Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Fewer Russians Revanchist Now But Enough Still are to Be a Base for 'Softer' Expansionism, Zhelenin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – A smaller share of Russians support pursuing the revanchist foreign policy Vladimir Putin is associated with than at any point in the last 17 years, Aleksandr Zhelenin says, stressing that VTsIOM, which is closely tied to the regime, is not only about measuring public opinion but about shaping it as well.

            If those around Putin who ordered this poll wanted not only to determine but to boost support for revanchist positions, the Rosbalt commentator says, one is compelled to ask whether the level of support for those it found, about a third, is a lot or a little (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2020/09/21/1864247.html).

            VTsIOM found that only 31 percent of Russians now support an aggressive foreign policy, a figure that seems very low until one considers that in 1932, Hitler won power with the support of only 34 percent of Germans. Thus, the revanchist third may be more important than might seem to be the case, Zhelinin continues. 

            “Of course,” he says, “there are differences between then and now, and to compare the 34 percent of votes the Nazis received in elections 88 years ago and the results of a sociological poll in Russia today is not completely correct for a number of reasons.”

            The 34 percent the Nazi party received gave it dominance in the German parliament, while “according to the present-day Russian constitution, a parliamentary majority must exceed 50 percent of the deputies of the Duma.” It would thus seem that there is nothing to fear on that front.

            But United Russia, which dominates the Duma, shares the revanchist views of the Kremlin, even if the Russian people don’t, Zhelenin says.  And it is obviously the case that their attitudes at any particular time are less important in the Russian political system than the views of the single individual at the top.

            Despite everything, “Russia all the same remains an electoral autarchy, and this means that it is important that the individual occupying the top post operates on the opinion of a significant part of the population,” the commentator says. “And this opinion now, as we see, is not in favor of revanchist projects.”

            This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any more annexations and Anschlusses on the post-Soviet space. Rather the reverse because “the economic system which has been constructed in contemporary Russia has exhausted itself. There aren’t nay more internal resources for development … and the ruling group will seek them not within the country but abroad.”

            But because ever fewer Russians are enthusiastic about that, it is possible, Zhelenin suggests, that these moves will be “softer” than those in the past, as in Georgia and Ukraine and that “in state propaganda, the words ‘unify’ or ‘reunify’ will be replaced by terms like ‘integration’ and ‘support.’”

            That is what is happening in the case of Moscow’s moves regarding Belarus, the commentator concludes; and at least part of the reason for that change is the change in attitudes within the Russian population.

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