Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Neo-Paganism Spreading Among Russia’s Neo-Cossacks

By Paul Goble

The spread of neo-paganist cults  is the latest problem to affect the “neo-Cossacks,” as those who have come to identify as Cossacks over the past two decades are known even though they have little or no relationship to the historical Cossack hosts of pre-1917 Russia. Indeed, this rise in neo-paganist beliefs among the neo-Cossacks calls attention to something traditional Cossacks, both in the Russian Federation and abroad, have long complained out: Those declaring themselves to be Cossacks are doing so less out of a belief in Cossack values than because it has become fashionable or because Cossack units, in some cases, provide a cover for political activity.

In an extensive article in Kavpolit.com, Nikolay Kucherov says that few people associated the neo-Cossacks with the neo-pagans or felt that the latter were much of a problem in Cossack circles until a series of events in Stavropol krai showed how shortsighted such a view was. Not only were neo-Cossacks who had been recruited to neo-pagan sects threatening Cossack leaders with Internet campaigns and attacking the Russian Orthodox Church, but some of them were actively promoting pro-Ukrainian views, up to and including the proposed inclusion of parts of the north Caucasus within Ukraine. Given the extreme sensitivity of any such talk, the journalist says, that has prompted officials and prosecutors to consider the matter more closely (Kavpolit.com, February 16).

Kucherov cites the controversial anti-sect specialist Aleksandr Dvorkin’s argument that “in present-day Russia, neo-pagan nativist sects are appearing like mushrooms” and “despite the comparatively small size of each nativist sect, taken as a whole, they represent a significant phenomenon of post-Soviet religious life.” These neo-paganist groups have penetrated many institutions, including the neo-Cossacks, Dvorkin alleges.

Many people view an interest in such sects as “innocent fun,” and as a result, the sects have often been able to expand without opposition. Nativist cults, Kucherov says, have enjoyed particular success “among the Slavic population of the North Caucasus and particularly in Stavropol.” This is because one of the leaders of these cults, Aleksandr Asov, claims that it was in the Caucasus where “the first Russian state—Ruskolan—first existed,” thus able to gain converts by invoking local pride.

Such sects have been attracting ever more members in recent years, Kucherov says. And it is a matter of extreme concern because “paganism has become not only a religious but quite an influential social-political movement in Stavropol,” simultaneously offending Orthodox believers and compelling prosecutors to look into what is going on.

Orthodox hierarchs have attacked the neo-pagans for many years. Last November, for example, Patriarch Kirill condemned “attempts at the construction of a pseudo-Russian neo-pagan faith” (Interfax, November 11, 2014). And this year, bishops in the North Caucasus called for putting neo-paganism in the same category as Wahhabism and Nazism. But despite that, the groups have continued to grow and to challenge the authorities and Cossack leaders (Kavpolit.com, February 16).

This pattern might have continued for some time, Kucherov says, had it not been for one thing: Some of the neo-Cossack neo-pagans began to promote the idea of “unity of the south of Russia with Ukraine,” rather than the more approved notion of the unity of south Ukraine with Russia.  That led one Cossack group to vote 357 to 43 to expel those holding such views from its ranks, and it has prompted prosecutors to consider bringing charges against them.

At least three things are interesting about all this: First, the neo-Cossacks may be an important syncretic element in Russia, combining a variety of notions and not just the simple replicators of traditional Cossack values as many, including the Russian government, have long assumed.

Second, instead of being the bulwark of Russian statehood that Vladimir Putin has proclaimed them to be, the Cossacks may be, at least in some places, a threat to the territorial integrity of the country, a conclusion that could lead to a new round of repressions against Cossacks as such.

And third, Kucherov’s article has all the features of one about a phenomenon of which the facts he reports are only the tip of the iceberg.  The relationship of the neo-Cossacks and the neo-pagans appears certain to expand, at least in the near term, and more or less regardless of what Cossack elders or Russian government officials do.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Nemtsov’s March and the Russian Opposition

By Richard Arnold

Nearly 50,000 people participated in a memorial march, on Sunday, March 1, in Moscow, for the slain opposition figure Boris Nemtsov (gunned down in a public street on February 27). The march was originally planned by Russian opposition figures, including Nemtsov, to protest against the war in Ukraine and the economic crisis that has resulted from it. But following the murder of the former deputy prime minister, the organizers turned it into a memorial march. Smaller similar demonstrations were also held in other cities across the Russian Federation. The Moscow march began at Slavic Square near the Chinatown metro station (Vesna.today, March 1). While many pundits and Russia-watchers deplored Nemtsov’s murder as an example of the brutality of Putin’s regime, it is not clear that the assassination will intimidate the opposition. Instead, there remains the possibility that it may breathe new life into a movement many thought absent from the Russian political scene.

