30 Years On, Poll Finds 63% of Russians Regret the Collapse of the USSR

By Dimitri Simes | December 26, 2021 | 4:14pm EST
 (Photo by Jean-Yves Ruszniewski/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
(Photo by Jean-Yves Ruszniewski/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a significant majority of Russians continue to feel nostalgia for their country’s communist past, according to a recent survey from the country’s leading independent polling agency.

In the Levada Center’s poll, published on Friday, 63 percent of Russian respondents expressed regret over the breakup of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991. The sentiment was strongest among Russians aged 55 and older, 84 percent of whom described the dissolution as a tragic event.

By contrast, a mere 28 percent of respondents said that they did not regret the demise of the Soviet Union.

The only demographic group in which a majority of respondents did not mourn the event was that of Russians aged 18 to 24.

The Levada Center based its results on a survey of more than 1,600 adults across Russia between November 25 and December 1.

Early last week, a group of Russian lawmakers introduced a bill that would designate the collapse of the USSR as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”

On Saturday, the deputy speaker of the State Duma, Boris Chernyshov, proposed an amendment to make December 26 a day of remembrance for the end of the Soviet Union.

The lawmakers’ initiatives echoed sentiments frequently expressed by President Vladimir Putin.

In a documentary that aired on Russian television earlier this month, Putin described the Soviet Union’s demise as a “great humanitarian tragedy.”

He noted that Russia lost 40 percent of its territory and a significant portion of its population and resources as a result of the breakup.

“We turned into a completely different country and what was accumulated over a thousand years was largely lost,” he said.

In previous statements, however, Putin has dismissed the prospect of restoring the Soviet Union as “pointless” and “impractical.” The Russian president has also frequently the policies of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and accused him of giving away historic Russian lands to other republics within the Soviet Union.

On December 25, 1991, the USSR officially ceased to exist after Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced his resignation in a televised address. The statement came two weeks after leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus signed an agreement known as the Belovezh Accords, which effectively disbanded the Soviet Union into 15 independent republics.

Although that step was preceded by more than a decade of economic stagnation, haphazard efforts at reform, and growing ethnic nationalism across the country, its demise came as a shock to many Russians who had grown up as citizens of a communist superpower.

Over the next decade, Russia underwent significant economic and social turmoil as it sought to transition away from a socialist command economy to a capitalist free market system.

Hyperinflation, unpaid wages, mass unemployment, and a surge in crime were among the problems faced by many ordinary Russians during the 1990s. Putin himself recently claimed that he had to work a second job as a taxi driver during those years, in order to make ends meet.

In the view of Russian elites, the country also suffered geopolitical humiliation at the hands of the West. Moscow has repeatedly argued that NATO took advantage of Russia’s weakness by expanding into Central and Eastern Europe following the end of the Cold War. Since 1999, NATO has admitted 14 former communist states in the region into the alliance.

At his annual end-of-the-year press conference last week, Putin claimed that Western intelligence agents had infiltrated the Russian government during the 1990s and worked to destabilize the country from within. He also reiterated his long standing position that NATO enlargement is the primary cause for the current tensions between Russia and the West.

“We remember, as I have mentioned many times before and as you know very well, how you promised us in the 1990s that [NATO] would not move an inch to the East,” he said.

“You cheated us shamelessly: there have been five waves of NATO expansion, and now weapons systems have been deployed in Romania and deployment has recently begun in Poland. This  is what we are talking about, can you not see?”

Russia’s dispute with the West over NATO expansion came into central focus again in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the Russian foreign ministry published two draft agreements which would require NATO to abandon any plans for further enlargement or military activities on the territory of Ukraine and other Eastern European states, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia.

The agreements also call upon the US to not establish any new military bases in former Soviet republics.

NATO and Russia are expected to hold talks next month about Moscow’s proposal. Putin has previously warned that Russia is prepared to respond militarily if NATO offers Ukraine membership or moves to establish a military presence in the country.

See also:

US Ready For Dialogue With Russia, With Conditions; Poland Warns About Putin’s ‘Blackmail’ (Dec. 21. 2021)

Russia Drafts Legal Documents Barring NATO Expansion, Warns of Confrontation if Demands Are Ignored (Dec. 14, 2021)

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