Vienna, September 25 – Russians overwhelmingly approve Moscow’s military intervention in Georgia and its tougher line toward the West, are less certain that Russia has gained rather than lost by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and are unwilling to write a blank check for the reconstruction and future development of those two republics.
Two polls whose results were released this week – one by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) which is close to the Kremlin and the other by the respected Levada Center – suggest Russians are paying close attention to what is happening in Georgia and have a more varied view about what Moscow is doing than some media coverage has suggested.
And while the Kremlin is far less constrained by popular attitudes than are governments in more democratic countries, the attitudes these polls show will both help define the way in which Moscow explains what it is doing there and, by structuring discussions in the Russian capital, have an impact on the regime’s next steps.
According to the VTsIOM poll, Russians overwhelmingly approve the signing of the friendship treaties between Russia and the republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, with 87 percent giving a favorable assessment of that action and only seven percent opposed to that action (wciom.ru/novosti/press-vypuski/press-vypusk/single/10741.html).
Moreover, this poll found that more than four out of five Russians – 81 percent – support the establishment of Russian military bases in those two republics, with 42 percent of the total saying they approve without qualification and another 39 percent saying that they are more inclined to approve than disappoint. Only 10 percent were opposed.
But while just over half (55 percent) of the Russians sampled told VTsIOM that they favored providing reconstruction aid to the two republics, a similar number made it clear that this should be a temporary measure rather than the start of a long-term and massive transfer of funds abroad.
That finding appears to reflect the attitudes behind an anecdote reported to be widely circulating in the Russian Federation just now. According to it, leaders of Russian regions are lining up to ask Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to bomb them so that they, like the South Ossetians, can get more money out of Moscow.
The Levada Center poll provides some additional details. Asked whether Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia had benefited Russia, 40 percent of its sample said that Moscow’s decision to do so had, while 15 percent said it had harmed Russian interests and 28 percent said it had not helped or hurt (www.polit.ru/research/2008/09/22/nezavisimost.html).
And asked whether Moscow should annex these two republics, only one Russian in five said this should be done “as quickly as possible, one in four said probably but only later after passions had cooled, with an additional 25 percent saying Russia should think about it and 12 percent indicating that Moscow should not do so.
The opinions reflected in these two polls suggest that Moscow can count on popular support for bases in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and for a limited assistance but that it will face popular opposition if it sends too much money south or moves too quickly to absorb these two largely unrecognized republics into the Russian Federation.