Russia vs. Ukraine: More Russians Want the Soviet Union and Communism Back Amid Continued Tensions

A higher percentage of Russians regret the collapse of the Soviet Union than at any other time since 2004, according to a new survey published Wednesday by the Levada Center, a Russian nonprofit organization.

The Soviet Union fell apart around 27 years ago, when then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev resigned. The country eventually broke into 15 independent countries, including Russia, which had been the seat of Soviet power. Today, 66 percent of Russians surveyed say that they regret the end of the Soviet Union and the fall of communism.

Every year, over the past 27 years, the Levada Center has asked Russians the same question, and support for the Soviet Union has remained high. Only in 2012, when Russian President Vladimir Putin won re-election and a wave of protests was held around the country, did support for the Soviet Union fell below 50 percent.

A monument to Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin stands in the main square of the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk, with the temperature at about minus 39 degrees Celsius, on November 29. The Soviet Union fell apart around 27 years ago, but many Russians wish it were still around. Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

But the center claimed that 2018's polling results demonstrate that public opinion in Russia is the most polarized it has been in over a decade.

Many Russians said that they regret losing the single economic system that existed in the Soviet Union, while others say that they miss living in a great world superpower. Older respondents expressed the most nostalgia.

These sentiments have also been expressed by Russian President Putin, who famously described the fall of the Soviet Union as the biggest geopolitical disaster of the century. He made those statements in a state of the union speech in 2005 and has arguably spent the last 13 years working to restore Russia's role as a major superpower.

Russia has gotten involved in armed conflicts with its neighbors Georgia and Ukraine, and has worked to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, all with an eye at ensuring that Moscow is influential on the global stage.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has become especially tense in recent weeks. On November 25, Russia attacked and seized three Ukrainian navy vessels. Since then, around 10 regions of Ukraine were put under martial law and Russia has been ramping up weapons deliveries to the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Russia has warned that it would respond to Ukraine's "provocations," but many experts argue that it is Russia that is threatening Ukraine and sending troops to the border area separating the two countries. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said there are at least 80,000 Russian troops stationed in the occupied parts of Ukraine. Much of this military activity is viewed as an attempt by Russia to re-exert its dominance.

Nevertheless, Russia's GDP is around just $1.6 trillion, compared to China's $12.2 trillion, the European Union's $18.8 trillion, and the $19.39 trillion of the United States. The economy has also suffered under international sanctions related to Russia's activities in Ukraine and election interference abroad.

In this economic context, and because the government glorifies the country's Soviet past, some experts say it's unsurprising that support for communism remains high. A poll by the Levada Center released last year demonstrated that many Russians view the brutal Soviet leader Joseph Stalin as the "most outstanding person" in world history.

Despite sending millions to their deaths in labor camps, Stalin is glorified for overseeing Russia's victory over the Nazis in the World War II. Around 38 percent of Russians named Stalin as the "most outstanding person," according to last year's poll. Around 34 percent of respondents named Putin, who followed closely behind.