Only 57 percent of Russians say that their country should be satisfied with and continue to live within its current borders, while nearly a quarter – 23 percent – say that Moscow should use all means, including military force, to bring under its control the former Soviet republics, although 65 percent disagreed, according to a new Levada Center poll.
At the same time, the new survey found, only one Russian in ten – 10 percent – says that Russia does not have the right to annex what are now foreign territories to its own and that it must act according to international law governing any such border changes.
Eight percent said they supported Russia keeping its current borders but incorporating Belarus, another eight percent said they backed Russia’s expansion to include all the former USSR, “except the Baltics,” and yet another eight percent said that Moscow should include the Baltic countries as well.
Smaller shares of the Russian population favored lesser expansions in the borders of their country: Four percent wanted to join Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to Russia, three percent only Belarus and Ukraine, and one percent only Ukraine. According to the pollsters, “10 percent of the respondents found it difficult to answer this question.”
With regard to the justification for such territorial expansion, nearly half of all Russians – 47 percent – said that Moscow does not have the right to invoke the mistreatment of ethnic Russians in these countries. But at the same time, 34 percent said Russia was right to “defend its own” by annexing Crimea.
At least three things about this poll are disturbing:
- First, 24 years after the disintegration of the USSR, large numbers of Russians have not accepted that as final and thus form a major base of support for Vladimir Putin’s revisionist and revanchist foreign policy as now in the case of Ukraine.
- Second, the poll suggests, by its granularity in terms of what borders Russians would like to see, that this is not a superficial attitude but one that among significant portions of the Russian population is a matter of almost existential concern, a reality that underscores that these attitudes are going to be a source of problems for the Eurasian region and beyond for a long time to come.
- And third – and this is perhaps the most worrisome thing of all – many in the West seem to be taking such attitudes in stride, as somehow natural given what Russians have gone through. Just how outrageous that is becomes obvious if one imagines how the international community would react if any other country on the face of the earth had a population with similar views.
No one would tolerate such attitudes in another country, and everyone would mobilize to oppose them and it. Failure to do so in the case of Russia will not create conditions under which these views will somehow “go away with time,” as some commentators suggest. Instead, that failure will only encourage those who think that Russia has the right to do what no one else does.
That in turn will encourage the worst elements in the Kremlin, including in the first instance Vladimir Putin, to continue to violate the international rules of the game, and reinforce such attitudes and the vicious authoritarianism they support within Russia and where Russian forces may go.