in the Soviet literature), the delayed opening of a second front, faltering in the prospects for post-war cooperation, ‘spheres of influence’ according the Yalta agreements, and the Soviet contribution to the defeat of Japan. Characteristically for the distorted views of the population, it is astonishing that a relatively huge share of Americans (25 percent of those interviewed in July 1945) assumed that the USA had suffered more than the USSR during the war.

It is quite natural that under these circumstances, decades after the war confrontation mistrust between the USSR and Western world rapidly increased. If in December 1945 only each sixth American was regarding USSR as possible initiator of the Third World nuclear war, only less than six months later such an opinion held two of three Americans (p. 153). Here Rukavishnikov extends significantly his presentation’s background, inviting data for public opinion in countries other the USA – especially those of Western Europe. It may be a matter of speculation what exactly has caused such a tremendous turn in Western European attitudes toward the USSR, from sympathies to fears and distrust, within a brief historical period between 1945 and 1946. This aided greatly the ousting of communists and other left parties from the coalitional governments of many W. European countries. Rukavishnikov correctly notes that during the cold war years there were two prevailing cultures – one of the ruling elite, and another of the ‘apolitical, ill informed, apathetic mob’ (p. 169). This situation largely provides for the realization of the official foreign policy of Western countries. Soviet steps at this time such as the blockade of Berlin, the manipulated trials against the opposition leaders and activists in Eastern European countries under Soviet control (and later also against ‘enemies’ and ‘traitors’ within the ruling communist parties), and the Korean War in 1950-53 that unfolded not without support and consent by Moscow and Beijing, also largely contributed for the moulding of Western opinion attitudes in negative terms. Later, after Stalin’s death, this tendency was further corroborated by the controversial moves and avowals of N. Khruscev and L. Brezhnev – the first leaders of the USSR to visit the USA and most Western countries - the Berlin war, the Cuban missiles’ crisis, numerous local confrontations and wars such as in the Middle East, Indochina, many African countries fighting for independence, Afghanistan, interventions against ‘counterrevolutions’ in Hungary (1956) and in Czechoslovakia (1968), and many others. Virtually the entire world, and most of the international organizations, forums, and meetings had been transformed into arenas of confrontation, rivalry, and competition. These developments made not only influenced public opinion in the USA and Western countries to evaluate the USSR negatively, but led to a historic split in the communists movement, in which Moscow ceased to be a trusted and reliable leader – a ‘guiding star’ - and it virtually disintegrated into more moderate, opportunist, individual-oriented (leaning to the Socialist and Social-Democrat ideology, represented by the Prague Spring leaders, ‘Eurocommunists’, etc.) militant, ultraleft and irreconcilable (for example, Maoists and followers of the ‘permanent revolution’, etc.). It seemed that under aging, ailing and rigid Soviet leaders – Brezhnev, Andropov, Suslov, Chernenko, as well as the eldest ever US president, R. Reagan, rebuttal had climaxed. Impasse seemed inevitable – for the whole planet, yes, but especially for the ‘socialist camp’, paralysed due to inadequate management, an ineffective economy, and a failure to meet people’s expectations.

I remember well this time. In May 1975 I was lucky enough to spend the days of the 30th anniversary of the V-Day in the then Leningrad, one of the symbols of both war heroism and cruelty, one of the few hero cities. A US warship visited the Leningrad harbour for the first time after the war, attracting enormous interest. Even the city’s first secretary, Romanov, then rumoured to be one of certain successors of the ailing General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev came with family to visit the navy vessel. It was during the Brezhnev era of ‘zastoy’ – standstill, amidst the cold war. Solidarity, Afghanistan, and the R. Reagan presidency naming the USSR the “Empire of Evil” had yet to happen, and hardly any could expect his call for tearing down the Berlin Wall to come true. A young man then, soon after finishing military duty at one remote garrison near the border of a NATO member, Turkey, I was astonished to see on the streets white haired Russian war veterans decorated with their military awards and warmly hugging US sailors – as if to counter overall propaganda and manipulation that we all lived in then.

