Vienna, June 7 – Only one Russian in 16 supports the use of Russian military power to resolve inter-ethnic conflicts in other post-Soviet states, a figure that raises questions about how much popular support there is for the increasingly nationalistic rhetoric Moscow politicians have adopted about Crimea and for the Kremlin’s decision to introduce railway troops into Abkhazia.
According to the results of a new Levada Center poll released yesterday, 39 percent of Russians are against getting involved in any of these conflicts, up from 29 percent in 1992, instead favoring a policy of “complete neutrality” rather than backing one or another of those involved (www.levada.ru/press/2008060601.html).
As was the case 16 years ago, nearly half of all Russians say they believe that Moscow should “act by diplomatic methods” in these conflicts and seek to bring the opposing sides to the negotiating table (49 percent in 1992 and 47 percent now). But only six percent in either year said they favored the use of Russian military power to resolve these conflicts.
Supporters of a diplomatic approach were greatest among administrative workers and leaders (62 percent) and voters who back Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party (60 percent), while the greatest share of those opposed to any involvement are found among rural residents (47 percent), the poor (45 percent), and the least educated (43 percent).
Backers of military intervention – six percent over all – were least common among Muscovites (two percent) and the upper middle class (two percent) but most common among entrepreneurs (11 percent), people in the force structures (10 percent), and the unemployed (10 percent).
Obviously, the Russian government given that country’s less than fully democratic arrangements can act without too much regard for popular attitudes, but these findings suggest that those in the West who typically dismiss nationalistic rhetoric by Russian leaders as the result of their playing to a domestic Russian audience are making a serious mistake.
Indeed, if anything, these polls mean that the Russian leadership – including not only President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin but also figures like Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov – is significantly more assertively nationalistic than the Russian population is as a whole.
And equally important, the Levada poll also suggests that Russian leaders, even if they in many cases are not guided by what their own people think, must recognize that Moscow will have to work hard to gin up popular backing if it does choose to intervene more strongly instead of being able to count on such support in advance.