|The Impact of the War in Georgia on Russian Public Opinion, by Stephen D. Shenfield|
|Articles - Conflict|
|Saturday, 07 August 2010 11:08|
For the first time in the whole post-Soviet period, a majority of Russians (60%) expressed hostility toward Ukraine. Conversely, respondents were much more likely than before the war to express positive attitudes toward close allies within the CIS (Belarus – 75%, Kazakhstan – 69%), and also toward China (59%).
55% of respondents expressed strong approval and another 29% mild approval for the actions of the Russian government in the Caucasus. Only 2.5% expressed disapproval.
Over half of respondents were in favor of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remaining independent states recognized by Russia. Fewer than 5% were willing for them again to become autonomous regions within Georgia. Over a quarter (27%) thought that Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be incorporated into the Russian Federation.
What is the relationship between Russian public opinion and the views of the political elite? Some say that in light of the control exercised by the elite over television and the mainstream press, public opinion is merely a reflection of elite opinion. The source acknowledges that elite propaganda has enormous influence over public opinion, but argues that elite and public opinion are nonetheless far from identical because other factors also affect public opinion.
It seems that the elite is not uniformly successful in inculcating the public with its attitudes. Thus, most ordinary Russians are much less sensitive than the elite to economic and military-strategic issues (for example, the deployment of American ABM systems in Poland and the Czech Republic).
Such issues are not readily understood and do not strike an emotional chord. By contrast, the events in Georgia clearly did have a very powerful emotional resonance. More specifically, the average Russian television viewer was upset and angered by images of the Georgian assault on Tskhinval, the death of Russian peacekeepers, and the streams of Osset refugees seeking safety in Russia. The strength of the reaction surprised even the public opinion specialists. Of course, the Russian television viewer was never shown images of the “peace imposition operation” – the apartment blocks bombed by Russian planes, the streams of refugees fleeing the Russian advance, etc. Conversely, the American television viewer was shown these images but not the images shown on Russian television. “The truth, nothing but the truth, and only part of the truth.”
Stephen D. Shenfield is an independent researcher and translator living in the USA.He specializes in Russian and post-Soviet affairs. He produces the Research and Analytical Supplement to Johnson’s Russia List, an e-mail listing on Russian affairs (for an archive of past issues, see http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/jrl-ras.cfm).