04 March 2014

Astonishing

We finally have some data on Russian public opinion about Putin's invasion of Crimea, and the results are astonishing.  The poll was conducted by the regime's own pollster and blatantly worded to elicit favorable responses, but it still shows that the Russian people are massively rejecting the invasion, with 73% opposed and just 15% in favor.  This in spite of all the propaganda tools that a police state with mostly-controlled media has at its disposal.

Russia is not a Western country, but the Russians are as educated and sophisticated as a Western population, perhaps more so.  Rather than trusting the establishment media, millions have been turning to the internet, or talking on the phone with friends or relatives in Ukraine, to get information from a broader range of sources.  The fact that the target is Ukraine matters a lot too.  Despite the ghastly history dividing them, Russia and Ukraine have common roots and are very culturally similar, probably more so even than the US and Canada are.  War against close relatives is a tough sell.

This raises a real question of how much Putin could rely on the Russian army if he chooses to widen the war.  The army is drawn from the people and has broadly the same attitudes.  Soldiers are trained to obey orders, but in this case, they'd be obeying reluctantly at best.

This brings me to an odd point about the Crimea invasion -- this is a war in which nobody has died yet.  Crimea is about as big as Massachusetts, with two million people, and Russia has invaded and occupied it with a force now estimated at 16,000 men -- so this is a fairly large-scale military operation, yet there have been no casualties.  That can only mean that leaders on both sides have given a high priority to avoiding actual combat.

The Russians have given several ultimatums to surrounded Ukrainian troops and ships in Crimea to surrender, then done nothing when the deadlines passed.  In an especially striking incident yesterday, a column of Ukrainian troops left their base and marched unarmed toward a nearby Russian-held airstrip, ignoring Russian orders to stop.  The confrontation ended with warning shots fired -- but again, no actual fighting.

This seems to be a war that nobody really wants to fight.  Russian troops engaged in "military exercises" near the Ukrainian border have already been pulled back to their bases.  Putin now knows he has no support from his own people for what he's doing.  Things could still go terribly wrong, but the chances of a good outcome look much better than they did when the invasion began.

9 Comments:

Blogger Magpie said...

Russian economic indicators reacted very badly. It's not so easy to go invading places when those barometers are there to tell people how badly other people feel about it.

04 March, 2014 03:57  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Thank you for two very informative posts on this situation. I've linked to them from my blog.

04 March, 2014 10:07  
Anonymous Marc McKenzie said...

Another solid post about a difficult situation. Thanks again, Infidel...it will be very interesting to see how this whole thing turns out.

I am, however, still gobsmacked by the love Putin is getting for this invasion by the Far Right and some on the Far Left....but perhaps I shouldn't be.

04 March, 2014 11:42  
Anonymous Ross said...

That's the best news I've heard since the crisis began. Imagine what support for the invasion would be if Russia had a free media!

04 March, 2014 21:31  
Blogger Dennis A. Guerra said...

There is NO Russian invasion in Crimea, or even a major Russian presence. What US/Western media hype has neglected to inform is that Russia is allowed 25,000 troops in Crimea since 1999 - under signed treaty. Russia's Black Sea Fleet and 2 airbases are in Crimea and Moscow writes off $97.75 million annually of Kiev’s debt. This is typical US/Western media and political hype, hypocrisy, and truth distortion....

05 March, 2014 00:10  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Magpie: True, the economic sanctions seem to be imposing themselves without waiting for governments to act.

Shaw: Thanks!

Marc: The far right is showing their natural love of authoritarianism. I actually haven't seen pro-Putin sentiment from the far left. Maybe they think Russia is still Communist?

Ross: They sort of do have free media, in the form of the internet which the regime can't control. Modern-day versions of Dr. Goebbels are going to find their brainwashing job harder and harder.

05 March, 2014 03:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Dennis: Nice spin. The Sevastopol base is only a tiny fraction of Crimea; occupying the rest of the peninsula without the Ukrainian government's consent is indeed an invasion. The Russian people aren't falling for Putin's rationalizations, and you shouldn't either.

05 March, 2014 03:59  
Anonymous Ross said...

Infidel- even the internet isn't entirely free though, opposition blogger Alexei Navalny was jailed on trumped up charges a few months ago.

05 March, 2014 13:15  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ross: It's true that they can arrest bloggers if they can identify and find them, but the internet itself is very difficult to censor. When I said Russians were turning to the internet, I was referring mainly to websites based outside Russia and thus outside the regime's control.

05 March, 2014 13:36  

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