14.03.23 Expertise

‘Once we've started, we can't stop’: how Russians' attitudes to the war in Ukraine are changing

Svetlana Erpyleva
Humboldt Fellow at the East European Research Centre at the University of Bremen and researcher at the Laboratory of Public Sociology and the Centre for Independent Sociological Research
Svetlana Erpyleva

Sociologists are trying to discover which Russians support the war in Ukraine and which do not through mass surveys. However, qualitative research based on in-depth interviews suggests that such efforts may not be capable of yielding any satisfactory results. The reality is that most Russians both support and do not support the war simultaneously. Russian attitudes towards the war are a patchwork, contradictory in nature, and composed of arguments and narratives from each side. Although Russians are reluctant to change their viewpoint on what is happening, the creedence they give to arguments of support/non-support may shift depending on the circumstances.

In the spring of 2022, the Public Sociology Laboratory conducted more than 200 in-depth interviews with opponents of the war, its supporters, and ‘doubters’. In October-December, sociologists conducted a further 88 interviews (some of these were repeat interviews), focusing on the latter two groups. The results of this second stage of the study demonstrate that dissatisfaction with mobilisation was not converted into dissatisfaction with the ‘special military operation’ more generally: for those Russians who are disinterested in politics, mobilisation and the ‘special operation’ appeared to exist on entirely different perceptual planes. And, for these participants, all conversations about the need for a speedy end to hostilities implied only victory: even a war that had been launched in error could not, according to informants, end in defeat, as this would result in additional costs. In general, many informants have an unconventional and fluid perception of the war. Here, Svetlana Erpyleva discusses how Russians' attitudes to the war are changing, read this article by Svetlana Erpyleva.

‘It's hard to distance ourselves from how we were raised, after all’: the return of war

On 1 September 2022, I returned to Russia after almost a year away. The war that began six months ago had been present in my life daily: in the news, in conversations with friends and colleagues, and in the Ukrainian flags on the streets of the European city where I lived. But there was no trace of the war in the town near Moscow where I grew up, and where my parents still live. I did not see pro-war or anti-war graffiti or slogans; war was not mentioned in the streets or by my friends and acquaintances. As I sank into the familiar rhythm of my childhood town, I caught myself thinking that perhaps I was beginning to forget about it too. That all changed on September 21, the day ‘partial mobilisation’ was announced. Suddenly, the war was being mentioned all around me, or rather whispered about, in the cafe where I listened to Putin's address, in the local library, in the street, on the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. The war seemed to have reappeared in Russian society instantaneously, with the snap of a finger. 

I had observed something similar before, not around me, but as a researcher: in the data my colleagues and I collected. Our Public Sociology Lab began conducting a qualitative study on Russians' perceptions of the war on February 27, 2022, just three days after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. During the first months of the war, we conducted (link in Russian) over 200 interviews with supporters of the war, its opponents and doubters. At that moment, many of our informants, including those who were far from being exclusively anti-war, also said that they had been shocked by the news of the start of the ