Staunton, May 10 – The Pew Research Center this week released the results of a poll it conducted in the Russian Federation concerning Russian attitudes toward the independence of any region or republic in that country. It found that 48 percent said they would support such actions if they reflected the popular will and that only 39 percent said they would not.
The Pew poll, which was taken between April 4 and April 20 and surveyed 1,000 people, also found that 43 percent of Russians say they believe that Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine will improve Russia’s image in the international arena, while 26 percent said that it will have a negative influence.
The Pew findings about Russian tolerance for secession are very much at variance with earlier polls taken by Russian organizations on that issue. In November 2013, the Levada Center found that 79 percent of Russians oppose secession from Russia of any kind. Only eight percent said they back the idea.
A Politeks poll conducted last fall found that 66 percent of Russians were opposed to the separation from Russia of any regions, with some respondents saying that “separatism in Russia is inspired by the West.” At the same time, 26 percent said that Russia should exclude certain regions, apparently a reference to the North Caucasus.
Two Moscow experts expressed surprise at the Pew numbers. Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Center, said he does not understand how Pew got the numbers it did, given that opposition among Russians to any secession has been high and stable for many years – with “more than 90 percent” against. The only place where that figure is lower is in the North Caucasus.
And Emil Pain, a specialist on ethnic conflicts at the Higher School of Economics, said he was surprised by the Pew figures. “Today, in Russian regions, there is not one significant political force which could advance such demands.” The leaderships work with Moscow, and those who call for independence are “marginal.”
This exchange came just before the new Russian law imposing criminal penalties for any propaganda or pubic calls for separatism went into effect yesterday. Those found guilty of doing so now face fines of up to 300,000 rubles (US $9,000), 300 hours of community service work, or incarceration for up to three years.