What Russians think about the war against Ukraine

The Levada-Center has been asking Russians what they think about the war against Ukraine since the Russian escalation in February 2022. It is difficult to know what to make of findings, given the level of repression in Russia. Denis Volkov, Levada’s director, wrote a thoughtful piece on this question. A key section:

“… there is a thesis that in repressive Russian conditions, respondents will never say what they “really think.” But we never conduct surveys using a polygraph, and we only record what people are willing to share with the interviewer. Thus, pollsters get information not about people’s innermost thoughts, but about their public attitudes. However, this should be sufficient to understand and explain their behavior in public. One can hardly contest the fact that the pressure of the Russian state on the individual has recently increased. The main goal of such pressure is obviously to change people’s behavior, discouraging them from criticizing the authorities or participating in protests. And this works. But the results of the polls say exactly the same.”

Looking at the most recent release (Wednesday 27th March 2024), three graphs caught my eye.

Firstly, most respondents say they personally support the actions of the Russian military in Ukraine, and this hasn’t changed a lot since the escalation began, hovering around 75%.

However, most people say that Russia is “paying too much” for the war. This peeked at 82% in July 2023. The most recent time point (Jan 2024) put it at 66%.

The final graph that caught my eye was how many people suggest proceeding to negotiations rather than continuing the military actions. That has been hovering around 50-50 in favour of negotiations versus war since the escalation.

There are other interesting findings concerning demographics, e.g., the older you are, the more likely you are to be following the war closely; younger people are less likely to support the military action; and people who get their news from YouTube rather than (presumably Russian) TV are less likely to support the war.

Russian state disinformation campaigns

Two interesting reports:

European Commission, Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (2023). Digital Services Act: Application of the risk management framework to Russian disinformation campaigns. Publications Office of the European Union.

“During the first year of Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine, social media companies enabled the Kremlin to run a large-scale disinformation campaign targeting the European Union and its allies, reaching an aggregate audience of at least 165 million and generating at least 16 billion views. Preliminary analysis suggests that the reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts has grown further in the first half of 2023, driven in particular by the dismantling of Twitter’s safety standards.”

Microsoft Threat Analysis Center (2023). Russia’s African coup strategy.

“Today we are sharing a report from the Microsoft Threat Analysis Center (MTAC) on Russian influence operations in Africa, principally focused on the Niger coup. We believe it is vital there is wider understanding of the ways in which the internet is being used to stoke political instability around the world.”

Gorbachev

“Gorbachev’s desperate attempts to preserve socialism and the Soviet Union eventually failed utterly, turning him into an accidental hero in the West. I won’t even give him the minimal credit some offer for not sending in the proverbial tanks to crush the anti-Communist uprisings that were taking place all across the Soviet Bloc, especially since Gorbachev did send in military to Latvia and Lithuania, where he believed he could get away with it. He was hardly a risk taker where his own neck was concerned and didn’t want to end up like Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, whose rapid overthrow and execution in December 1989 was still fresh in everyone’s mind.”

– Garry Kasparov (2015), Winter Is Coming