After a surge of hawkish passions in the wake of October’s hostagetaking raid on a Moscow theater, Russian public opinion has swung back to its previous pattern of favoring peace negotiations in Chechnya. A December poll by the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research (VTsIOM) found that 56 percent of Russians would like their government to start negotiations with the separatists, and 36 percent would prefer the continuation of military operations in Chechnya. The pollsters questioned a sample of 1600 Russians in eighty-three towns and cities; its margin of error was said to be 3 percent. [More details about the survey, which was conducted before the December 27 suicide bombing in Grozny, are available from the polling center’s website, www.wciom.ru.]
The latest rise in antiwar sentiment would seem to be motivated more by pragmatic than by humanitarian considerations. Only 33 percent find the military operations to have been successful; 58 percent consider them unsuccessful. Some 48 percent call for tougher and more decisive measures against the rebels, only 16 percent consider them too harsh already. Only 19 percent believe that the Russian authorities are capable of defending the country against new terrorist attacks.
The respondents also showed little faith in Russia’s news media. Only 12 percent said that they were getting thorough and objective information about Chechnya from the mass media.
The pollsters concluded that the public does not have great faith in President Vladimir Putin’s current strategy of seeking reconciliation by referendum and elections. Only 18 percent agreed that such methods would promote a political settlement.
In an interview with Moscow Times reporter Nabi Abdullaev, VTsIOM official Leonid Sedov said that the doves had numbered 60 percent in opinion polls falling sharply in the wake of the October hostage drama. That fall now turns out to have been temporary. Sedov also told the Moscow Times that among those most likely to support peace negotiations are supporters of the Communist Party and of the ultranationalist Liberal Democrat Party. The reason for this, he said, might be that the Communist constituency is dominated by elderly voters still haunted by memories of World War II, while the Liberal Democrats consist largely of the young working-class males most vulnerable to military conscription.