Friday, June 26, 2015

Russian Support for Putin’s View that Russians and Ukrainians are ‘One People’ Falling, Polls Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – Vladimir Putin has repeatedly declared that Russians and Ukrainians are one people, but over the last year, the share of Russians who agree with him on that point has continued to fall -- and the percentage of those who accept that they are two different nations has risen, according to Levada Center poll data analyzed by Andrey Illarionov.

            “Despite propaganda and psychological pressure,” the Moscow commentator writes, “the number of supporters of the imperial position although it remains  extremely significant all the same is gradually falling and the number of supporters of the anti-imperial (correct) position is gradually rising” (

            In November 2005, 81 percent of Russians believed that Russians and Ukrainians were one people while 17 percent believed that they were two. By March 2014, those figures had shifted to 56 and 38 percent respectively; and by March 2015, they stood at 52 percent and 40 percent,” Illarionov notes.

            Russians are also less inclined to support the notion that Russia should use any means, including force, to “keep under its control the former republics of the USSR.”  In September 2009, pollsters found that 34 percent agreed with that while 56 percent opposed. In March of this year, those figures were 23 percent and 64 percent respectively.

            Russians are also increasingly disinclined to believe that their country has the right to annex portions of neighboring countries to protect ethnic Russians living there. In March 2014, 58 percent agreed with this, while four percent rejected it. In March 2015, only 34 percent supported that idea, while ten percent spoke out against it.

            Moreover, Illarionov reports, Russians are increasingly unwilling to pay the costs of any imperial expansion. In March 2014, 59 percent said they were ready to pay a significant amount to absorb Ukraine. That figure fell to 50 percent in March 2015. At the same time, those saying they opposed spending money on Ukraine rose from 19 percent to 30 percent.

            And Russians are less interested in seeing the borders of their country expand to include other countries.  In 1998, 75 percent said they would like to have Russia absorb one or more or even all of the former Soviet republics, while 19 percent said they wanted the current borders. In 2015, those positions were taken by 28 and 57 percent respectively.

            These trends suggest that Russians, faced with the costs of trying to restore an empire abroad, are increasingly less impressed by Putin’s imperial bombast, even though the Kremlin leader and his policies are still supported by a significant share of the Russian population.  But if Russian imperialism abroad is on the wane, Russian imperialism at home is not.

            Indeed, in what may be a compensatory fashion, at least some Russians are increasingly active in challenging any support for those non-Russians within the borders of what is now the Russian Federation who have promoted the national interests of their peoples and enjoy the respect of their respective nations.

            The latest case of this is in Bashkortostan where some local Russians are vociferously protesting plans to erect a statue in Ufa to Akhmet-Zaki Validi, who led Bashkirs during the Civil War before being forced into emigration (, and

            The authors of the Russian appeal to the Bashkortostan leadership say that they consider the erection of such a statue “impermissible” and a step which “threatens ‘the inter-ethnic stability’” in that republic. And they argue that everything Validi did “’was directed in a principled struggle against the Russian state in all its historic forms’” and reflected his view that the Russian people were “’colonizers.’”

            “’Validi’s name was mentioned at the Nuremberg Trials,’” they say, and they express the hope that that will convince the leaders of Bashkortostan not to honor him and dishonor the peoples of Russia. Their protest is being considered, republic officials say, but the issue isn’t an immediate one: there isn’t any money to erect a statue this year.

            Bashkortostan has honored Validi in various ways already. In 2008, a major street was named in his honor, and in 1992, the national library was renamed for him. (It had been named for Lenin’s wife and widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya.) And he has also been memorialized in Turkey as well.

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