Friday, June 17, 2016

Ever Fewer Russians are Paying Attention to Ukraine, Survey Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 17 – Ever fewer Russians are paying attention to Ukraine and Russia’s role there, a trend that makes the Russian-Ukrainian conflict less useful for Vladimir Putin as an ideological tool but that is positive news for Ukraine because the Levada Center poll also found more Russians accept the idea that Ukraine is a separate country, according to Vladislav Girman.

            Those trends, the most important this poll showed, have been largely ignored by Moscow outlets which have trumpeted the self-celebrating fact that Russians have a more positive attitude toward Ukrainians than they did, the commentator for Kyiv’s Delovaya Stolitsya portal argues (

            What is most striking about the poll results is that they show that Putin’s propaganda machine has been able to boost the share of Russians who believe that Russians and Ukrainians area not two nations but one people only marginally and thus do little about the decline in the share of Russians who thought that in 2005 as compared to now.

            In 2005, 81 percent of Russians told the Levada Center that they believed that Russians and Ukrainians are one people. Now, only 49 percent do. The latter figure is up three percent from last year, but the small size of the increase does little to change the fundamental vector and highlights the limits on Putin’s propaganda to change views on this issue, Girman says.

            Moreover, far more Russians – 36 percent – now say they believe the border between Russia and Ukraine should be a normal one, controlled with visa requirements and customs, a figure far higher than the 19 percent who said that three years ago.  At the same time, a majority would like open borders without any visa requirement, the same as in 2008 and 2013.

            Girman says that this shift in Russian attitudes is also reflected in a story that two former Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia have told. They say that their Russian fellow prisoners indicated that they “envied” the two for their Ukrainian citizenship, something hardly consistent with the Putin line.

            The Levada Center poll also shows that Russians are paying far less attention to Ukraine than they did. Sixteen percent say they have ceased to follow events there, and the share declaring that they follow developments in Ukraine carefully has fallen from half in 2014 to only slightly more than a quarter (29 percent)  now.

            This shift limits the ability of the Kremlin to exploit Ukrainian issues for its own purposes, Girman says, and is likely both caused by and one of the reasons Moscow has shifted its attention to other issues such as Syria and NATO. 

            A majority of Russians believe that Crimea is now permanently theirs and will never be returned to Ukraine. At the same time, the poll shows, two-thirds believe that the ceasefire is working; and a majority believe that the current situation of “a frozen conflict” will continue well into the future.

            In short, Girman sums up,  for Russians, “the conflict is ever less interesting and the hysteria of hatred is somewhat reduced but what has been seized from someone else as before is considered to be theirs.” Soon, he says, one can expect from Russians questions of the kind “’why don’t you love us?’” – the kind of queries some in the West may take at face value.

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