61% of Russians worried about relations with Georgia

Most Russians (61%) rate Russian-Georgian relations as cool or stressful, and only 20% rate them as neighborly or normal, according to a national sample of opinion conducted by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion on January 24-25, 2004, involving 1,600 respondents.

The Center said Russians largely blame former Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze for the cool relations. In a Center survey done in October 2003, 59% of Russians said friendly relations with Georgia could not be achieved as long as Shevardnadze was in power (20% of respondents held the opposite view).

For 2003 as a whole, 13% of Russians polled listed Georgia's 'velvet revolution' as one of the year's main events, making the change of government in Georgia one of the year's top 10 events for Russians, according to the Center. Overall, Russian attitudes toward Georgia have stabilized since the crisis of the summer of 2002 over the Pankissy Gorge. As early as July 2003, 56% of those polled responded favorably or very favorably about Georgia with 36% responding negatively or very negatively.

As to problems that now complicate relations between the two countries, the largest cluster of respondents (43%) chose the 'problem of Chechnya' (the presence of Chechen rebel bases in Georgia); the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict (32%), and Georgia's seeking entry in NATO and its orientation toward the United States and Turkey (20%). Another 8% of those surveyed cited the problem of the flow of immigrants from Georgia to Russia. Russian military bases on Georgian territory remains a matter of some urgency. In the survey done last October, 57% opposed withdrawing the Russian bases, only 21% taking the view that base withdrawal was required.

In answer to a question about the trend in Russian-Georgian relations, 36% of those surveyed in January saw a worsening of the situation from the Russian standpoint, with 6.8% of the view that the situation was improving (in this regard, Georgia stands as the 'anti-leader' among the states of the former Soviet Union, not including the Baltic states). The most pessimistic of respondents were the 35-44 age-group of persons with higher education and better than average incomes who live in large cities.

A majority (61%) of Russians polled in January 2004 believe that Russia's relations with Commonwealth of Independent States countries should be no different than those with other countries. Only 27% of respondents said Russia should seek domination over the whole territory of the former USSR.

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