Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Crimea’s Annexation Makes Russians More Optimistic about North Caucasus, Poll Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 16 – Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea is having an impact on Russian public opinion in a way few might have expected: A new Levada Center poll finds that in the wake of the Kremlin leader’s moves in Ukraine, more Russians have a positive view of developments in the North Caucasus and fewer believe the situation there is explosive or a crisis.

            The poll found that 41 percent of Russians believe the situation in the North Caucasus is favorable, up from 18 percent who said that in January, that just 43 percent said it was tense, down from 60 percent three months ago, and only four percent said the North Caucasus was explosive or a crisis, down from 12 percent (

            Moreover, the survey found that 21 percent of Russians expect that the situation in the North Caucasus will improve in the future, up from 12 percent in January, and that only  nine percent now think it is deteriorating, compared to 17 percent at the start of 2014.

            Aleksey Grazhdankin, the deputy director of the Levada Center, suggested that this result reflects the “euphoria” among many Russians about Crimea and their resulting propensity to take a more positive view about other issues. And another Levada analyst, Denis Volkov, said this included “a sharp upsurge” of positive assessments of Putin and the Russian government.

             “The events in Ukraine and Crimea,” Grazhdankin added, “unqualifiedly had greater importance” in this regard “than did the Sochi Olympic Games.  But he suggested this upsurge would not last and pointed to the pattern of assessments of Moscow following the August 2008 war with Georgia.

            At that time, the Levada deputy director said, the penumbra of popular support for the regime because of what was presented as a Russian victory “lasted three or four months.”  Now, Russian euphoria is greater and thus may last somewhat longer, but it will not continue in the absence of other events that the regime can play up as it has the Crimean annexation.

            According to Volkov, the rate at which the current euphoria continues at least with regard to the North Caucasus will depend in large measure on whether there are any new “’major’ terrorist acts” in the region.  But he said he expects the euphoria to last for some time because of “the mobilization” by the regime of “old complexes about revenge for the disintegration of the USSR.”

            Statistics show that in fact the North Caucasus is not becoming all that more stable, despite what Russians tell pollsters.  According to Kavkaz-uzel, the number of victims of violence there from among the civilian population in 2013 was 17.5 percent more than the year before, although the total number of victims of the conflict did decline from 1225 to 986.

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