It seems Vladimir Putin’s expansionist foreign policy is no more than a reflection of public opinion in Russia, as new research shows he remains extremely popular among Russians despite foreign opposition.
Surveys undertaken by the Pew Research Centre on public attitudes towards the war in the Ukraine found that 61 per cent of Russians thought “there are parts of neighbouring countries that really belong to us”. The figure is stable today, but represents a remarkable bounce in Russian confidence and willingness to look outwards towards its neighbours and the world compared to the state of affairs at the end of the Cold War.
The same survey taken in 1991 found only 22 per cent agreed with the statement.
The finding will add to the concern felt by many of Russia’s neighbours, already unsettled by the apparent ease with which it annexed parts of the former Ukraine. Both Poland and Finland, which border either mainland or exclavic Russia have commenced re-arming in preparation for defence – and Finland has even served reminder of conscription obligation notices to adult males.
This isn’t the only good news for Putin and his government found within the research. The attitudes of respondents within Western countries also lends credence to the idea that Russia can continue to expand with minimal interference from the West. The Pew Centre’s findings show Germany, one of the key NATO members in Europe is opposed to sending arms to the Ukraine, a position which finds it in conflict with the United States, the greatest sponsor of the NATO military alliance.
It’s good news in Russia too, as the figures find remarkably high approval ratings for Putin’s foreign policy, with his positions on various external factors ranging from 80 to 90 per cent. Even on his lowest rating, dealing with his handling of corruption within Russia, the majority still back him at 61 per cent.
It is possible the harsh economic sanctions being measured out to Russia by the West over the Ukraine crisis is having some of the intended effect and harming the Russian economy in a way perceptible to ordinary people. Three quarters of Russians now say their economy is in bad shape, with two thirds saying the downturn is caused either by Western sanctions or slumping oil prices.
Breitbart London reported earlier this month on the strain developing between NATO and Russia, as member nations ostensibly looking for peace make statements certain to goad Russia into further antagonism. Poland’s deputy Prime Minister Tomasz Siemoniak this month called for Macedonia and Montenegro to be admitted to NATO, a breach of an agreement Russia believes it made with the West at the end of the cold war, but NATO denies ever occurred.
Every expansion eastward by NATO, since a time where it only went as far as West Germany has been seen as a serious provocation by Russia.