Saturday, June 12, 2021

How Russians View Sanctions Depends on How They View Putin, Volkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 10 – Russians overwhelmingly view sanctions as a sign of the West’s hostility to Russia, Denis Volkov says; but the two-thirds of them who support the Kremlin are more inclined to that attitude than the one-third who don’t. The latter are more willing to accept that Russia bears some responsibility for the imposition of sanctions.

            In an interview he gave to Deutsche Welle, Volkov, who became director of the Levada Center on June 1, says that Russians have always been opposed to sanctions but are less concerned about them than they were in 2014. Then, 50 to 52 percent said they were worried about them; now, only 25 percent say so (

            In 2015, he continues, the Levada Center found that 34 percent of Russians felt that sanctions had harmed them directly. Now, only 10 percent say that. Sanctions have become part of the landscape rather than a focus of attention. One consequence is that Russians often don’t distinguish between the impact of Western sanctions and Russian counter-sanctions.

            And as time has passed, Russians are finding it ever more difficult to link the sanctions to any Russian action. In 2014-2015, most saw them as connected to what Moscow had done in Ukraine; but now, most do not link the sanctions to that but instead say it reflects an underlying and unchanging Western hostility to their country.

            Only ten to fifteen percent, the sociologist says, are prepared to acknowledge that Russia bears any responsibility for provoking the sanctions. Instead, most believe that the West is taking advantage of Russia’s current weakness to press its advantage. When the USSR existed, the West didn’t have such an opportunity, they believe.

            Some Russians do accept that the sanctions are directed against the country’s leadership, “but a large part of the population supposes that all sanctions are against Russia.” And they thus reject both Western and opposition efforts to suggest that the sanctions are targeted and differentiated.

            The reaction of Russians to sanctions is thus different than the reaction of Belarusians, Volkov suggests. The latter see Western sanctions as targeting Lukashenka rather than their nation as a whole. They are thus more supportive of such restrictions than Russians are at the present time.

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