by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, July 31 (Xinhua) -- Russians largely back their country's tough stance on Ukraine, despite a new round of U.S. and European economic sanctions this week targeting Russia, according to a Gallup poll published in Washington on Thursday.
Nearly two-thirds of Russians surveyed before the latest round of sanctions believe Russia needs to have a "very strong position" in relations with neighboring Ukraine, Gallup found.
Russians' attitudes may reflect the stronger position they may feel their country is already in after Russia's absorption of Ukraine's Crimea region in March. Although the U.S. and other Western nations widely blasted the move, nearly all Russians, or 95 percent, who are following the news about the Crimea crisis say they support Crimea joining Russia.
Although relations between Russia and Ukraine are at a low point, most Russians are still open to some type of relationship between the erstwhile allies. While the majority of Russians would like their country to decide the terms of that relationship and take a strong position, only 4 percent of Russians believe their country should cut all ties with their neighbors, Gallup said.
Whether Russians shift their views after this latest round of sanctions may largely depend on how much these measures personally affect them and how the chief architects in Russians' new positive image of the country's leadership -- their state media -- report on the situation, Gallup said.
The earlier sanctions did little to dampen the average Russians ' enthusiasm for the country's leadership, with President Vladimir Putin's popularity skyrocketing to its highest level in years, Gallup's report found.
The previous sanctions also did not appear to affect Russians' views of their country's economy, with more Russians seeing their economy as getting better now than has been the case since 2008, according to Gallup.
But unlike the previous sanctions, the latest round -- a response to Russia's continued backing of the separatists in eastern Ukraine -- may affect entire sectors of the Russian economy. While more positive than in the past, Russians' economic outlook still remains relatively weak, and it may be the one area where the public's strong support of Moscow's Ukraine policy may be vulnerable.
Majorities in all segments of Russian society, regardless of gender, age, or education, almost uniformly back a strong position on Ukraine. Russians aged 60 and older -- who remember Ukraine as part of the former Soviet Union for most of their lives -- are the most likely of any age group to support good relations with Ukraine by all means, Gallup said.