Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Not All Russians are Supportive of What Moscow is Doing in Georgia

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 20 – Despite efforts by the Kremlin to suggest that all Russians back what it is doing in Georgia and despite the willingness of many in the West to accept that, there are indications that a growing number of Russians are anything but pleased by what Moscow is doing, with some even saying they are anything but proud of their country in this case.
When the war began, human rights groups and the remaining independent journalists there expressed outrage about what Russian forces were doing, but unfortunately in the Russian Federation of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, both of these segments of the population have been marginalized and attract more attention in Western countries than they do in Russia.
Then there were the questions raised by various Soldiers’ Mothers Committees, a far larger network, concerning the Russian defense ministry’s failure to keep its promise not to send draftees to any “hot spot,” an action that agitates many parents and one that the defense ministry admitted it had taken in South Ossetia and Georgia.
Next to add their voices to criticism of the war were business leaders and investors who saw Russian actions in Georgia leading to capital flight, driving down the Russian securities market, and reducing the ruble-dollar exchange rate, all of which not only put a crimp on their current and future economic activities but have already reduced their incomes and wealth.
Following those groups are the remaining opposition groups, like SPS and Yabloko, which yesterday issued a stinging rebuke to what Moscow has been doing in Georgia, even while criticizing Tbilisi for precipitating the conflict by its moves in South Ossetia. “No one has won this war,” they declared (
And even many ordinary Russians may be less enthusiastic than some polls suggest. While polls conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), a group known for its ties to the government, do show overwhelming Russian popular support of the war and Moscow’s declared aims, even they indicate that Russians are far from unanimous.
Only 54 percent blame Tbilisi as Putin and Medvedev do for starting the war, with 22 percent more suggesting the United States was behind it. But one in every eight Russians – 12 percent – says that all the parties – Russia, Georgia and South Ossetia – were guilty of sparking this violent conflict (
Now, “Kommersant-Vlast” has published the responses of some leading Russian figures to the question “Are you now proud of your country” after “Russian forces last week defeated Georgian forces on the territory of Georgia? Their answers suggested a more variegated response than many in the West assume (
Among those answering were Sergei Mironov, the Speaker of the Federation Council, who said “yes, Russia is successfully fulfill the international obligations it took upon itself,” adding that Russians “have no illusions” about who “stands behind the back of Saakashvili and who directed this barbaric act of aggression.”
But Nikita Belykh, the leader of the Union of Rightist Forces, argued that “only someone sick can feel pride in a country” that gets itself dragged into a war it has not won and the consequences of which are still far from certain. “No,” he said, “there is still no reason to be proud.”
And Vladimir Pozner, the president of the Academy of Russian Television, said that he “does not see any basis for pride.” Russia “did not have any other way out but to get involved in the conflict. But that which follows from this raises a multitude of questions” rather than pride for him.
Meanwhile, Mikhail Trepashkin, a lawyer who had worked in the FSB, said that he “does not approve the actions of the authorities” and that he was “ashamed for Russia’s representative at the United Nations when the latter spoke as if Tbilisi had attacked Russia when in fact “South Ossetia is the territory of Georgia” and Russia’s actions show a lack of respect to its sovereignty.
Valeriya Novodvorskaya, the leader of the Democratic Union, added she has “never seen an occasion to be proud of her country with the exception of the events of August 1991 and October 1993.” And she added that “what is happening now is a shame and a disgrace.” Under the circumstance, what is there to be proud of?
And Maksim Savitskiy, the senior vice president of the Uralsib financial corporation, said that he “would have been more proud of the priorities had been more directed to the side of humanitarian assistance and the evacuation of citizens,” adding that he was pleased when he heard Medvedev say that “it was necessary to stop and above all help people.”
Others “Kommersant-Vlast” surveyed were also divided between those who back what Medvedev and Putin have done and others who are beginning to question the policies and actions that lead to the conflict, the way in which it has been prosecuted, and the consequences for Russia now.
None of this is to suggest that Moscow does not enjoy the backing of most people there for what it is doing, but that support is not as monolithic as some in Moscow claim or many in the West assume. And that in turn means that Moscow may be subject to some limitations from within the Russian Federation, especially if such opposition is encouraged rather than ignored.

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