Staunton, September 17 – Only 13 percent of Russians favor the absorption of Belarus into the Russian Federation, two percent more than did a year ago but far fewer than the share favoring a situation in which the two countries would remain independent but have close economic and political ties, according to a Levada Center poll conducted at the end of August.
These figures are significant in that the Levada Center uses a variety of techniques to get a sample reflective of the Russian population as a whole rather than some other pollsters who are less careful in that regard (thinktanks.by/publication/2020/09/17/levada-tsentr-13-protsentov-rossiyan-za-vhozhdenie-belarusi-v-sostav-rossii.html).
Thirty-two percent of the sample say that Moscow and Minsk should maintain relations at their current level, up from 28 percent a year ago. Forty-one percent say that they should develop closer economic cooperation, down three percentage points from 2019. But only 11 percent, the same as last year, favor an arrangement in which they would have a common ruler.
The sociological service also reported that Russians rank Belarus as Russia’s “closest friend” internationally, with 58 percent making that declaration, down four percentage points from 2019. At the same time, only two percent say it is an enemy of Russia, more or less unchanged from a year ago.
Obviously, under Putin, the opinions of Russians on this matter are hardly determinative; but they do make any drive to absorb Belarus more difficult. And at the same time, these Russian attitudes are an important political resource for those Belarusians who want to maintain their independence.
Indeed, Belarusians could easily decide on the basis of data like these that the best way for their country to be independent would be to remain a close friend to Russia and that any move away from Moscow might be the thing most likely to trigger precisely the kind of aggressive Russian response they hope to avoid.
Such a calculus is also something that those in the West who hope for Belarus to become a free and democratic state need to recognize as well rather than continuing to assume as all too many do that taking a position favorable to Moscow by the Belarusian nation in the streets is a betrayal of those goals.
It may in fact be the only way that they can be achieved, at least as long as Putin is in power in Moscow.