Russians Don’t Really Support Assad

August 30, 2013

Original artwork by Dan Nott.

We’ve been following the Russian government’s response to the Syrian crisis. We’ve written about how Russia has doubled down on its support of Assad in the wake of the August 21st chemical weapon attack, even going as far as to use false reports about Youtube timestamps to obfuscate the realities on the ground. Russia’s government has claimed that it has evidence that the Syrian rebels have conducted chemical weapons attacks, but has failed to produce that evidence. The Russian government has invented the narrative that it has been cooperating with the international community to foster peace. And while it’s been covering for Assad in the UN, it has continued to sell arms to the Assad regime.

Russians must be the best friends that the Assad regime has got, right?

Interestingly enough, the Russia public has a very different attitude towards the Syrian conflict. Voice of Russia, the Kremlin’s answer to Voice of America and RFE/RL, reports that only 40% of Russians opposes international military intervention against the Assad regime. Most have not picked a side, and support for the Assad regime is shockingly low.

Half of the respondents (51% of 1,601) said they did not support either side of the conflict. One person out of five (19%) supports Bashar al-Assad’s government and 7% support the militants. The share of Bashar’s supporters among Russian citizens grew from 9% in autumn 2012 to 11%.

Interestingly, according to one of the newest polls, 41% of Americans openly opposes US airstrikes against Assad – nearly the same the Russian populace. “Forty percent of Russian citizens are opposed to holding an international military operation in Syria similar to the one held in Libya two years ago, 22% support it and 38% failed to respond, sociologists said.” If you’re curious, American support for Cruise Missile strikes is up to 50%.

There are a few remarkable elements to this polling. First, Russia’s media, to say nothing of its government, is nearly constantly spreading an anti-rebel and pro-Assad message. Secondly, Syria is a major military and trading partner with the Russia government. This would seem to suggest that the Russian public is detached from the messaging from both the government and the military.

It’s also further indication that Russian support of Assad is much more fickle than Westerners realize. The Russian public is unwilling to sacrifice significant national resources to bail out the unpopular Syrian regime, regardless of how committed the rhetoric of the Russia government remains to Assad.

The clearest data point in this poll, however, is that despite the constant discussions of Syria on the radio and television news outlets, in the print newspapers and magazines, and in the halls of the Kremlin, the average Russian is much more focused on concerns that are a lot closer to home.