A careful reading of popular Russian attitudes toward the war reveals important nuances that all too often are overlooked. First and foremost is the fact that rather than consolidating Russian society, the conflict has exacerbated existing divisions on a diverse array of issues, including support for the regime. Put another way, the impression that Putin now has the full support of the Russian public is simply incorrect. A more careful reading of sociological data, including conversations with focus group participants and quantitative research, presents a far more complex picture of Russian society.

Group 1: Assured or unconditional support. These people tend not to question news reports or narratives that are the bread and butter of Russian state media coverage of the war. They express the highest level of support for Putin and a sense of pride over what is happening in Ukraine.

Group 2: These people while “mostly supporting” Russia’s actions in Ukraine, their level of support is less resolute. There is more doubt over whether what is going on is right or not and the basis for the Kremlin’s actions. Compared with the group offering unconditional support, people in the second group are  twice as likely to express feelings of anxiety, fear, and horror about what is going on. They are also far less likely to express pride. For them, the “special operation” is motivated above all by the desire to protect what Russians describe as Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population. Support for the Russian government’s actions is somewhat lower in this group. The convictions of this group are generally less clearly defined, and they are inclined to simply follow the dominant public opinion and official line. It’s likely that some of these respondents say that they support Russian soldiers out of fear of adverse consequences for themselves. But the number of such individuals should not be exaggerated .

Group 3: These people  are largely indifferent to the situation but they support the government’s actions because they believe the government knows best. They prefer to remain neutral, because they’re not politicians or soldiers and don’t know what’s really happening.

Currently, about 20 percent of Russians say they do not agree with Russia’s actions in Ukraine. These respondents refer to what is happening as “war” and “Russian aggression.” They are more likely to be young, residents of Moscow or other large cities, and consumers of news from the internet. At the same time, people in this category are still more likely than not to support the “special operation.” The only category of people in which the majority opposed the “operation” were those who are opposition-minded in general and, specifically, do not approve of the actions of Putin, the Russian government, or the State Duma.

Despite the high level of support for both the “special operation” and the Russian regime overall, it is notable that there are now more dissenters in Russia today than there were in 2014. Despite bans and threats of retaliation, some protests continue. While such numbers remain small in aggregate terms, they are testimony to the fact that parts of a minority segment of Russian society remains prepared to risk their well-being in order to express disagreement with their government.

Information about what is happening in Ukraine today is being received and interpreted within the echo chambers of respondents’ long-held ideas about Russia and about broader processes that have been taking place across the former Soviet Union, Europe, and the world. These ideas have taken shape over many years and are informed by people’s political leanings, life experiences, and sources of news and information. Official Russian versions of news from Ukraine tie in with many respondents’ existing perceptions, making them easy to believe. Anything that contradicts such versions is rejected by many as lies, manifestations of Russophobia, or enemy propaganda.

Since the start of the conflict, therefore, the majority of Russians have more or less retained long-held convictions: most of those who preferred to get their news from Russian state-controlled television and who supported the regime back in mid-February support the actions of Russian troops today. Similarly, most people who were already opposition-minded (and there were more such people among those who get their news online) do not support the Russian authorities today.

The more time passes, the more the Russian public is distancing itself from what is happening. The conflict is becoming a distant war, and people are increasingly convinced that the fighting will continue for another six months or even longer

The “special operation” has triggered the polarization of opinions and positions within different segments of Russian society. Such polarization is making these divisions even more radical and, perhaps, irreconcilable. But even among supporters of the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine, there is a divide between, first, those who insist on “seeing it through” (essentially, uncompromising supporters of “de-Ukrainianization,” or people who support the complete Russification of Ukraine, including the denial of Ukraine’s nationhood and statehood) and, second, those who support Putin’s actions but would like Russia to cut its losses, declare victory, and agree to peace terms so that everything can go back to how it was before February 24.


While some Russians are radicalized and support the war,  their numbers have not grown substantially, and most people simply aren’t politically active. Those who agree with the official stance do so for a variety of reasons: some think that they should support their country whatever happens; others are worried for their compatriots on the front lines; some fear even the hypothetical possibility of a Russian defeat. 

As for the elites, they don’t necessarily agree with the war’s supporters, who tend to be mostly older people from rural areas and small towns. Those in the establishment are certainly more informed than the rest of the country, but they can do little to change the situation and have few channels to express their frustration. This is not to say that new escalations are not possible, but morale is quite low given the general disquiet over the current state of affairs.

Amid the lack of action, the concepts of “victory” and “success” are becoming increasingly blurred. It’s also becoming obvious that there is zero tolerance within the system for “activists”: those willing to take the initiative and act on the system’s behalf without orders from above.

Both senior officials and the apparatchiks from specific government agencies are doing what they can to curb activism. While the elites are essentially distancing themselves from the government, the main activist and player representing the system is Putin himself. But his public actions are not enough to make up for the sluggishness of the elites, which at times borders on sabotage.



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