The march in Moscow was the largest. Here, protestors carried placards reading “Je suis Boris” (a reference to the solidarity marchers that rallied behind the murdered journalists from the Charlie Hebdo magazine in France), “heroes never die,” “he fought for your future,” “he died for his opinion,” and many similar sentiments (TASS, March 1). Others carried Russian flags, suggesting an attempt to wrestle back the meaning of patriotism from its current Kremlin masters. Until now, the Kremlin has had a monopoly on defining the meaning of Russian patriotism, criticizing opposition to its Ukraine policy as “unpatriotic.” While the marchers at the rally on Sunday clearly have a long way to go in contesting this monopoly in anything like a systematic fashion, it does, once again (see Jamestownfoundation.blogspot.com, February 10), show that there are divisions in Russian society.

The Moscow march drew on the same support that has catapulted Alexei Navalny to the forefront of Russian politics (Richard Arnold, Alexei Navalny and the Russian Opposition, Routledge, 2015). On the one hand, the protest drew extreme right nationalists who came to support the release of prisoners of conscience (most of whom are nationalist ideologues, such as the currently imprisoned former leader of the “Movement Against Illegal Immigration” Alexander Belov), peace between Slavic nations, and a Russia for ethnic Russians (Facebook, March 2). One theory floated by the Russian government immediately after Nemtsov’s murder alleges that the politician was killed by an aggrieved ultra-nationalist dismayed by Nemtsov’s opposition to the war in Ukraine. Indeed, nationalist writer Eduard Limonov opined a minority-view conspiracy theory when he said that Nemtsov’s murder was a “provocation with the distant goal of an ultra-liberal victory in Russia” (Kp.ru, February 28). Of course, Nemtsov was himself a liberal politician, and so many of the marchers undoubtedly were of a liberal persuasion. Thus, the murder itself and the memorial march together serve as a metaphor for the forced marriage of oppositionist forces in Russia.


Moscow was not the only city to see a march, and parallel demonstrations were held in cities throughout Russia, including St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Perm, Vologda, Voronezh, Samara, Barnaul, Izhevsk, Orenburg, Chelyabinsk, Ulyanovsk, Rostov-on-Don, Kirov and Irkutsk, although they attracted less news coverage than the main march in Moscow. In Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg, the march reportedly attracted between 6,000 and 10,000 participants (Fontanka.ru, March 1). The marches in provincial cities were smaller and organized on the social networking site Vkontakte—for example, the march in Kirov (Vk.com, March 2). Participation at the provincial marches varied. Uin Ulyanovsk it attracted only 20 participants (Ulpressa.ru, March 2), but in Novosibirsk as many as 250 protesters took part (Sibfm.news, March 1).  The ability of a single event to generate even this amount of open support in a climate marked by fear from the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is impressive. If Nemtsov’s murder was a plot by forces within the regime to repress the opposition, the result instead has been to highlight the country’s opposition forces. Although it has also shined a spotlight on the anti-Kremlin movement’s many divisions.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Threatened From Afghanistan, Turkmenistan Faces Serious Military Manning Shortfalls

By Paul Goble

Now threatened by both Taliban and Islamic State forces operating in northern Afghanistan, Turkmenistan has begun work to fortify its border with a six-meter-deep trench and a two-meter-tall wall (Islamsng.com, February 24). But serious doubts persist about whether its own military has the capacity to defend the border or prevent the infiltration of Islamist forces into Turkmenistan and, beyond that, into other Central Asian countries.

For some years, Ashgabat has faced problems meeting its draft quotas. First of all, some 800,000 of its young men are working as migrant laborers in Russia or elsewhere. And second of all, Turkmenistan’s Armed Forces offer low pay, bad housing and food, and abusive commanders. As a result, many of the country’s military units are undermanned or include people who would likely run away rather than fight, according to Central Asian military analyst Akhmet Mamedov (Centrasia.ru, February 21).

