Vladimir Putin is genuinely popular among Russia’s voters, often not because of his policies but in spite of them. Opinion pollsters have noted a recurring pattern: Russians are discontented about the state of the country and distrustful of its government, but they nevertheless love Putin. That disconnect is increasingly evident in public opinion about Chechnya, as shown by a poll reported on February 1 by Rosbalt.
The survey, taken in the last week of January by VTsIOM-A (the all-Russian Center for the Study of Pubic Opinion), found that 66 percent of respondents said that peace talks should begin now; only 20 percent favored the continuation of military operations. The responses also showed some slippage in popular acceptance of the official line that the war is winding down. Only 26 percent of those surveyed said that life is now peaceful in Chechnya, compared with 28 percent in December, while 64 percent said that the war is continuing, up from 59 percent in December.
Are the losses that the war has brought to the civilian population of Chechnya justified? Only 12 percent of those surveyed said Yes; a massive 78 percent said No.
More evenly divided was the reaction to the idea of bringing international observers back to Chechnya–but equally striking in the context of Putin’s repeated insistence that the war in Chechnya is a purely internal Russian affair. Some 44 percent of respondents were mildly or strongly in favor of accepting observers from organizations such as the OSCE, with 37 percent mildly or strongly opposed.