More than half of Russians support the completion of the military operation in Syria. This is evidenced by the data of a recent survey of the Levada center.
According to the study, 55% of respondents believe that it is necessary to stop the operation in the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR). In August 2017, 49% of respondents held this opinion.
Also, the share of those who fear that the operation in Syria could turn into a “new Afghanistan” for Russia has increased. If two years ago so thought 32%, now this option was announced by 37% of respondents. 30% of Russians believe that the operation in Syria should continue, 15% found it difficult to answer.
In addition, it turned out that 35% of Russians do not approve of Russia’s state policy towards Syria. The opposite opinion is shared by 53% of respondents, the rest are undecided.
Clearly visible and the trend of falling interest of the population to what is happening in Syria. During the year, the share of those who somehow follow these events decreased from 86% to 61%. And only 13% “closely watching” the latest news, and 48% “know a little” about the events in Syria. The April survey of the Levada center was conducted among 1,625 people in 137 settlements in 50 regions by the method of personal interview.
Deputy Director of the Levada center Denis Volkov, commenting on the results of the survey, linked the fall of public interest in the events in Syria with the end of the active phase of the operation and reducing the amount of news about it. Although, in his opinion, the respondents initially poorly understood the goals of Russia in Syria and wanted to curtail operations in the country.
“But in the absence of a stream of bad news from there, the mood was more like this: do what you want in your Syria, the main thing is that it does not concern us much,” says the sociologist.
And since now there is less news, both good and bad, from the SAR, people stopped watching what is happening there, especially against the background of their own domestic problems.
Recall that Russia officially launched a military operation in Syria in 2015 after the appeal to her Syrian authorities. According to official data, 112 Russian servicemen were killed during this time, half of them were victims of the An-26 and Il-20 disasters.
In December 2017, President Vladimir Putin during a visit to the Russian military base in Syria ordered the withdrawal of the Russian group. However, although part of the military left the Republic, there remains the Russian contingent, which continues to perform combat missions. Currently, in Syria, there are two Russian military bases: Navy in Tartus and the base Hamim.
How much money is spent on the operation in Syria is not officially known, since most of these costs are classified? In the initial stages of the operation, the Western media gave estimates that every day of the military presence in the SAR cost Moscow from 2.4 to 4 million dollars. On March 17, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the military operation in Syria cost Russia 478 million dollars, that is, about 2.87 million dollars. per day. According to some estimates, for 30 months in Syria, Moscow has spent more than $ 3 billion.
Director of the Center for political studies of the Financial University under the government of the Russian Federation Pavel Salin believes that if the Russians traced the link between the costs of the Syrian campaign and their own economic situation, the number of opponents of the continuation of the operation in Syria would be much more. As for the decline in interest in what is happening in this country, it is due to the fact that people have become much more focused on their own economic problems, rather than foreign policy.
— In the foreign policy activity and carrying out military operations the power isn’t guided by public opinion, therefore, I don’t think that this poll will affect something. The only thing it can affect is the intensity of coverage of such events in the media.
As for the Syrian operation specifically, the decline in interest in it is largely due to the fact that it has become less intensively covered in the media.
But it turns out to be a vicious circle: less intensively it began to be covered due to the fact that for about two years there has been a decline in public interest in external problems and an increase in internal ones. Therefore, the intensity of media coverage of the country’s foreign policy actions in the regions with which there is no living connection in Russian society, such as Syria, is reduced. Ukrainian topics are still on the agenda, as the ties with this country remain strong.
Despite all this, note that the number of those advocating the withdrawal of Russian troops over the past two years has increased slightly. A six percent increase is not much.
“SP”: — Why is this happening?
— Because in people’s minds there is no connection between the Russian presence in Syria and the negative impact on their income. As in the case of Crimea, there is a conviction, which is understandably supported by the government, that an active foreign policy and, in particular, the Russian military presence in Syria — it’s free.
If the population showed a direct correlation between how much of the budget of each person takes out the Russian operation in Syria, and it is not only the official costs of the army but also the cost of the presence of private military companies, shadow schemes and everything else, the reaction of the population would be quite different. But for obvious reasons, there are no such figures, most of the military financial issues are classified. And if they do, they are unlikely to appear in the media with wide coverage.
But still there is a clear trend: people pay more attention to internal problems and less interest in foreign policy. That is why now the opposition, not the Duma opposition, but the non-systemic, is increasingly trying to raise the question of why we are repairing schools in Syria, not in the Voronezh region. Yes, they are deprived of access to mass media with wide coverage. But this question corresponds to the growing public demand, which is not yet articulated at the mass level.
“SP”: — What will the growth of this public demand?
— The big question is how the government will act in the future of one or three years with the foreign policy line. The problem is not in conducting an active foreign policy as such, but in the fact that since 2014 it has actually replaced the internal one. And the current emerging public demand is not for the government to abandon foreign policy altogether, but for it to leave it to professionals, diplomats and the military, and in the information flows within the country, internal problems that are relevant to each person dominate. People want to first discuss the socio-economic agenda, and then Syria, Ukraine, and other issues.
This was justified in 2014, 2015, maybe even in the first half of 2016. But for more than two and a half years this is not so, and the information picture of Russian TV channels is increasingly in conflict with public demand. That is why other social surveys recorded a drop in interest and trust in television.
“SP”: — Why there was this public change, because of pension reform and discontent which it caused in society?
— They try to write off too much for pension reform. It is considered a universal magic wand with a negative connotation for the government and with a positive for the opposition. Supposedly if it were not for the pension reform, the authorities still would have been nice.
In fact, the pension reform has become a trigger, although very serious. The turn in public opinion was outlined no later than the middle of 2016. The Duma campaign almost did not affect the internal agenda, and the turnout was low. The government took this into account, and the presidential campaign was dominated by the internal and socio-economic agenda. This is the reason for the high turnout and high result of Vladimir Putin.
All public events with the President’s participation have been dominated by socio-economic issues since at least the end of 2017. Another thing is that verbally the government responds to the public request, but in fact — no. Either react in exactly the opposite way, as with pension reform or VAT increases. But the information field is still dominated by the external agenda.
It turns out a situation where the government responds to a public request in form, but not in content. And the population wants power not simply spoke and solved social and economic problems. These growing scissors between the lack of response to public demand are increasing all the time, and the big question is what they will lead to in the coming years, especially in the context of the transit of the political system.
The government is losing support in society. The target population that was previously basic electorate of the authorities, for example, middle-aged women, “crawl”. They go into their problems and lose contact with the authorities. They are not so much against it, although they really protest on some issues, as in the case of pensions, with the environment, as they simply distance themselves, and this is also a negative trend.
The government is still passionate about foreign policy. This is a topic of interest to the President, it can be seen even in his speeches when he speaks about the external aspects with enthusiasm, and about the socio-economic aspects is clearly expressed on the basis of the documents that he wrote.