Staunton, December 10 – Majorities of Russians see only two allies among the former Soviet republics, Belarus and Kazakhstan, with far smaller percentages saying that other countries like Armenia and Azerbaijan have that status in their minds and miniscule percentages saying it about all other post-Soviet states.
Since 2010, the VTsIOM polling agency has been asking Russians about their views of the former Soviet republics. Belarus and Kazakhstan have been at the top of the list in all the intervening years, with 64 percent pointing to the first and 57 percent pointing to the second in the most recent survey (svpressa.ru/politic/article/188182/).
The other countries lag far behind in the estimation of Russians. Only 16 percent of Russians now call Armenia an ally, only 10 percent Azerbaijan, and an even lesser share identify each of the others. Ukraine, not surprisingly, has fallen the furthest in the list: In 2013, 21 percent of Russians saw it as an ally; now only one percent do.
The Russian pollsters asked two three questions that explain this pattern: which countries are the most stable, which leaders are the most sympathetic to Russia, and which countries treat ethnic Russians the best. The answers to these suggest that ratings on these measures reinforce one another as well as produce the overall ranking.
Asked which countries are the most stable and successful, 60 percent of Russians pointed to Belarus, 41 percent to Kazakhstan, 16 percent to Armenia, 14 percent to Azerbaijan, with lower figures for all the others.
Asked which leaders of these countries were the most sympathetic, 62 percent identified Belarus’ Alyaksandr Lukashenka, 56 percent pointed to Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, 12 percent to Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev, and 11 percent to Serzh Sargsyan.
And asked which countries treat ethnic Russians the best, 66 percent named Belarus, 38 percent Kazakhstan, 11 percent Armenia and six percent Azerbaijan. Others were much lower with Turkmenistan and Tajikistan being at the bottom with two percent and four percent respectively.
Mikhail Savva, head of the SOVA expert group, tells Anton Chablin of the Svobodnaya pressa portal that the new figures show that what Russians think about their neighbors has little relationship to reality. Russian rights aren’t protected in Kazakhstan, Belarus or Azerbaijan, he says, because these three countries are dictatorships.
To think otherwise and assume that Russia’s best allies are dictators is not only shameful but unprofitable from Russia’s point of view, Savva continues, because such people can turn on a dime and will readily sacrifice anyone, including Russians, if that works to their benefit at some point in the future
Igor Savin, a specialist on Central Asia at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, says that the ratings by Russians of Central Asian countries reflect indifference rather than hostility. Few Russians, he says, think or know much about these countries and so they rank lower than perhaps they should.
And Aik Khalatyan, an Armenian commentator, says the position of Armenia in the ranking reflects the conflict of two things: Yerevan’s cooperation with Moscow in many things, but the hostile attitude toward Armenia and Armenians often manifested on central Russian television.