Nearly half of Russians who took part in a recent opinion poll fear that escalating tensions between Russia and the West over the ongoing crisis in Syria could become a global military conflict. Moscow's intervention in the Syrian conflict has been criticized by the West, which believes Russian strikes are aimed at supporting its ally President Bashar Assad rather than targeting terrorist groups in the region.
According to the poll, conducted by independent Russian pollster Levada Center, 48 percent of Russians said they were concerned "heightened tensions in relations between Russia and the West could grow into World War III," while 42 percent said they were not concerned about the prospect. The remaining 10 percent declined to answer the question. A total of 1,600 people from across Russia were interviewed for the poll last week.
When asked if citizens believed Russia and the West would eventually find a common ground to the crisis, 35 percent said that this scenario was likely, while 39 percent said that the probability of such an outcome was low. About 26 percent couldn’t answer the question.
However, 52 percent of Russians said they backed Moscow's airstrikes in the region, while 26 percent were opposed to the military action.
Russia first started operations in Syria after receiving a request for military help from the Syrian government, which is currently battling the Islamic State group (also called ISIS), other terrorist groups and anti-government rebel groups in the country. Russian war planes began launching airstrikes on terrorist strongholds in Syria on Sept. 30, 2015.
Western governments and human rights groups have accused Russian forces of carrying out attacks that have resulted in the deaths of several civilians.
Last month, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that a no-fly zone in Syria, a proposal supported by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, could lead Russia to shoot down U.S. planes.
"I wouldn’t put it past them to shoot down an American aircraft if they felt that was threatening to their forces on the ground," Clapper said at the Council of Foreign Relations. "The system they have there is very advanced, very capable, and I don’t think they’d do it — deploy it — if they didn’t have some intention to use it."
U.S. officials believe that a no-fly zone would put the U.S. directly in conflict with Russia. GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has also agreed that the move could trigger a world war.
"What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria. You’re going to end up in World War III over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton," Trump told Reuters last Tuesday. "You’re not fighting Syria anymore, you’re fighting Syria, Russia and Iran, all right? Russia is a nuclear country, but a country where the nukes work as opposed to other countries that talk."