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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

35% of Russians Say Let Chechnya Go: Poll

The number of Russians who support granting full independence to the rebel republic of Chechnya has practically doubled over the past five months, a recently conducted public opinion poll has found.


Likewise, three-fourths of those polled say they approve of security chief Alexander Lebed's actions in Chechnya, and more than half of them feel the retired general's political authority has risen because of his approach to the Chechen conflict.


While it is widely acknowledged that the art of poll-taking in Russia is still in the Stone Age, and that one poll more often than not contradicts another, the survey by Moscow's Center for International Sociological Research, or CISR, appears to mirror a nationwide desire to end the bloody 21-month long conflict whatever the cost.


In the seven-day survey, completed Sept. 1, some 3,150 "Immediate independence"; 15 percent said, "The same as now, within Russia"; and 31 percent replied, "Wide autonomy, as in Tatarstan."


An identical survey completed May 3 found only 17 percent agreeing with full Chechen independence, 31 percent saying Chechnya must abide by the Russian constitution and 42 percent voting for the Tatarstan variant.


"People are becoming less and less concerned about Russia's great power status and more and more with their own lot," said CISR director Lilia Kazakova.


"Many want to separate from Chechnya all together."


Such public sentiment began this spring in the Russia's southern provinces, Kazakova said, and continued to spread toward the northern and eastern regions throughout the summer.


"The war's death toll was growing and this could be especially felt in the smaller villages," she said.


Kazakova said the first wave of sentiment in favor of Chechen secession swept Moscow after this summer's series of bomb explosions that were widely assumed by politicians and the press to be the work of Chechen terrorists.


A bomb placed in a Moscow metro train car killed four people in June. In July, two bombs exploded on consecutive days on city trolley buses, injuring scores but killing no one.


Kazakova characterized the 31 percent of respondents who felt there should be a "Tatarstan solution" to the conflict as pacifists who are seeking a solution that is favorable to both sides.


"These are mostly the elderly who can't bear to see Russia fall apart, but at the same time feel pain when they see what has become of the region," she said.


Tatarstan, an oil-rich republic with a largely Moslem population, was the only republic besides Chechnya to reject President Boris Yeltsin's 1992 Federation Treaty and his 1993 referendum on the new Russian constitution.


In February 1994, it signed a power-sharing agreement with the Kremlin that left Tatarstan with ownership rights of its oil reserves and the right to retain a portion of the tax revenues.


But unlike Chechnya, Tatarstan's demands only extended to a bigger share of local authority but never encompassed outright independence.


Meanwhile, Kazakova said Lebed's authority has shot through the roof since he was entrusted as Yeltsin personal envoy in Chechnya.


Lebed has used his powers to sign a peace deal with the Chechen separatist rebels that involves the withdrawal of most Russian forces from the region, the establishment of an interim coalition government and a five-year cooling-off period in which to decide on the ultimate status of Chechnya.


Seventy-five percent of the respondents answered "yes" to the question, "Do you approve of what Lebed is doing?" while 12 percent replied negatively. And 59 percent agreed that "Lebed's authority has risen because of Chechnya."


Somewhat contradictorily, 52 percent of respondents marked "yes" to the question, "Do you think the war's end would mean defeat for Russia in the Caucasus?"


Kazakova said Russian public sentiment has become more sedate toward other issues that previously stirred the country into nationalistic frenzy.


"We have found that over the year, people are less concerned with the Kuril Islands or with Crimea," she said. "I think they are now more concerned with how the local factory is doing."