Russians assess neighbors
Russians like Belarus and Kazakhstan most of all, and the feeling is not weakening, but is becoming stronger year by year. Azerbaijan is a comfortable country for living for the Russian-speaking population. Such a conclusion was drawn from a survey conducted in Russia by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM). Russians assessed the prosperity of the CIS countries which they wanted to see as partners of Russia: where the rights of the Russian-speaking population are protected best of all; which leaders of the CIS countries are the most trustworthy for Russians, and so on.
“Belarus and Kazakhstan have been the leaders in the rating of prospering countries of the CIS for six years. This year their positions have become even stronger, according to respondents. These two states are considered by our citizens as partners of Russia. Their leaders have the highest level of trust among our citizens. The majority of the countries maintained their positions which had been registered by VCIOM in recent years. The trend of a serious decrease in the trust of society in Ukrainian politicians and the country in general is almost over. Petro Poroshenko’s rating is equal to zero,” Konstantin Abramov, the head of the VCIOM Board Fund, said.
Azerbaijan and other South Caucasus republics take stable positions. Yulia Yakusheva, the director of the political scientific center North-South, says that the data may change, as dialogue between Moscow and Baku is gaining momentum. President Ilham Aliyev has offered a mediator’s services in a settlement of the crisis between Russia and Turkey. A humanitarian dialogue between Russia and Azerbaijan is developing. A big role is played by the Azerbaijani diaspora in Russia. “First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, who is the head of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, which pays a high attention to the development of humanitarian contacts with Russia, is supervising the issues from the Azerbaijani side. In Moscow the Heydar Aliyev Foundation is represented by Leyla Aliyeva. A branch of Moscow State University operates in Baku; there are Russian schools. Russians feel confident and comfortable in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan stands for a neutral position in its foreign policy. Relations between Russia and Azerbaijan are constantly deepening,” Yakusheva told Vestnik Kavkaza.
Commenting on the results of the survey, experts stress that the data is quite expected. At the same time, they point out that the positions of Kazakhstan have become stronger in all spheres and most of all. For example, Yulia Yakusheva presented the results of a social poll among students of 19 Moscow universities; and the results coincided with figures by VCIOM. The majority of students called Belarus and Kazakhstan the priority partners of Russia. According to her, it shows the effective functioning of the Eurasian Economic Union and the well-thought promotion of the Union in the mass media. Russia and Kazakhstan have a common missile defense system, which means the closest cooperation. An important fact is that Kazakhstan and Belarus were mediators in settlements of conflicts which emerged in the post-Soviet space last year, as well as in the conflict between Russia and the West. It should be noted that the leader of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazaerbayev, was the initiator of the breakthrough visit to Russia by President of France Francois Hollande. Moreover, there were other mediatory initiatives, including mediation between Russian and Turkey – Nazarbayev offered his services.
Comparing the results of the VCIOM survey on providing the rights of the Russian-speaking population in Kazakhstan and Belarus, Yakusheva explains the leading position of Minsk by the fact that Belarus, a Slavic state, is perceived as a comfortable country for the Russian-speaking population. According to the expert, regarding Kazakhstan, middle-brow stereotypes about an Asian and Muslim state where the rights of Russian-speaking people may be broken, played their role. “However, the situation over the rights of Russian-speaking citizens is better in Kazakhstan than the official data of social polls show,” Yakusheva stressed. “24% of Kazakhstan citizens are Russians; and their rights have been provided and guaranteed at all levels, including the legislative level, for the whole period of independence.”
Russians trust Alexander Lukashenko and Nursultan Nazarbayev more than the leaders of other post-Soviet countries. According to experts, this is connected with the fact that the Russian media presents these two leaders as the closest to Russia, and their positions are the closest to the positions of the Russian political elite. Thus, the respondents perceive Nazarbayev and Lukashenko favorably. Moreover, Russia awarded Nursultan Nazarbayev with ‘The Man of 2015’ prize. As for Lukashenko, even though he has made several critical and provocative statements toward Russia this year, Russian citizens have a certain stable view that Belarus is a Slavic state which is a close partner of Russia; it is a formed stereotype.
The Deputy Director of the CIS Countries Institute, Vladimir Zharikhin, thinks that despite the ‘zero’ position of Ukraine, “we cannot get rid of each other.” Zharikhin pays attention to the fact that the rating of Nursultan Nazarbayev has increased this year more significantly (by 7 points) than the rating of his Belarusian colleague (by 2 points). According to the political scientist, it means that in the context of a sharp growth of geopolitical tension in the world, Nursultan Nazarbayev’s calm, reasonable, consistent policy is highly assessed by Russians. “We see that the more calm, reasonable position of Nazarbayev without emotional love confessions and sharp critical statements, is preferable to Russia’s residents than the jumping out of the frying pan into the fire by the explosive Alexander Lukashenko,” Zharikhin points out.