I’m not sure how many people will be surprised by this, but there seems to be a significant cultural divide not only between Moscow and Washington at the moment, but between the people of our two nations as well. Some recent, independent polling done in Russia reveals some perhaps surprising attitudes on display. Not everyone in that country is convinced that Vladimir Putin seriously intends to invade Ukraine, but they are well aware of the tensions that exist on the border and between their country and NATO. The one thing that more of them agree on, however, is that it’s the fault of the United States if things turn violent. One of the more common comments offered by respondents to the survey was some variation of the phrase, “we’re being dragged into war.” (Denis Volkov)
For several months, the Western press has been preoccupied with the topic of Russia’s troop build-up at the border with Ukraine and ‘preparations for an invasion’. Russia has given assurances that it has no such intention but has also demanded that the US and NATO guarantee not to expand the North Atlantic Alliance eastward. American and European politicians warn that, in case of the outbreak of an armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine, severe sanctions will be imposed not only against Russia but also against Vladimir Putin personally as well as his entourage. And what is the opinion of the Russian public on this?
According to public opinion polls, slightly more than 50% of Russians believe that clashes in eastern Ukraine will not escalate into a war between Russia and Ukraine. A considerable proportion of respondents – 39% (the sum of those who replied that ‘it is inevitable’ or ‘it is very likely’) – believe otherwise. As few as 15% of respondents absolutely rule out such a possibility.
25% feel that war between Russia and NATO forces is likely. As the author points out, that’s not a huge number, but it’s higher than what’s been registered in previous surveys. A significantly larger number of people expressed fears of an actual world war breaking out. Most believe that Russia is already at war with the United States and the west, though it takes the form of a cold war and/or cyberwarfare.
More alarming is the belief of most Russians that there really isn’t any conflict between Russia and Ukraine because Ukraine is just a “puppet” of the American government and taking its cues from us. They believe that America is bankrolling Ukraine’s activities and simply doing what we tell them to do. As a result, more than 50% believe that the tensions between the two countries are the fault of the United States and NATO. Only 4% place the blame on their own government.
This has come up in the past here and perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. Western media pays a lot of attention to Russian dissidents like Alexei Navalny and the protests that take place on his behalf. But Navalny really only represents a relatively small segment of Russian society. Other independent polling in the past has shown that Vladimir Putin isn’t viewed as a monster by his own people. His approval ratings have remained relatively high. And many Russians miss the days of the Soviet Union when they were viewed as one of two, equal superpowers on the planet.
Perhaps some in Russia are wishing for a return to those days. And if that’s the case, they might not be too angry with Putin if he decides to start retaking some of the USSR’s old territory. In fact, they might even support it and be willing to bear the cost of war to see it happen. That’s just some food for thought, though perhaps depressing under the current circumstances.