Staunton, January 28 – The latest Levada Center poll has attracted considerable attention because it found that today, only ten percent of Russians think Belarus should be absorbed into the Russian Federation and only 13 percent more that it should have a common political leadership (levada.ru/2020/01/28/velikaya-derzhava/).
But a potentially more interesting finding, given the Kremlin’s propaganda effort, is that the share of Russians who think that Russia is now a great power has stopped going up and may even have fallen over the last 12 months, with the percentage saying it is or more likely is than not falling from 75 percent in November 2018 to 71 percent in December 2019.
Whether this marks a real turn or only a temporary ebbing is unclear. In March 1998, only 31 percent of Russians thought their country was a great power. That rose to 53 percent in April 2000 after Putin came to power and attacked Chechnya. It fell back to 30 percent in November 2003.
Then, those believing Russia to be a great power rose to 61 percent after Putin invaded Georgia, before falling to 47 percent in November 2011. It rose again to 63 percent and 68 percent after Putin annexed Ukraine’s Crimea and invaded the Donbass. And then rose to an all time (post-Soviet) high of 2018 at the end of 2018.
The disturbing thing about this pattern is that the conviction of Russians that their country is a great power has been powered above all by military actions and challenges to the international rules of the game, a finding that suggests if Putin wants to boost the figures again, he may behave in the same way in the future.