At present, approximately 60,000 young Turkmenistanis enter the prime draft-age cohort per year. But in addition to those who go abroad to work, many have been receiving deferments if they go on to higher educational institutions. Eliminating those deferral options would be extremely unpopular. But their continued existence has reduced the annual draft pool to roughly exactly the number of men the army needs to take in. Furthermore, the government recently compounded its problems in this regard by decreeing that no one could serve in the military if he or one of his relatives had been convicted of a crime. That measure was taken to weed out those whose relatives might be involved in smuggling or anti-regime activities. But its impact has been to allow many young men to avoid service.

As a result, the government has been forced to try to hunt down anyone seeking to evade military service, to try to bring young Turkmenistanis home from abroad, and to block others from traveling or working abroad except under extraordinary circumstances. But even those measures have not been sufficient to fill the ranks, Mamedov says. And as a result, the military high command is now considering drafting individuals it had earlier excused for physical or mental shortcomings (Centrasia.ru, February 21).

Not surprisingly, as the government cracks down on draft evaders, and as the military tries to conscript ever more people to counter the looming threat from Afghanistan, corruption is flourishing. The cost of a bribe to be identified as someone “medically unfit” for service is now $500–600; and a bribe certifying that the bearer has already performed military service when, in fact, he has not, has risen to $4,000.

The state of morale inside the military is horrendous, the analyst says. Drug use and even drug trafficking, especially in units along the Afghan and Iranian borders, are now endemic; suicides are frequent, forcing the regime to cover them up; and desertion has “acquired a mass character.” Drug abuse is now so serious, Mamedov says, that Ashgabat has set up a special “military section” in the government’s national drug treatment center.

To change all this, and thus to field a fully manned and fully capable military, would require that Turkmenistan’s government carry out “deep structural reforms” and shift the military in the direction of a professional one. But given the size of the military, now estimated at more than 50,000 in uniform, the costs associated with such reforms are almost certainly beyond Ashgabat’s capacities. That may provide a tempting opening for Islamist militant forces in Afghanistan as well as a headache for Turkmenistan, Central Asia, Russia and all those concerned about these militant groups’ potential northward expansion.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Amid Escalating Russian Tensions, Lithuania Initiates Civilian Plan of Action

By Natalia Kopytnik

When Putin swiftly snatched Crimea from a bewildered Ukraine in early 2014, a collective shudder passed through the Baltic States—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These tiny European countries, with populations smaller than that of New York City, have found themselves wondering if they might be the next targets of Russian aggression. But while the collective West has been responding with a rather disjointed war of words and sanctions, tiny Lithuania has been rallying its people, resources and allies, hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union and the United States have all sought to reassure the Baltic States that they will remain active in protecting their interests. Nevertheless, Lithuanians, much like many Eastern Europeans, are painfully aware that they cannot put their faith in assurances alone (Delfi.lt, February 11). The government in Vilnius has taken increasingly strong steps to bolster Lithuanian security, simultaneously sending a strong and defiant message to Russia. Notably, the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense recently published a comprehensive guide aimed at preparing Lithuania’s three million citizens for the worst possible scenario. The document, bluntly titled “How to Act in Extreme Situations or Instances of War,” provides a framework for a civilian plan of action in the event that the border is breached by enemy combatants (“Ką Turime Žinoti as found on Kam.lt, accessed February 26).

While potential enemy combatants are not specifically identified as Russians within the document, the message is clear: the country should be prepared for the worst-case scenario. The editor’s note explains that “we aimed in this publication that [Lithuanians] receive comprehensive information of the state and its possible action in the event of disaster or war [...] we try to provide all the necessary information but realize that issues remain, which require further explanation.”

As to its contents, the guide provides many general suggestions as to the best evacuation routes, construction of home bomb shelters and recommended demeanor around enemy soldiers. The section entitled “Practical Tips for Residents” aims to teach Lithuanians a plethora of survival skills related to specific situations of peril such as: a) how react when sirens sound (move to a safe area), b) how to act in an emergency (do not panic, listen to the radio for instruction), c) what to pack in an emergency pack (first aid, non-perishables, blankets and of course, adhesive tape, among other items), and d) how to act in the event of an explosion (take shelter in a basement, ditch or tree).