A decade later in Moscow came a leader of the new generation with practically no connection to the Stalinist age – M. Gorbachev. He was soon met by the Western leaders and Western public with enthusiasm and affection never before shown toward any of the Soviet leaders, reaching such dimensions as to be given a special term – Gorbymania. However, the more popular Gorbachev was in the Western countries, the less sympathy and acceptance he found among his compatriots. This was partly Gorbachev’s rule coincided with the apparent collapse of the Soviet supply system, corruption and abuse, and his unpopular measures such as anti-alcohol campaign. But it was also because of perceptions that he was a renegade and traitor who had sold himself to the West. Within months and sometimes even weeks, at the end of 1989 and beginning of the 1990s, events came to pass, that seemed hard to believe – the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, proclaimed only a month before by E. Honecker as to stay a hundred years more; the dissolution of the Warsaw pact; the reunification of Germany; and break-up of the USSR – to mention only the most significant among them.

But the Russo-US relations’ ‘honeymoon’, according to Rukavishnikov, was short-lived: symptoms of cooling off came into sight during the second half of the 1990s – something that becomes apparent from Chart 12.3 in the book, which illustrates the dynamics of the positive and negative attitudes of the US population toward Russia according to the Gallup’s polls in February 1993 – March 2003 (p. 619). Prof. Rukavishnikov accurately and quite properly formulates the main rationale that lies behind Americans’ motivation to support Russia: to prevent destabilization in Russia. Such a prospect apparently tweaks the interest of even those least interested in world affairs because it is clear that it would cause serious trouble all over the world. Many more factors – acting jointly or simultaneously (in parallel) – pushed toward the cooling of attitudes and mutual relations: frustration, unmet expectations, and general disappointment in the performance of Russian capitalism, Russian democracy, and the Russian president, B. Yeltsin. Protracted war in Chechnya revealed the inability of Russian leadership to solve problems of separatism and terrorism, and the danger of destabilizing vast areas such as Trans Caucasian region and Northern and Eastern Black sea. On the other side of the pond, policy makers were disenchanted with the changes in the Russian foreign policy after 1996, acknowledged as hardening (pp. 619-21). In the last part of his book, the author quite elaborately describes some of the most recent global events that count for the further shaping of the mutual attitudes: NATO’s Eastern enlargement, Balkan lessons that proved an Americanization (author’s term) of peacekeeping, America’s global war with terrorism, and Putin’s era in the Russian politics. It is certainly too early to evaluate these brand new and still unfolding developments, but Rukavishnikov does not hesitate to approach them, well equipped with reasoning and ample experience.

Vladimir Rukavishnikov is part of the middle generation Russian sociologists, who came, quite naturally, from other fields due to the simple fact that during Soviet era sociology was not allowed in the family of ideologized social [‘obshchestvennye’] nauki. In the beginning of the 1990s he was Deputy Director of the Institute of Socio-Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Editor in Chief of ‘Sociologicheskie Issledovaniya’ Journal. He was part of a number of international research projects, and taught abroad. He also authored more than 200 academic works, including monographs, studies, and articles in the fields of sociology and political science, published in his native country, as well as in the USA, Great Britain, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and many other countries. This is a book that deserves a place in the libraries of every prominent and serious institution that provides policy research and prepares recommendations for decision makers, as well as in the libraries of individual experts in the field. It provides vast analyzed and interpreted data that cover large historical time periods, and offers sound and reliable ‘food for thought’ – even if one does not accept all conclusions and statements by the author, which is customary and expected.


* Page B. I., Shapiro R. Y. (1992). The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in American Policy Preferences Chicago: University of Chicago Press..
Stephan E. Nikolov holds a Ph.D. and is a research fellow at the Institute of Sociology in Sofia, Bulgaria.
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