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By John Helmer, Moscow

The leading Russian opinion pollsters said today they are “not planning” to survey nationwide opinion towards the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the current fighting “in the near future”.

The blackout on public opinion comes as President Vladimir Putin gave his first direct interview on the conflict to the Arab press.  “The issue is complex, very sensitive,” Putin told the Jordan-based al-Ghad television channel. “But at the moment, of course, it is necessary to refrain from harsh statements and, no matter what, it is not necessary to offend the feelings of people who are involved in this conflict”, the Kremlin website recorded.  

The refusal of the pollsters is not new. It has been thirteen years since the Levada Centre, the independent national polling organisation in Moscow, reported a survey of Russian attitudes towards the Palestine-Israel conflict.  “We had such a poll in 2010,” Denis Leven, a Levada sociologist, said in 2021.  

“I can’t say exactly if we are going to make another one in the near future. Now we focus on the events in Russia and neighbouring countries.”

This was untrue. Levada has regularly polled Russians on their attitudes towards Turkey, the US, the European Union, China, as well as the states which Russians regard as enemies —  Great Britain, Poland, the Baltic states, Germany, France, Japan,  and Canada. The most recent Levada poll of this kind was reported a month ago.  

In 2021, speaking for the rival national pollster, the All-Russian Centre for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), Diana Osyanina said:  “we aren’t planning to make a poll about this [Palestine-Israel] conflict because now we focus mostly on the domestic issues.” VTsIOM’s last published poll on the conflict appeared in January 2018; it focused on Russian views of whether Tel Aviv or Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel. The majority couldn’t say.

Five years ago, VTsIOM reported there was a deep divide  in Russian opinion with support for Israel concentrated in Moscow and St Petersburg, and hostility in the rest of the country. A majority of Russians preferred to avoid taking sides in the conflict.  

Read more: https://johnhelmer.net/white-noise-white-silence-russia-palestine/ 

This week the mass circulation Moscow daily Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP) reported a poll of reader subscribers in which the newspaper claimed there was public resistance (in Moscow) to direct Russian involvement in the conflict. 37% of the volunteering responses expressed the view  the conflict “should not affect Russia in any way…Both sides are to blame there, so the intention to support someone may harm Russia.”  It is unclear how many of KP’s readers participated in the survey; it is clear  KP has editorialised the responses to promote the Kremlin’s opposition to engagement on the Arab side.

Another press source claims that in a multinational survey of sentiment, Russians supporting the Palestinians outnumber supporters of the Israelis by five to one; 34% said they were on the Palestinian side, 7% for Israel, while 46% were neutral, saying “this isn’t our war”.    The survey, with no identified provenance, suggested that support for the Palestinians was proportionately higher in Russia than in other European countries.

The Kremlin line remains one of equivalence between the Palestinians and Israel, as Putin told an Arab interviewer he does not favour Russian engagement against the US show of force for Israel,   or against the Israel Defense Forces plan for invading and destroying Gaza. Instead, Putin said he is ready to negotiate with the US and the European Union, Russia’s adversaries in the Ukraine war.

Source: http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/72482

“At the moment, of course, it is necessary to refrain from harsh statements and, no matter what, it is not necessary to offend the feelings of people who are involved in this conflict. First. Second. It is necessary to avoid civilian casualties at all costs. All actions, if not without them, should be selective, and it is necessary to minimise threats and losses among innocent women, children, and the elderly. This is a well-known position, I think, that no one doubts. And of course, it is necessary at all costs to avoid the expansion of the conflict. Because if this happens, it will have an impact on the international situation as a whole, and not just on the region.”

Putin criticised the US for provoking the Palestinians with its pro-Israel bias, but he did not challenge the deployment of the US Navy carrier group in the eastern Mediterranean.

“I don’t see any sense from a military point of view…What for? What are they going to do? Strike with the help of carrier-based aircraft? Where, by whom? I just don’t see the point from a military point of view. First. Second. This may be an element of such military-political support. Well yes. But in my opinion, now we need to deal not with the military side of the matter, but with diplomacy, we need to look for a way to stop hostilities, and the sooner the better – the first. And the second is to return to the negotiation process, which, the process itself, should be acceptable to all parties, including the Palestinians.”

By diplomacy, Putin was asked, is he proposing to revive the Quarter formula of Russia, the US, the European Union, and the United Nations,  which has been discredited in Moscow since the start of the Ukraine war. “Is it possible to resume the work of this format?” “Vladimir Putin: Why not? We have very stable, business relations with Israel, we have friendly relations with Palestine for decades, our friends know about it. And Russia, in my opinion, could also make its contribution, its contribution to the settlement process. But the severity [of the conflict] is such that, in my opinion, we don’t see anything like this anywhere.”

The only pro-Arab position Putin indicated was a diffident one. Asked to respond to Israeli demands for the Palestinians to leave Gaza for Egypt, Putin replied: “It’s hard for me to give any estimates. The land on which the Palestinians live is their land, historically their land. Moreover, it was supposed to create an independent Palestinian State here. In my opinion, this is not something that can lead to peace.”

NOTE: the lead image is of the public demonstration in support of the Palestinians in Paris this week before the Macron government issued orders to the police to drive the pro-Palestinian groups from the streets and ban anti-Israel demonstrations countrywide. 

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