Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Nearly Half of Russians Now Blame Moscow for Economic Crisis

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 15 – Forty-two percent of Russians now blame the Russian government for the economic crisis that is hitting their country, more than twice as many as blame either major Western countries like the United States or say it is the result of problems inherent to capitalism, according to the results of a massive poll released today.
Experts at the Group7/89 survey firm said that a March survey they conducted of 14,200 people in 17 cities and regions found that 42 percent of Russians blame their own government for the economic crisis, 20 percent blame the US and other Western countries, and 16 percent blame capitalism (
The poll found, the Group’s experts said at a Moscow press conference, that “the share of those who consider America and the West to blame is higher among the more well-off and stable categories of the population and also among young people, those in the military and officers in the militia.”
On the one hand, of course, that pattern may reflect greater knowledge and understanding of the crisis by people in these categories. And on the other, it may be a product of the tendency of less well-educated and less urban groups to blame “the vlasti” or the powers that be in an undifferentiated fashion when things go wrong.
Other participants at the press conference provided additional details on what these findings portend in both the near and longer term. Volgograd sociologist Vasily Tokaryev said that as economic conditions have deteriorated in recent months, many Russians are becoming more optimistic about the longer term rather than the reverse as might be expected.
Another participant, Viktor Moisov of Moscow pointed out that the findings of this poll showed that “the more loyal the region is toward the powers that be” – apparently in terms of other data including last year’s elections – “the greater the expectations” about escaping from the crisis its residents appear to have.
And a third speaker, Sergey Tsyplenkov, described in greater detail the Group7/89 findings for Kaliningrad, the non-contiguous part of the Russian Federation on the Baltic Sea. He reported that 50 percent of Kaliningrad residents blame Moscow for the crisis, a figure “higher than the average” for the country as a whole.
On the one hand, he suggested, this reflects recent surges in unemployment there and a higher than average rate of inflation this year. But on the other, it also is a product of that region’s long-standing antipathy to the center: In both the presidential and Duma elections, Kaliningraders were among the least supportive of residents of any region in the country.
The findings of this poll are instructive. First, they show that the economic crisis in Russia is affecting the political attitudes of a far broader segment of the population than many have been assuming, something that portends real problems for the regime if conditions do not improve soon.
Second, these findings, which were reported today in the first instance by an Internet news portal linked to opposition figure Gari Kasparov, are certain to be exploited by him and other opposition figures to pressure the regime to provide more assistance to those hardest hit by the crisis.
And third, the results are certain to encourage at least some in the regime itself to conclude that Moscow can still count as unquestioned allies the well-to-do and the siloviki and that the authorities need make no such concessions to the population anytime soon, a conclusion that could of course quickly prove to be a problematic one if the crisis gets deeper.
This pattern in turn likely sets the stage in the Russian Federation not for compromise but rather for confrontation, especially since ever more groups and individuals are taking part in public protests and since ever more analysts are suggesting that the powers that be have no plans to change course or back down.
Indeed, Russian commentators on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s “Novaya gazeta” interview have gone out of their way that his intended audience was primarily Western governments and opinion leaders ( and that his words don’t point to any liberalization (

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