Staunton, December 2 – The Kremlin can use its control of the media to generate support for almost anything it wants to do abroad, but it starts with a base of approximately one quarter of the population which supports the use of force anywhere the regime wants to deploy it, according to Denis Volkov of the Levada Center.
These “hawks” consist “above all either the youngest people or the well-off” who won’t have to fight themselves or see their children go to war as well as residents of large cities other than the two capitals. They are opposed by Muscovites and also by the poorest segments of the population (ng.ru/politics/2015-12-02/3_agression.html).
Volkov’s comments are cited in an article by Aleksey Gorbachev in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” about Russian attitudes toward a possible ground campaign in Syria. According to Levada Center polls, 32 percent of the population is in favor of this, a figure than includes the 25 percent who always back military actions.
Thus, the 32 percent figure is a relatively small increment to the base given that state-controlled media have been putting a positive face on Russia’s campaign so far. If there are more problems, that could call some of this support into question, especially since only one Russian in 11 (9 percent) is “entirely positive” about such a campaign.
“The majority still holds a different point of view and is sharply negative about the dispatch of [Russian] soldiers to Syria,” Gorbachev says. Just over one in five is quite negative about the idea, and another 32 percent is “more negative than positive.” At the same time, more than half accept the Russian media’s portrayal of the situation in Syria.
Aleksey Grazhdankin, the deputy director of the Levada Center, says that support for a land operation in Syria has grown since the start of the bombing campaign that that it can continue to increase “as long as there are no serious losses among Russian soldiers,” especially given the media’s ability to define how Russians see things.
According to Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Political Expertise Group, reports of amazing successes and warnings of a terrorist threat to Russia itself are sufficient, but an international mandate or the loss of more Russian lives would boost support for a land campaign still further.
Aleksey Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies says that the Kremlin will elect to send in ground troops if there is no other way to save Asad and his regime or if there are more terrorist attacks. Then, as in 1999, Russians will want to strike back hard and a ground campaign may look to be the best way to do that.
But at present, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist says, Russians are still more opposed than in favor of a ground effort. According to another poll, this one by the Public Opinion Foundation, 71 percent of Russians oppose the use of ground troops in Syria, while only 19 percent support that idea.