photo Russia Syria

by Gordon M. Hahn

A recent Levada Center opinion survey shows that Russian public opinion has warmed to Putin’s military intervention in Syria. The survey conducted in early October showed 72 percent of respondents supporting a Russian air campaign against the Islamic State (IS). The Federation Council’s passage of a resolution approving the intervention in Syria was approved by 46 percent; 33 percent disapproved. 47 percent believed Russia “should support Assad in his struggle against Islamic State and the Syrian opposition.” 28 percent think Russia should not get involved, and 8 percent think Moscow should join the Western coalition (http://www.levada.ru/2015/10/08/uchastie-rossii-v-sirijskom-konflikte/). In sum, the survey shows strong support for a Russian air war against IS and more support for intervention in support of Assad than lack thereof.

A much cited Levada survey conducted in September has been misrepresented by Western media and various anti-Russian activists. For example, the very anti-Putin, former editor of the English-language Moscow Times, Michael Bohm, has been making the Russian television and radio talk show circuit citing the survey in a one-sided fashion (that’s right, you heard correctly, I said an American anti-Putin editor of a Western-owned newspaper published in Moscow is a regular guest on fascist Russia’s mass media). Even the Levada Center itself reported that the September survey found that “69 percent of Russian citizens were against direct military support of the Syrian leadership” (www.levada.ru/08-10-2015/uchastie-rossii-v-siriiskom-konflikte). In reality, the survey found that more approve than disapprove: 39 percent approved (11 percent fully approved, 28 percent mostly), 11 percent disapproved (8 percent largely disapproved, 3 percent definitely disapproved), and 33 percent expressed no interest (www.levada.ru/28-09-2015/voina-v-sirii-vnimanie-otsenki-igil). Therefore, one could just as fairly report the results as follows: 72 percent are not against Putin’s Syria intervention.

Anyway, the two surveys suggest that Russians strongly support a Russian air campaign against IS but less strongly support intervention to save Assad. Nevertheless, Russian public support for protecting Assad is stronger than is opposition. However, the margin is fairly narrow. This means that in large cities, such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, disapproval may be greater than approval. Therefore, should the war begin to send Russian soldiers home in caskets, then opposition to the intervention become prohibitive and politically destabilizing and unsustainable for Putin.

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Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation. He is also Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View and Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and publishes the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report (IIPER) at CSIS at http://csis.org/program/russia-and-eurasia-program. Dr. Hahn has been a visiting scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. (2011-2013), the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. (1995 and 2005), and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, San Francisco State, and St. Petersburg State (Russia) Universities.