What do Russians think about the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia? — Data Snapshot

How do urban Russians view the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia? From September, 5th-8th, 2008 the Analytical Center of Yuri Levada conducted a survey in ten big cities of the Russian Federation, interviewing 1000 Russian respondents. We have translated the results into English here, as they are only available in the original Russian on the Levada website.

Indeed, the results are slightly unintuitive and several different and overlapping interpretations could be kept in mind when reading the results.

  • The results demonstrate that Russians still hold a deeply imperial mentality, which rues the loss of influence over both territory and people, despite the fact they are not co-ethnics.
  • Respondents are afraid to share their opinion and are just towing the party line.
  • Media coverage has swayed the Russian population’s view to be more in line with the government.

Without further adieu, the results: The overwhelming majority of respondents (80%) said Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was the right decision, demonstrating their support of their government’s decision — unpopular in the West — to recognize these territories. When asked about timing, most thought it was either well-timed (34%) or overdue (30%) and only 4% thought is was incorrect. A further 8% believed that the territories should have been immediately absorbed into Russia.

On the question whether the Russian army should stay on the territory of South Ossetia, should Russia keep only its peacekeepers for separating conflicting parties, or should the Russian regular army withdraw and be completely replaced by an international peacekeeping force led by the UN and the EU, again the majority supported a Russian solution to the problem.

While the respondents answers to these questions apparently point towards support of maintaining Russia’s sphere of influence and backing of the Russian government’s positions, the majority of respondents do not appear to be comfortable creating ethnic homelands for either the Abkhaz or the Ossetians. Of respondents, 64% believe that Russia should support the return Georgian refugees (and ostensibly IDPs as well) to Abkhazia and South Ossetia and protect them from oppression from the Abkhaz and Ossetians, while only 25% do not. Logically, this also means that they would support Georgians becoming Abkhaz and Ossetian (and most likely also Russian) citizens.

Russian public opinion, then, on the issue of return will most likely signifigantly differ from the opinions Abkhaz and Ossetians living in the conflict regions, though measuring this would of course be fascinating (but currently undoable).

You can read more here (note that the survey is in Russian, for our English translation send us an email).

Of course, it would also be great to have data on Georgians’ attitude toward the August crisis.