Vienna, August 21 – Nearly one in three Russians is in favor of a negotiated settlement with Georgia rather than more military action, according to a poll conducted by the Levada Center. And roughly the same share believes that when the dust settles, the situation in Georgia and the state of relations between Moscow and Tbilisi will be much as they were beforehand.
Those and other figures about Russian public opinion about the war, its causes and its consequences were released today during a Moscow press conference by Boris Dubin, the head of the Center’s research department. As of this writing, they have not been posted on the center’s own website (www.sobkorr.ru/news/48AD2C91407BD.html).
Russians who subscribe to the idea that the conflict is the result of “a war between the US and Russia and also those who blame Georgia and express the most anti-Georgian views tend to be more educated, have higher incomes, and live either in Moscow or other urban centers in European Russia.
Those who express the greatest sympathy and support for the residents of South Ossetia, in contrast, tend to be less well educated, have smaller incomes, and live in villages or small towns, a division that holds up in their assessments of what Russia should do next and what the consequences of the war for the Russian community will be.
Dubin added that 21 percent of the entire sample said that the war arose as a result of the policies of Georgia and did not reflect the “political interests” of either the United States or the Russian Federation, a possible indication that a significant fraction of Russians continue to make a careful distinction between Washington and Tbilisi.
A “smaller part of the population” – Dubin did not provide exact figures or at least the Sobkorr.ru correspondent did not report them – believes that the conflict has not ended, with an equal share agreeing with the statement that “Russia conducted itself in this conflict in an incorrect way” when it “bombed Georgia.”
Only one Russian in 20, the Levada Center expert said, said that “the causes of the conflict are connected with Russia’s policies in the Caucasus” or reflect its “goal of preserving [Moscow’s] influence there. And some young Russians even said that Georgia had the “right” to act in South Ossetia as it has.
Intriguingly, one in six of the Russians polled said that “Russia had allowed itself to be provoked by Georgia and that this will have negative consequences for the country” now and in the future. And 36 percent said that the best way to prevent the conflict from hurting Russia more was for both sides to return to the status quo ante, thus allowing passions to calm.
To get to that state, Dubin continued, 31 percent of Russians told the Levada Center pollsters that Russia and Georgia should enter into negotiations, lest as 19 percent of the sample said other countries be drawn into the conflict and thus complicate any negotiated settlement of the disputes.
At the end of Dubin’s presentation, Aleksei Grazhdankin, the deputy director of the Levada Center, said that a majority of Russians believe that the current verbal exchanges between Moscow and Western capitals will “not influence relations with the West” in general but could “possibly change relations with the United States.
The Levada Center findings at least as presented by Dubin and Grazhdankin today suggest three things. First, both and especially Dubin were focusing mostly on views held by minorities, albeit sometimes significant ones. Consequently, it is important to remember that in most cases, a larger share of Russians does not back the positions they outline.
Second, the greater support the Kremlin appears to enjoy among the urban, educated, and higher paid segment of the population not only suggests that they are more affected by the government’s media campaign but also that President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may be able to count on this influential group as they go forward.
And third, this poll was taken even before the conflict began to cool down. It thus reflects the passions of that time, and many of the poll’s respondents are likely to have very different views or at least give very different answers once the war drops off the daily news cycle and they have time to think about its consequences and fit their views about it into a broader matrix.