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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gauging People’s Will And Super Ambitions

There is more disconnect between the rulers and the ruled in Russia than most polls would indicate. On the surface, the two groups seem to be in near-perfect harmony. In August, according to the Levada Center, 76 percent of Russians approved of President Dmitry Medvedev’s policies and an even higher proportion, 82 percent, supported Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. But if one digs deeper, you will discover the people’s disagreement over one of the leaders’ key strategic goals.

One of Putin’s goals is to turn Russia into a new superpower — albeit in a more modest form than the Soviet Union. He believes that Russia cannot be a great power without imposing its will on its neighbors. But is this what Russians really want?

Clearly, this is a complex issue that involves feelings of pride, patriotism and a nostalgia for the Soviet period when the whole world “respected” Moscow, but there seems to be a disconnect between what the Putin-Medvedev duo envisions and how the average Ivan Ivanovich on the street sees things.  

But recent polling by the Levada Center suggests that Russians have little interest in recreating a superpower like the old Soviet Union. In May, 55 percent respondents wanted Russia and Ukraine to remain independent states, with friendly relations and open borders without customs controls. Another 25 percent preferred the same kinds of relations as with other states — that is, closed borders, visas, customs and the like. Only 14 percent favored a unification of the two into a single state. In January, that figure was even lower and stood at 11.8 percent. It is worth noting in this context that in 2001 a total of 56 percent of Russians opted for the unification of Russia and Ukraine into a single state.

The polling data for Belarus is even more instructive. Ten years ago, 43 percent of Russians supported the union of Russia and Belarus into a single state. In June, that figure was only 15 percent. Conversely, in 1999 only 15 percent of Russians favored the independent development of the two Slavic states, and now that figure has increased to 40 percent.

Perhaps Medvedev and Putin should pay as much attention to polls regarding their foreign policies as they do to their popularity ratings.

Roman Solchanyk, former senior research analyst at the RAND Corporation, is author of “Ukraine and Russia: The Post-Soviet Transition.”