- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Detained WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and deceased Soviet dictator Josef Stalin have something in common — both score well in new Russian opinion polls released Tuesday.

Some 45 percent of those surveyed by state-funded Russian pollster VTsIOM see Mr. Assange — currently sitting in a British jail fighting a U.S. extradition request for his role in publishing leaked government secrets — as a positive figure who “promotes the principles of free speech and freedom of the media,” compared to just 27 percent who say what Mr. Assange did was a crime.

A clear majority — 57 percent — said the Australian-born Mr. Assange acted to “open the world’s eyes to cases of corruption, crimes and scandals in different countries,” according to an account Tuesday in the Moscow Times, while just 17 percent said Mr. Assange acted out of motives of revenge or publicity-seeking.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, WikiLeaks put online embarrassing internal Democratic Party documents that U.S. officials say were originally hacked by Russian government operatives.

Separately, the popularity of Stalin, whose reputation has been rising steadily during the presidency of Vladimir Putin, hit an all-time high in a separate poll released by the Moscow-based Levada Center.

Some 70 percent of Russians say they now approve of Stalin’s role in history, which included a purge of political rivals, the deaths of millions in pogroms and famines, and his leadership of the Soviet Union during World War II, up from a 54 percent approval rating just three years ago.

By contrast, those disapproving of Stalin’s legacy fell to an all-time low of just 19 percent, compared to 32 percent in 2016.

The number of Russian respondents who say Stalin’s crimes were unjustified also fell markedly, from 60 percent in 2008 to 45 percent today, according to an account of the poll the RBC. ru news website.

Leonty Byzov, a sociologist at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow, told RBC rising popular approval ratings for Stalin and his era reflect widespread disappointment with Russia’s present.

Stalin “begins to be perceived as a symbol and an alternative to the current government, deemed unfair, cruel and not caring about people,” he said.

The VTsIOM poll surveyed 1,600 Russians on April 13. The Levada Center poll was conducted March 11-17, and polled 1,600 respondents.

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