5 Years After War, Russians Warm Up to Georgia – Poll

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Nearly half of Russians reportedly have a “mostly good” or “very good” sentiment toward Georgia, a threefold rise from five years ago, when the two countries fought a brief war over a breakaway Georgian region.

Russia routed Georgian forces in just five days during the August 2008 conflict and subsequently granted independence to the region, South Ossetia, as well as the nearby province of Abkhazia.

At the time, Kremlin-friendly media showed Georgia as the aggressor and portrayed the country’s Western-leaning president, Mikheil Saakashvili, as a mentally unstable war criminal.

Five years later, 44 percent of Russians feel “mostly good” and 4 percent “very good” about Georgia, according to a survey published Wednesday by the Levada Center, an independent Russian pollster.

In a September 2008 survey, only 15 percent and 1 percent respectively felt that way, the pollster said.

More than 40 percent of recent respondents said South Ossetia and Abkhazia should be independent nations. The regions had earlier broken away from the central Georgian government during armed conflicts in the early 1990s.

Moscow’s 2008 recognition of those regions as independent, to which only a handful of countries have followed suit, has neither benefited nor harmed Russia, 49 percent of recent respondents said. Only 28 percent thought that way in 2008.

About 70 Russian troops and 160 South Ossetians were killed during the brief war, Moscow said at the time. Tbilisi estimated its death toll at some 400.

Thirty-two percent of Russians feel “bad” and 8 percent “very bad” about Georgia now, significantly less than the respective 40 percent and 34 percent in 2008, the pollster said.

The survey was conducted from July 18 to 22, among 1,601 urban and rural residents aged 18 and above in 130 localities across 45 Russian regions. The statistical margin of error did not exceed 3.4 percent.

 

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