Staunton, September 21 – New polls showing that a majority of Russians do not want to absorb Abkhazia, South Osetia, Transdniestria or other breakaway parts of other post-Soviet states is less a rational choice than yet another expression of support for Vladimir Putin’s policies as promote in the Russian media, according to Levada Center sociologist Lev Gudkov.
That of course suggests that such attitudes, which are likely to be cited by some as evidence of an absence of imperial interests in Russia, could easily shift in another direction if Putin changes his position as in fact he and Russians as a whole have changed positions on this issue over the past decade.
In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” journalists Aleksey Gorbachev and Darya Garmonenko, report that the latest polls show that “most Russians say they favor Abkhazia and South Osetia remaining independent” rather than becoming part of an expanded Russian Federation (ng.ru/politics/2015-09-21/3_ambitions.html).
Forty-seven percent of Russians say they consider South Osetia an independent state. A third call it “part of Russia,” and a tenth identify it as part of Georgia. As to the future, 48 percent say it should remain independent, seven percent that it should be part of Georgia, and 23 percent indicate that it should become part of Russia.
The figures concerning Abkhazia are roughly similar, as are those for Transdniestria, the breakaway portion of Moldova, the two journalists point out.
The majority of those samples are “certain that Russia’s recognition of the independence of South Osetia and Abkhazia did not bring either harm or benefits” to Russia, with 47 percent taking that position, 23 percent saying it was useful, and 10 percent indicating that such recognition was harmful.
Gudkov points out that “the poll completely reflects the position of the leadership of Russia which is carried on all Kremlin channels,” a position which “does not stress that these regions are under the total control of and being paid for by Russia.” To the contrary, Moscow’s propaganda stresses that they are truly independent states.
At first, he continues, “an imperial view dominated” the attitudes of the Russian public who thought this was all a step to the inclusion of “ever more former territories of the USSR” into the Russian Federation. But now, “the majority is inclined to the notion that these are independent states” and no one wants to bear the costs of annexing them.
The share of Russians who think that Russia’s recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Osetia was useful to Russia has fallen because attention to this issue has fallen given the events in Ukraine and because there is greater appreciation of the costs involved of annexing any territory.
Gudkov notes that the least educated and oldest Russians are more inclined to support annexation while the educated and wealthier ones are less supportive. “Between the provinces and the residents of major cities, the difference is insignificant, although urban residents and Muscovites in the first instance are less inclined to support unification.”
That pattern reflects, the sociologist says, the fact that in the Russian capital, there are more varied sources of information and analysis, while in the provinces, people are “more strongly dependent on television and propaganda.”
Crimea is the exception that proves this rule, Gudkov argues. Russians have overwhelmingly supported its inclusion in Russia since 1991 and thus “it is difficult to expect that a skeptical attitude will arise concerning the peninsula” and its annexation by the Russian Federation.