Georgia Rift Reveals Russians' Anti-U.S. Sentiment

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Russia is facing international isolation over the conflict in Georgia, but many Russians appear unconcerned, expressing views that are increasingly hostile to the United States. And the Kremlin says it's ready for a new Cold War.

The Russian media have broadcast a mounting stream of anti-Western propaganda since the start of the conflict with Georgia. One of the very few exceptions has been radio station Ekho Moskvy. But even its listeners say they're not concerned about Russia's growing split with the West.

One caller said a new Cold War would make absolutely no difference to Russians. Most agreed that the West, which depends on Russia for its vast oil and gas supplies, has far more to lose.

Russia's attack on Georgia has prompted a crisis in U.S.-Russian relations not seen since the height of the Cold War. The West has condemned Russia for invading and occupying an independent democracy.

But Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told CNN on Thursday that U.S. forces inside Georgia probably provoked the hostilities.

"I suspect that someone in the United States specially created this conflict to complicate the situation and create an advantage for one of the U.S. presidential candidates," he said.

Putin warned of "very bad" consequences and said Russia was not afraid of being kicked out of international organizations, such as the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries.

"We don't want to fight anyone," he said. "We only want to be respected."

According to the local Levada polling agency, 75 percent of Russians back such statements.

Architect Denis Ivanov said he believes Washington started a new Cold War.

"They're installing a missile defense system in Poland. They've set Ukraine and Georgia against Russia," he said on Moscow's main shopping street. "They toppled the Soviet Union and now they have a longstanding plan to split off neighboring territories and surround Russia."

Even inside a bastion of Americana culture, a TGI Friday's restaurant within sight of the Kremlin, the mood was equally defiant. Lawyer Mariana Poniarskaya said Russia must show it's a strong, independent country.

"We finally showed that the United States can't do what it wants all over the world. We have our positions, and they have to be respected," she said. "It's just that the West didn't believe we'd be back on our feet, standing up for our interests, so soon."

Cold War rhetoric was steeped in the ideological differences between Marxism-Leninism and capitalist democracy. Today, Russians say there is no ideology. Instead, Boris Dubin of the Levada polling agency said Russians see the United States as a direct threat to Russia's very existence.

"People have been led to believe Russia can be strong only by opposing the world's biggest power … while believing their own country can do no wrong," he said. "Perhaps that's the only way the authorities can generate support from a population that's still mostly poor and very fragmented."

Back at TGI Friday's, lawyer Vitaly Oznaurov said he sees nothing alarming about Russia's standoff with the West. He said he is not concerned that Russia has stationed Black Sea warships off Georgia's coast after accusing the United States of a naval buildup there.

"Both sides," he said, "are just testing each other's limits."



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