Support for Russia drops in post-Soviet countries after Ukraine invasion
Russian approval has plunged in neighboring countries, which are wary of a bullish Moscow that has lost its traditional role as a broker of regional power.
Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has lost significant support in countries that were historically part of its sphere of influence.
A recent Gallup report shows that in many – but not all – states that were once part of the Soviet Union, the approval of Russian leaders took a hit between 2021 and 2022.
This goes against what President Vladimir Putin, who seeks to restore “Russian domination”, may have wanted to achieve.
In countries like Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic states – traditionally more wary of Russia as a problematic and often pushy neighbor – Kremlin approval has fallen from levels already below 20% to 0% or close to 0%.
In countries that have historically been sympathetic to Russian leaders, such as Armenia, Moldova, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, the decline in popularity of Russian leaders has been even more dramatic.
Here, more people disapprove of Russian leaders than they approve of them, reversing a previously opposing trend.
Russia’s decline in popularity in states with complex ethnic situations like Kazakhstan and Moldova has been linked to growing concerns about possible attempts by Moscow to seize control of their territories.
In Kazakhstan, the presence of a large ethnic Russian population at the border is concerning, as these people are seen as potentially friendlier to Moscow than Astana.
Russian peacekeepers in the breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova have raised fears that Moscow will want to link the region to its territory if it succeeds in defeating Ukrainian forces.
Only two countries in Russia’s traditional sphere of influence continue to support Russian leadership – Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
The percentage of people in these countries disapproving of Russian leaders decreased between 2021 and 2022, while the percentage of those who approved fell.
Yet these changes have not swayed the overwhelming general sentiment of support for Moscow, with 63% of the population endorsing the Kremlin leadership.
Overall, according to the Gallup report, disapproval of Russian leaders soared to a median of 57% in 2022. His approval rating, on the other hand, was 21%.
Russia’s waning popularity can also be seen in data showing the number of people living in countries with the largest Russian diasporas per capita – Kazakhstan, Latvia and Estonia – who identify as Russians.
Between 2007 and 2009, about three in 10 residents identified as Russian in Kazakhstan (33%), Latvia (30%) and Estonia (29%). In 2022, those who identify as Russian have fallen to 15% in Kazakhstan, 19% in Latvia and 21% in Estonia.
Why has Russian fallen in popularity?
Although the invasion of Ukraine can be considered the determining factor in the decline in popularity, there are also other reasons why post-Soviet nations may be unhappy with Moscow.
The first is that the invasion of Ukraine diverted Russia from its traditional role as regional power broker and chief mediator, writes Gallup, diminishing its importance.
In places like Armenia and Azerbaijan, where Russia has played a key role as a mediator in resolving fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, the popularity of Russian leaders has suffered significantly.
Another reason is that the war in Ukraine is also seen in some circles as a chance for post-Soviet nations to carve out greater autonomy from a less engaged Russia.
Some of them – including Armenia, Ukraine and the Baltic states – look more favorably on other superpowers like the United States and China.
Gallup called Russia’s loss of status and prestige in the region where its power and influence have traditionally been greatest a “seismic shift” that could signal “the twilight of the last European empire.”