Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 158

The results of a recent poll suggest that President Vladimir Putin’s rating has suffered something of a blow from his handling of the Kursk nuclear submarine disaster, but that he still has the support of a strong majority of the Russian public. The poll, carried out August 18-21 by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), found that 65 percent of those surveyed said that they approved of Putin’s performance. This was down from 73 percent in late July, but higher than the 61 percent who said they approved of his performance in late June-early July. Twenty-six percent of those polled on August 18-21 said that they did not approve of Putin’s performance–up from 17 percent in late July and the same as his approval rating in late June-early July. Asked which politician they most trusted, 38 percent of those polled named Putin, who remained far ahead of other politicians and officials, including Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov (13 percent) and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov (9 percent). In late July, 46 percent of those polled said they trusted Putin, while 33 percent named Putin as the politician they most trusted. In the August poll, on being asked to attribute the disaster to one or more causes, 37 percent said that the Kursk sinking was a tragic accident, 23 percent said it was a result of faulty military equipment, 23 percent said it was a result of the naval leadership’s inability or unwillingness to do what was necessary to save the ship, 23 percent said it was a result of weak control over the armed forces by the country’s leaders, 16 percent said it was the result of mistakes made by the naval command, and 14 percent said it was the result of hostile action by NATO, the United States and others.

Both Putin and Russia’s military leadership were strongly criticized in the media for reacting slowly and inadequately to the Kursk disaster, with the head of state coming under fire for remaining on holiday for four days after the submarine sank. They were also criticized for being slow in asking for foreign assistance. Controversy dogged the Russian rescue effort even after Moscow requested Western assistance: Both Norwegian and British rescue teams have accused Russian officials of misinforming them and interfering with their attempts to save the stricken vessel.

VTsIOM also asked respondents questions concerning the August 8 bombing in a pedestrian walkway underneath Moscow’s Pushkin Square. Eighty-one percent of those polled said they thought it was a premeditated terrorist act, while 8 percent thought it part of a war between criminal groups. Asked who might have carried out the bombing, 54 percent said they thought that the perpetrators included Chechen fighters and Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev; 30 percent named “forces seeking to destabilize the situation in Russia;” 20 percent named “Wahhabis”–Islamic fundamentalists from the Caucasus region–and Khattab, the Chechen warlord of Jordanian or Saudi extraction; 20 percent named “criminal structures;” 14 percent named Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and forces loyal to him; 4 percent named the tycoon Boris Berezovsky and other “oligarchs;” 3 percent named Russia’s foreign enemies; 3 percent named Russia’s security services; and 3 percent named President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin and the presidential administration.

The poll was carried out among 1,574 residents of eighty-three towns and cities in thirty-one of Russia’s eighty-nine regions (Russian agencies, August 26).