New findings released on August 5 by the Levada.ru website, voice of Russia’s most authoritative independent opinion-poll service, show continued long-term erosion in popular support for the war in Chechnya. Nevertheless, that erosion is slow—and in fact, in some ways agreement with the Kremlin’s policies showed a slight uptick in July as the June Ingushetia raid’s initial shock faded.
Levada found that as of late July only 24 percent of Russians believed that peaceful life was being restored in Chechnya, while 65 percent were confident that the war was continuing. The corresponding figures for June had been even worse from the Kremlin’s point of view: 21 percent and 70 percent, respectively. But in May, before the Ingushetia raid, some 31 percent had believed that peaceful life was being restored while 61 percent thought that the war was continuing. The figures for April had been 35 percent and 52 percent. Thus, even though there was an increase in optimism and decrease in pessimism from June to July, this change was not enough to get back to the levels of April or May.
Levada also asked Russians whether they preferred to “continue military operations in Chechnya” or “to begin peace negotiations.” The percentage of those favoring the first of those two options has declined without rising even temporarily over the last four months: 26 percent in April, 25 percent in May and in June, and 24 percent in July. The percentage of those favoring negotiations was 57 in April, 60 in May, 62 in June and 63 in July.
Asked whether Russia’s 1999 decision to send troops into Chechnya was correct, only 26 percent of those surveyed answered in the affirmative, while 51 percent answered that it would have been enough to seal the Chechen border.
The bottom line: Even if Putin is able to keep his Chechen policies from becoming a major political liability—by virtue of his tight control of the media and consequent ability to suppress genuine public debate—those policies are clearly no longer a political asset for him.