In the case of more extreme situations, the guide offers both emotional and practical advice on how to behave as a hostage, stressing that “your only goal is to survive”; it is unwise to refuse food and do not “stare down your captors.” Yet another section advises on the proper course of action in the event one is unable to evacuate the area of hostilities. Some pieces of advice are more ambiguous than others: “if you fail to evacuate, you will have to acquire a gun, it will protect you from bandits.” Where to obtain weapons or munitions is not spelled out.

The advice and guidelines range from fostering psychological support, to more practical basic survival skills. For example, in situations of duress, “do not lie to people to encourage them” and “do not risk your life to defend property or assets” and, most importantly, “do not panic.” More pragmatically, the Lithuanian defense ministry document recommends its readers to “have an ample supply of non-perishable food” and “ensure each family member’s needs are considered when planning.”

In the event of occupation, citizens are advised on how to actively resist the enemy regime, by holding strikes and demonstrations, advocating resistance through social media, staging cyber attacks and engaging in passive resistance through unproductive work. “Be aware,” the guide advises, “if your country is surrounded, escape abroad will be almost impossible.” Be prepared, “to stay in the country and join a resistance movement of defense or survival.” So far, about 2,000 copies have been distributed in schools and other institutions, though the full document is also available for download from the defense ministry’s website.

At the end of the day, the reality is that Lithuania directly borders Russia’s European enclave of Kaliningrad (its border with Belarus provides little comfort as well).  Judging by Putin’s playbook in Crimea, the evolution of a Russian-choreographed crisis in a region with a significant number of Russian speakers (about 6 percent of Lithuania’s total population) is not beyond the realm of possibility (RT, January 15). A plausible choice in this case? The port city of Klaipeda, home to a considerable Russian minority and strategically valuable liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, which is conveniently located less than 150 kilometers from the Russian border.

Thus, in addition to releasing the “survival guide,” Lithuania has also decided to increase its defense spending to at least 1.1 percent of GDP by next year, and 2 percent (as recommended by NATO) by 2020. It has also vowed to increase military cooperation with Latvia and Estonia (Delfi.lt, February 11). Nonetheless, the looming reality remains that Russia’s defense spending has skyrocketed in the past few years and is expected to hit a record $81 billion this year (about 4.2 percent of its GDP). Therefore, Lithuania needs a contingency plan because no European country, regardless of its size or military budget, has the resources to be able to successfully take on Putin’s Russia alone (The Moscow Times, October 16, 2014).

While other countries in the region (such as Poland) have hesitated to send lethal weapons to Ukraine’s aid, the Lithuanian foreign ministry (as well as that of neighboring Latvia) reaffirmed that they were keen on sending assistance for the Ukrainian army (Sputniknews.com February 5).  In general, Vilnius has remained one of Kyiv’s strongest supporters during the course of the crisis in the east. And Russia has noticed; the country’s NATO airbase has reported an increase in Russian planes flying into Lithuanian airspace without identifying themselves or submitting flight plans (Itv.com, February 7). Russian news outlets have predictably and repeatedly decried President Dalia Grybauskaite and the Lithuanian government for its “hysterics” (Pravda.ru February 16). Similarly, Russian media relegates the perceived threat of invasion in the Baltic States to “fear mongering” and “delusion” (Sputniknews.com February 20).

Perhaps Lithuania’s “survival guide” seems like more of a curiosity than a serious government initiative to Western media as well. But the West might be too quick to dismiss such things as overeager nervousness. Indeed, there is a pervasive lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation that the residents of the Baltics currently feel they face (Lithuania Tribune, July 18, 2014). A recent Gallup poll shows that the Ukraine-Russia conflict is at the bottom of the list of Americans’ security concerns (Gallup.com, February 13). After Afghanistan and Iraq, the US is generally wary of involvement in any conflict, much less a direct war. This reality only contributes to the increased understanding in the Baltics that (despite the reassurances of their allies) they may have limited outside support when push comes to shove. Initiatives such as this “survival guide” might not be a foolproof way to ensure safety or organization in war time. They are however, a pragmatic step to ensure that, if the day comes, citizens might have at least some better idea of how to ensure their own safety and, ultimately, their survival as a nation. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Another Wave of Pan-Turkism Allegedly on the Rise in Central Asia

By Paul Goble

Pan-Turkism, the doctrine that all the Turkic peoples of the world should unite in a common state or union to defend their collective interests, has periodically swept through the intellectual communities of Central Asia. The first example was the arrival to the Ferghana Valley of Ottoman military officer and Young Turk Enver Pasha to lead the Basmachi Revolt after the Russian Revolution; then, pan-Turkism reemerged via German agents during World War II; and it made a comeback in the early 1990s, after the countries of the region gained their independence. But in each case, while it attracted enormous attention in some quarters and especially from those who saw it as threatening to their positions, it receded as a force relative to more narrow nationalism, Islam or other collective identities such as “the Soviet people.”

