Thursday, December 15, 2016

Putin has Made Russians Feel They’re a Great Power Again But Only in the Soviet Sense, Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 15 – Prior to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, “an absolute majority of Russians (about 60 percent) felt that Russia had lost its status as ‘a great power,’” Lev Gudkov says; but thanks to his aggressive policies and confrontation with the West, now a similar majority (64 percent) believe that Russia has regained its former status.

            But this sense reflects not a belief that Russia has all the aspects Russians historically associate with that role – including a high standard of living– but rather reflects a restoration of the Soviet focus on military power and especially Moscow’s nuclear arsenal, the Levada Center sociologist says (

            This military-centric view has resulted in “a contradictory picture,” the sociologist continues, because both at the end of the 1990s and now, majorities of Russians identified a high standard of living and industrial potential as characteristics of great power status, features that are not typical of Russia today.

            But by focusing attention on military power as a result of aggressive actions and confrontation with the outside world via an enormous propaganda effort, Putin has “sharply increased the significant of military power and nuclear weapons” as markers of great power status for Russians and reduced the significance of the other factors.

            Evidence of this is to be found in a comparison of two polls. In March 1999, only 30 percent of Russians said that military strength was a chief characteristic of a great power; in a poll taken last month, 64 percent agree with that idea, a shift that represents a return to the Soviet understanding.

            What is especially troubling, Gudkov suggests, is that today, “culture and the respect of other countries plays a secondary role” in Russian thinking about what it takes to be a great power, “not to speak of political rights and freedoms.”

            But even more frightening is the implicit conclusion the Levada Center offers. If Russians only believe that their country is a great power on the basis of its possession and display of military force, the Kremlin leader faces potentially serious problems if he shifts away from that force.

            Indeed, without continuing use of force or the threat of doing so, according to the logic Gudkov offers, Russians are again likely to conclude that they are not a great power once again.  That effectively limits Putin’s options and makes it more likely than not that he will continue his aggressive stance in the future.

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