Staunton, October 30 – Most commentators are interpreting the results of the latest Levada Center poll about the attitude of Russians to Ukraine as a state and a nation, Ivan Preobrazhensky says; but in fact, the new numbers which show declining support for Moscow’s military actions in the Donbass are not about Ukraine but about Russians themselves.
“From the moment when ‘the little green men’ appeared in Crimea,” the Rosbalt commentator continues, “all Ukrainian events became domestic Russian ones.” And when answering pollsters’ questions about Ukraine, “Russians are thinking much more about themselves than about the neighboring country” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2017/10/30/1657043.html).
At first glance, Preobrazhensky says, the poll results (levada.ru/2017/10/30/rossijsko-ukrainskie-otnosheniya-2/) simply confirm “the old rule: with the weakening of propaganda pressure, citizens quietly free themselves from schemes imposed from outside” and go back to the positions they had earlier, as was the case with Georgia after 2008.
But there is something much more important going on that the poll has tapped into: “a growing rejection by Russians of war in any variant.” People are far more afraid than they were that “’the current armed clashes in the east of Ukraine’ can ‘grow into a war between Russia and the countries of the West’ or into ‘world war.’”
That is a major shift, and “the Kremlin clearly feels these attitudes – and is reacting,” not only reiterating its plans for an all-volunteer army (rosbalt.ru/russia/2017/10/24/1655573.html) but also having the media float the idea that he will soon end Russia’s military involvement in Syria (rosbalt.ru/russia/2017/10/30/1656802.html).
“Apparently, in the opinion of Kremlin experts, the level of concern in society about a possible war has risen so much that it can have a negative impact not only on the image of the powers that be as a whole but specifically on the March presidential elections,” Preobrazhensky continues.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that the Kremlin is about to turn in a radically different direction and conduct a peace policy. If that were the case, the Rosbalt commentator says, it would be reflected in military spending plans. So far, however, “this hasn’t taken place,” at least judging from the draft budget which identifies rearmament as a major priority.
Instead, Putin’s two actions are intended only to “calm the population.” The Kremlin leader clearly still sees militarization of the country and of the population as something positive, and so “the climate will be softened only for a time,” perhaps for some months given the elections in March and the World Cup competition in the summer next year.
“But then,” Preobrazhensky says, “as many liberal analysts have predicted there will not only be a renewed tightening of the screws within Russia, but also the militarization of the country will certainly intensify.” For now, however, the Russian people and perhaps some abroad need to be lulled into thinking that there will be a different outcome.