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Georgia as seen by Russians2010-01-27 15:35
According to the survey results by a research center of a Russian web portal carried out among two thousand economically active Russians, Georgia is believed to be one of Russia's major adversaries. Curiously enough neither visits of Zurab Nogaideli, a Georgian opposition figure, nor resumption of air communication between Moscow and Tbilisi could change the opinion of Russian citizens. A question arises: to what extent can the current regime influence the opinion of Russians?
Tracing back the history of public opinion polls in Russia from 2001 up to present time it is interesting to see that crucial changes in Russians' attitude to Georgia are closely connected with Georgia's current president Mikheil Saakashvili.
Nine years ago the data by All Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) showed that Russians were inclined to see Georgia more as an ally than a foe.
Two years later the majority of respondents (61%) denominated Moscow-Tbilisi relations as a stand-off or tension and only 20% called them good neighborhood or normal relations blaming Edward Shevarnadze, Georgia's former leader for coolness. As the Research center's site reports 59% of respondents believe that development of friendly relations between Russia and Georgia was impossible with him as president of Georgia which is little surprising: respondents analyzed the situation with reference to the events in Pankissi gorge where Chechen militants had recently been found. On the whole the survey showed that Russians were closely following the situation in Georgia with the Rose Revolution being among top 10 events of the year.
Already in 2004 the number of Russians that criticized Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's policies increased considerably. The share of respondents believing that the new president of Georgia would manage to set up friendly relations with Russia went down from 30 to 13%. Only 10% of respondents (compared to 21% as before) believed that the new leader would improve living standards of Georgian population. The share of respondents believing Saakashvili would not do much went up from 1 to 32%. Maybe it was connected with May events when Georgia declared its intention to struggle against counterfeiting and brought internal troops and army special forces to South Ossetia. Later Tskhinval was shelled and South Ossetian leader Edward Kokoyty addressed presidents of Russia and Georgia with the initiative on peaceful settlement of Georgian-Ossetian conflict.
Four years later Georgia as well as the USA joined the list of countries that according to Russians had most severe tensions with Moscow (25% each). This opinion was expressed in May, before the tragic events of August.