Staunton, May 14 – When Putin invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014, those actions sent his ratings dramatically upward, creating what many called “the Crimea consensus” in Russian politics. But today, Lev Gudkov says, Russians are almost exactly evenly split on whether another invasion of Ukraine would help the Kremlin leader.
The head of the Levada Center polling agency says that 43 to 44 percent of Russians think another invasion would boost Putin’s ratings, but 40 percent say that it would have precisely the opposite effect and spark mass dissatisfaction and protests in Russia (echo.msk.ru/programs/year2021/2837478-echo/).
The share of Russians who fear a world war has doubled over the last several years, the sociologist says, to 62 percent. But the Kremlin’s use of repression at home has kept down the number of people ready to take to the streets because of the increasing personal costs of doing so. In sum, repression works in that way but it doesn’t change minds.
Gudkov adds that bravado comments like “we can do it again” are strongly held by a very small part of the population, mostly “lumpenized” men who amount to “no more than 12 to 14 percent” at most. They get a lot of attention, but they certainly do not reflect the views of the Russian people.
But for the Russians to come into the streets, he continues, they need to have a leader who can give them the sense that they aren’t alone, that other Russians share their anger about the economy, the pandemic and a possible war. In that event, they will overcome their fear of becoming victims of repression – but only in that case.
While Gudkov does not say so on this occasion, it is clear that his argument means that what the Kremlin has done with Aleksey Navalny is perhaps its best form of self-defense. Without someone like that taking the lead, Putin will be able to act regardless of the feelings of the population because these feelings won’t lead to protest actions that might threaten him.