Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Russian Popular Support for Putin’s Military Buildup ‘Patently Exaggerated,’ Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 27 – Vladimir Magun, one of Russia’s leading sociologists, says that “the sympathies of the population for increasing the military might [of Russia] are patently exaggerated” and that “in fact, the majority of the population is for ‘butter’ rather than for ‘bullets.’”

            Many among the commentariat believe that Vladimir Putin’s build up enjoys enormous popularity among the population, the sociologist says; but polls show that is increasingly not the case. Most would sacrifice some military glory in order to have a better life, something they say would win Russia more support (ng.ru/stsenarii/2018-03-27/10_7198_elita.html).

            In a March 2017 poll, Magun notes, 56 percent of Russians said they would prefer to see their country be one with a high standard of living even if that meant it could not be “one of the strongest countries in the world,” while 42 percent made the opposite choice. And even at the time of the Crimean annexation, the two drew equal shares, 47 and 48 percent respectively.

            On the one hand, these figures reflect the fact that the way the Levada Center asked the question required Russians to think about the costs of pursuing either of these goals. In the absence of such linkage, Russians like others will give greater support to both, not seeing the one as a tradeoff.

            The Russian political elite is “far more militantly inclined” than is the Russian population.  Other sociologists have found that “the elite is more anti-American than the masses and that in a choice of ‘the economy of military force,’” with “representatives of the elite also more strongly tilting toward military force than those of the Russian population as a whole.”

            Among these other scholars if V.V. Petukhov of the Moscow Institute of Sociology who presents his findings in an article “Foreign Policy Orientations of Russians in the Context of Contemporary Challenges and Threats” in the collection Russia and the World (in Russian; Moscow, 2018), pp. 87-93 at isras.ru/files/File/publ/Rossiya_i_mir_sbornik_2017.pdf.).

            That article has now been summarized on Pavel Pryanikov’s Tolkovatel portal. What he says challenges the received opinion of many in Moscow and the West about what ordinary Russians want as opposed to what Putin and his comrades in arms do (ttolk.ru/articles/sotsialnaya_spravedlivost_i_borba_s_korruptsiey_vmesto_voynyi_s_zapadom).

            Among Petukhov’s key conclusions are the following:

·         “Only 29 percent of Russians think that the country in the next few years will develop successfully,” 37 percent are “skeptical” about the Kremlin’s rosy scenarios, and “29 percent are certain that Russia in the near future can expect difficult times.” They do not see the basis for growth anywhere inside the country.

·         “The number of those who believe that the country needs fundamental changes and political and economic reforms has grown significantly over the last five years,” up 16 percentage points in 2013 to 51 percent now. The demand for change is greatest among the young, well-off and residents of the two capitals.

·         “Beginning in 2016, the focus of public attention has begun to shift from a foreign policy agenda to a domestic economic and political one. Over the last 18 months, the share of Russians who think all Russia’s problems come from abroad has fallen from 79 percent to 65 percent,” while those who believe the main causes are from within the country has gone up from 21 percent to 35 percent. 
·         “By the end of 2016, more than 60 percent of Russians acknowledged that Western sanctions had had a negative impact on the country and consequently on the lives of its citizens.” And only a little over a third – 37 percent – believe that countersanctions will help grow the economy, a figure that has fallen “almost 50 percent” over the last two years.

·         Despite all their problems, most Russians are not alarmists: they do not believe in any of the catastrophic scenarios many have offered, including a new revolution or the disintegration of the country; nor do they believe that either a palace coup or the introduction of a harsh dictatorship is likely.

·         Further, despite the international isolation of their country, 35 percent are “certain that present-day Russia is as before a great power comparable in economic and political weight to the US and China. Twenty-eight percent do not consider it a super power … and 20 percent support that Russia today cannot be included among the leading countries of the world.”

·         “For the majority of Russians, the main precondition for the return of Russia to the number of leading world powers is not an aggressive foreign policy but rather the solution of domestic political, socio-economic and cultural problems.”

·         A majority of Russians “recognizes that Russia today is not the Soviet Union and will never be it again.” Only 26 percent are prepared to do whatever it takes to restore Russia to the status of the USSR. “A majority – 51 percent – consider the task of including Russia into the ranks of the economically and politically influential countries of the world more realistic.”

·         And “unlike many representatives of the ruling class, [Russians] also are not attracted by the prospect of gaining control and thus responsibility over the territories earlier include in the USSR. Only eight percent of Russians back that idea.”

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