Now, according to Kazakh commentator Talgat Ibrayev, “the re-animation of the ideas of pan-Turkism are threatening Central Asia” again, not only because of the actions of Turkey and its alleged US backers, but because of the efforts of Central Asian nationalists to find a base for opposing both the existing regimes in the region and Russia’s continuing influence in the area. Ibrayev argues that contemporary pan-Turkism in Central Asia is “a powerful consciousness-raising weapon” that can be used by radical nationalist groups. And if it is taken up by skilled political operatives, pan-Turkism “could become the latest challenge to the security of the entire region. And because that is so,” he says, “it simply cannot be ignored” (Nomad.su, February 12).

Twenty years ago, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Turkey promoted the idea of “a certain federative all-Turkic community,” with a capital in Ankara. But the leaders of the newly independent Eurasian states rejected the idea because each of them had their own agenda and it did not include handing over power to a new regional hegemon even before they had consolidated their own position. Nonetheless, the Turks kept pushing, seeking to influence the populations there in various ways after it became clear that Turkey would not take the region by storm.

They promoted the idea of a shared Turkishness via the Turkish agency for Cooperation and Development (TIKA) and Turksoy, an international organization devoted to promoting cultural contacts among the Turkic peoples. They also promoted Turkishness in a way few of the founding fathers of pan-Turkism would have approved: they backed the spread of the so-called “Suleymania trend” in Islam, recruiting young people to its values and often sending them to Turkey for further training. They pushed the idea of a common Turkic alphabet based on the Latin script. And they supported political parties like Alash in Kazakhstan, Erk in Kyrgyzstan and Birlik in Uzbekistan, which accepted one or more of the elements of the pan-Turkic agenda.

Each of these approaches had some success, but the one that has been gaining the most ground in the last several years is the notion of the need for “the liberation of Turkic peoples.” That obviously entails the question “liberation from whom?” And the answer, Ibrayev says, is “from all types of ‘colonizers’ ”—and in the case of Central Asia, from Russia. Such an ideology has allowed pan-Turkist ideas to combine with more narrowly nationalist ones. And it opened the way to the acceptance of the idea among some in Central Asia that they were “hyphenates,” that is, “Turkic-”this or “Turkic”-that rather than completely self-standing nations.

Some nationalists have begun to talk about “pan-Turkism” as a core value of any Turkic state, an idea that has occasionally been picked up by republic leaders, including Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev (Horde.me, November 9, 2012). The followers of pan-Turkism “solemnly declare that the ideology of the cultural integration of the Turkic languages and peoples, at present, does not include within itself any threat to other participants in the world political process…” However, “the education of potential pan-Turkic elites” with the support of Turkey and the United States could eventually become “a detonator” leading to an explosion. Central Asians must be alert to the danger.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Land Privatization Failures Driving Extremism Among Balkars, Moscow Expert Says

By Paul Goble

Research conducted in the North Caucasus has shown that almost all conflicts in the region are in some way related to disputes over land control or ownership. Studies on rural extremism also confirm that the privatization of land into the hands of the rural population keeps such disputes from becoming violent. Unfortunately, in the North Caucasus, and among the Balkars of the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic (KBR) in particular, land was privatized into the hands of elite officials rather than into those of the peasants. As a result, a process that could have potentially eased ethnic conflicts has had the exact opposite effect, according to Denis Sokolov, a highly-regarded specialist on the region at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service (Kavpolit.com, February 5).

In his proactively titled article, “The Balkar Question—Import Substitution via Revolution,” Sokolov argues that there are only two ways for the Balkars to avoid descending into anarchy and violence: “a revolution from below” or “a revolution from above.” Following the imposition of Western sanctions, he argues, many assumed that the North Caucasus could contribute to Russian food supplies and simultaneously reap the economic benefits. But “without institutional reforms and […] without a resolution of the land issue,” it will be impossible to boost the region’s economy or contribute to food supplies for the rest of Russia.

