Staunton, November 10 – Sixty-eight percent of Russians say they do not want their sons to fight in southeastern Ukraine on the side of pro-Moscow militants, according to a new Levada Center poll. Only one in seven – 13 percent – would support doing so, and one in five – 19 percent – refrained from giving an answer.
Those figures suggest that enthusiasm for Vladimir Putin’s subversion and invasion of Ukraine is less deep than many have thought, and another figure, that only 13 percent of Russians accept the Kremlin line that no Russian forces are fighting in Ukraine, suggests that Russians are skeptical of official accounts.
But if Russians are not supportive of military action in southeastern Ukraine, the Levada Center poll found, they remain supportive of the annexation of Crimea, with 55 percent saying they approve, only two percent less than in March. But even with regard to Crimea, there have been some interesting changes.
The new poll found, in the words of Aleksey Gorbachev, political observer for Nezavisimaya gazeta, that those who oppose the annexation of Crimea cite not only the violation of stability in the region (68 percent) but also the impact of Western sanctions (23 percent), and the violation by Moscow of its international agreements (19 percent).
Those who back the annexation most often say that this is because “’Crimea is a Russian land,’” the official view. Others echo Moscow propaganda about it, pointing to what that source says is the threat of right-wing radicalism there (36 percent) or “forced Ukrainization” (16 percent). Overwhelmingly, they point to the fact that Russia annexed Crimea without force.
That is what makes the situation in southeastern Ukraine so different. While small fractions of Russians do not believe that Russian forces are involved there and slightly more believe that those Russians there are “volunteers,” many do not want to see Russian units involved or their involvement investigated lest it undermine Russia’s reputation.
Aleksey Grazhdankin, the deputy director of the Levada Center, commented that “people consider the unification of Crimea as the result of a free referendum without military interference.” The situation in Ukraine’s southeast is different, and Russians “do not consider that Russian military units are required to interfere in this conflict.”
Konstantin Kalachev, the head of the Moscow Political Experts Group, said that “attitudes toward what is happening in the Donbas are changing,” not only because of problems there but because of problems in Russia. The Donetsk and Luhansk regimes “are not so attractive.”
Russians increasingly recognize, he continued, that Donbas residents are having to make “a choice between the bad and the worse.” And the Russians, who have their own problems, have rationally decided that “their choice is their problem,” not that of the Russian people.