Putin's Bombing in Syria Seen as Popular Among Russians for Now

  • First poll since start of airstrikes shows 72% back president
  • Pollsters say support not deep, likely to wane if war drags on

President Vladimir Putin’s military operation in Syria is backed by 72 percent of Russians in the first poll published since airstrikes began on Sept. 30, a sharp turnaround from much-lower support before the campaign.

Popular enthusiasm is likely to hold amid heavy coverage of Russia’s military successes on state television, provided the operation doesn’t drag out for more than about a year, according to pollsters who have been consultants to the Kremlin.

“If it’s a short operation and remains a military action rather than a big war, then public support for the government is guaranteed,” Dmitry Orlov, head of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications in Moscow, said in a phone interview. “If it drags on and becomes a major ground operation, public support for the government will decline. The Russian authorities are aware of this risk, which is why they declared a limited engagement in Syria from the beginning.”

Only 14 percent of those polled said they viewed the campaign negatively, while 14 percent said they couldn’t answer. The survey, released by the independent Levada Center on Thursday, questioned 1,600 people in 46 Russian regions from Oct. 2 to 5 and had a margin of error of no more than 3.4 percentage points.

Quick Turnaround

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov welcomed the poll’s findings, saying in a conference call that “the president’s actions in the foreign-policy arena enjoy practically absolute support among the population.”

In mid-September, before the operation began, another Levada poll found 69 percent of Russians opposed military intervention in Syria. Since then, state television has been broadcasting daily reports from the military of successes in Russia’s campaign, including a video animation released Wednesday of ships in the Caspian Sea launching cruise missiles to strike targets in Syria.

Alexander Oslon, head of the Public Opinion Foundation, said in an interview that the population views the Syria campaign as another decisive act by Putin, as it did the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year.

“Propaganda is very effective,” Lev Gudkov, the Levada Center’s director, said in a phone interview. “But there’s a lot of alarm and concern that this could turn into a new Afghanistan.”

The new poll showed that 46 percent of respondents believed an Afghan-style conflict like the one fought by the Soviet Union in the 1980s was certain or quite possible, while only 6 percent ruled it out completely.

“This is a kind of passive support,” Gudkov said of current enthusiasm for the campaign. “There will be strong backing for about a half-year and then it will rather quickly decline.”

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