When government land was privatized in the 1990s, it was usually distributed to the local elite (both criminal and otherwise), which was usually of Kabardinian origin, rather than to those who could actually farm it (mainly ethnic Balkars). In 2005, Arsen Kanokov became president of Kabardino-Balkaria with a promise to change this. However, given the power of the elite and their strong hold on property in rural areas, Kanokov was unable to keep his campaign promise. On the contrary, the president’s initiative led to increased levels of banditry and even cattle rustling, as rural workers tried to take back what they felt was rightfully theirs.

The struggle over land in KBR is, in effect, a struggle for power rather than for property, although property is the marker of ethnicity and Islam remains the most important tool for mobilization. Sokolov argues that in order to back out of this dead end, the republic needs radical reform through either a “revolution from below” or a “revolution from above.” The former would involve the peasants revolting against the regime; the latter would occur if new leadership was willing to sacrifice some of the elite’s interests in order to support those who can actually farm the land, both for themselves and for the sake of the republic’s economy.

Because of their isolation from the “republic’s political machine”, which remains dominated by the more numerous and elite Kabardinians, ethnic Balkars are taking the lead in raising the land question and promoting the idea of a “revolution from below.” Thus, if a revolution does erupt in the KBR, it will mostly likely be led by the Balkars, and the Kabardinians will seek to present themselves as the defenders of order when, in fact, they will simply aim to defend the status quo.


A revolution from above is unlikely because of Moscow’s focus on short-term stability; and consequently, that makes a revolution from below more probable. In such a scenario, the Turkic Balkars are likely to be the driving force in KBR, even though they have received far less attention than the Kabardinians, a branch of the Circassians, up to now.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Surprising Results of Russian Public Opinion Poll on War in Ukraine

By Richard Arnold

The results of Russian public opinion center VTsIOM’s recent poll, published on February 2, concerning the war in eastern Ukraine make for an interesting read. According to the poll 50 percent of respondents believe the developments in Ukraine should be called a “civil war.” About 17 percent agreed that the events constituted “genocide, the murder of peaceful people, or terror,” while another 17 percent called them “banditry.” Only 3 percent responded that the conflict in Ukraine was linked to “fascism” or an “American provocation” (Wciom.ru, February 2.

These results somewhat undermine the current and dominant Western narrative, which portrays Russians as fully buying into the Kremlin narrative of Western expansionism as a key threat.  Undoubtedly, the Russian state media has been trying to portray the Ukrainian crisis as an epic confrontation between Western-backed “fascists” and Russian “saviors,” but the latest evidence from VTsIOM suggests this narrative has yet to permeate Russian public opinion.

A separate VTsIOM poll asked Russians to identify the Kremlin’s objectives in the Ukrainian conflict. Over half of respondents (65 percent) believed that Russia aimed to “freeze” the conflict in the same way as it froze earlier conflicts in Georgia and Moldova. Similarly, 70 percent stated that Russia was assisting the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk—a position that deviates from the Kremlin’s official stance that it is not involved in the Ukrainian conflict (Wciom.ru, February 4). The fact that these opinions persist at such high response rates should be a warning to those who blindly accept depictions of Russian society as entirely lost to a domestic quasi-totalitarianism. These polls may also suggest that—in the eyes of the Russian public, at least—diplomatic solutions to the crisis have not yet been exhausted.

However, other polls show that Russian opinions concerning potential crisis resolutions and Russia’s role are changing. For the first time since VTsIOM began polling the public on the situation in Ukraine, the number of Russians favoring Moscow’s recognition of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) and the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LPR) is greater than those in favor of Russia’s neutrality on the matter. This demonstrates a hardening of Russian opinion against the Ukrainian authorities and an increasing sense among Russians that Europe’s newest emerging de facto state—DPR-LPR, or “Novorossia” (“New Russia”)—is well on its way to becoming a reality. Likewise, 70 percent of respondents said that the Russian government’s support of the DPR and LPR was either “in the interest of society as a whole” or “in the interest of a majority.” Just 14 percent thought intervention was “in the interest of a minority” or “a small group of individuals.”
  

In sum, the results of the latest set of VtsIOM polls should at least give pause to those who argue that the Russian population will not tolerate their country’s greater and bloodier involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. Instead, if the above-cited data can be believed, it appears that Russian society not only expects a more direct intervention, but may even encourage the Kremlin to push on further.