Beyond Violence 

Russia's Youth Speak Out About Ukraine Crisis

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The current crisis in Ukraine shows the world how even the closest allies can pull away from each other. Russia and Ukraine were long-term partners, but one should not forget how uneven this partnership was. The Orange Revolution in 2004-05 was the first sign of Ukraine trying to gain independence from its “older brother”.
Russia's reaction to the events in Ukraine and all the changes that have followed has kept escalating since the crisis began, with the Russian people appearing to be in favour of the government’s actions. However, this should be taken with doubt, as the statistics on Putin's approval rating in Russia at the time of this survey stood at 83%.

The survey conducted by this author reveals the reaction of Russia's educated youth to the Ukraine crisis. Ten students, who are holders of various undergraduate and graduate degrees from several cities, including Moscow and Saint Petersburg, took part in this poll.

We felt a strong need to gather this data because this social class seems to be neglected in the media. Also, the generalization that the majority of the population is pro-Kremlin (which is popularised in the media) tends to forget the sheer size of the Russian population, which hold a wide range of opinions and views on the subject.
Therefore, the questionnaire consisted of the following questions:
1. What is your attitude towards the Ukrainian crisis? In your opinion, who are the conflict parties?
2. What is the role of Russia?
3. Are you in favor of the annexation of Crimea by Russia?
4. How do you evaluate the current state of affairs?
5. Which solution to the crisis would you see as most applicable?
6. What media outlet do you obtain your information from about the Ukraine conflict?
The interviewees’ responses to these questions demolished the aforementioned pro-Kremlin generalization often found in the media. In the case of the first question, many “feel bad” or “have a negative attitude” towards the Ukraine crisis i.e. they do not support Russian involvement in Ukraine.
The first and fourth questions are depicted in the graph. We decided to concentrate on these two questions, because they seemed to be discussed in the media a lot and, therefore, were the most important to pay attention to. The red color indicates negative answers, green shows positive responses, and blue denotes neutral answers. The lack of the green color in the first question shows that nobody is in favor of the current conflict. There is, however, a distinct scepticism towards the whole situation, as shown by the appearance of the red column in response to both answers.

In our minds, the reasoning behind such opinions come from mostly realistic and practical concerns. The youth of Russia got used to the freedom and benefits of the market economy and open society, all of which developed through the 1990s and 2000s. Currently, they are the young professionals who are starting their careers in commercial and state companies. Therefore, we believe that they are against returning to what their parents stood against – the Iron Curtain and inability to influence their own lives. Also, two of the respondents who work for state organizations were directly affected by the new policies of Putin: taking the job meant that they are not able to visit any of the EU or NATO-member countries.

As for the solutions, many were suggested, but all of them see establishing peace as the primary focus. Interestingly, about half of respondents differentiated between business and diplomatic impacts of the Ukraine crisis on Russia. There was, however, only one person out of ten standing for “full support to the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine” and giving these regions help and security from Ukrainian nationalists.” One of the interviewees emphasised his “sadness that such a situation happened in a country so close to ours not only geographically, but in culture, and in spirit.”

Overall, three main solutions were suggested: establishing diplomatic relations with the new Ukrainian government, continuing the fight for the rights of Russian-speaking regions until they gain autonomies within Ukraine, and a re-thinking of Russia's interests in the region. These solutions show the awareness of the educated youth on this topic but also how complex of an issue it truly is.
In general, this social group shows perfectly well, how different the perceptions of the crisis are in Russia. However, what is special about the educated youth is that they tend to find information from a variety of sources, not just relying on state media.

A prime piece of evidence disproving the pro-Kremlin generalizations was the peace march against the war in Ukraine in Moscow on 21st September 2014. It showed not only that the majority of Russians are against the war in Ukraine, but, more importantly, that they do not approve of Putin's policies.

However, the question remains that if public discontent with the state's political position stays constant, it might lead to even more demonstrations or movements against Putin's way of politics. According to our questionnaire's results, we can say that Russians have doubt in the Kremlin's policies, especially when they directly affect the lives of people.

Written by K. Ananyeva and published on 25-May-2015

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