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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2039

Climate of fear in Russia impedes polling;
Putin's Soviet nostalgia

Edited by Ilan Berman and Colleen Chiochetti
February 16, 2016

January 22: 

Fearing governmental retaliation, a majority of Russians are reluctant to express their views in opinion polls.
The Moscow Times reports that a new survey by the independent Levada Center has shed light on the constrained nature of public opinion in the Russian Federation. The poll found that "more than a quarter of the Russians questioned said they were reluctant to express their views in opinion polls" - calling into question both the utility and accuracy of opinion polling in today's Russia. Levada undertook its review following a controversial poll by state pollster VTsIOM, which found that "94 percent of Crimeans would happily sacrifice their comfort in Moscow's standoff with Kiev." 

[EDITORS' NOTE: The results of the Levada Center poll corroborate a conclusion long held by observers of Russian politics: that, given the effect of Russia's increasingly authoritarian political climate on pollsters and respondents alike, the results of public opinion surveys should be viewed with some caution.] 

January 23:

Despite President Vladimir Putin's repeated assurances that the country's economy is still doing well, Russian anxiety about worsening economic problems is growing as oil prices continue to decline. The global collapse of oil prices is impacting economies worldwide, but for Russia, a country that relies on energy exports for 50% of its federal budget, the collapse (coupled with Western sanctions) has sent the e
conomy into a downward spiral. In 2015, inflation hit 12.9% and the ruble dropped to nearly 85 to the dollar, 
the New York Times reports. In response, many Russian regions have cut salaries and benefits, even as food prices continue to rise. 

January 25:

In a move to further tighten control in the country, the Kremlin has mobilized an additional - and loyal - security force in the country's capital. "All 34 Moscow district courts and three administrative buildings of the Supreme Court are currently being guarded by Cossacks from the private security company Kazachya Strazha ("Cossack Guards")," 
The Moscow Times reports. "The Cossack guards work 24-hour shifts and must contact the police if they require assistance," according to the paper. "They are not responsible for maintaining public order in the buildings or for searching visitors - these duties are fulfilled by court officers." 

Following recent comments critical of Soviet leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Russia's president is defending his love for Soviet ideas and ideals. "I was not, as you know, a party member by necessity," 
Interfax reportsVladimir Putin telling a public forum in Stavropol. "I liked Communist and socialist ideas very much and I like them still." In fact, according to Putin, he was never a mere "functionary," and took Soviet precepts to heart - precepts that, taken together, "resembles the Bible a lot." 

Russia's fighter fleet is facing a major review. 
Jane's Defence Weekly reports that, following an accidental crash landing of a MiG-31 "Foxhound" fighter jet during a training exercise in the Central Military District, Russia's Aerospace Forces have grounded some 200 MiG-31s "while the service seeks to determine the cause of the crash." 

January 26:

Russia, once a mathematical powerhouse, has suffered greatly from the "brain drain" of scientific minds that has taken place since the collapse of the USSR. 
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a new study by two Moscow-based academics has found that Russia, once responsible for nearly three-quarters of all mathematical publications, has declined as a center of mathematical innovation with the exodus of math scholars to the West - especially to the United States. Some 1,000 mathematicians have left Russia for the United States to date, and as a result "Russian mathematics has lost its best representatives," the study notes. This trend, say the authors, Vladlen Timorin and Ivan Sterligov of the National Research University Higher School of Economics, has "dramatically weakened both higher education and research in Russia."

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program

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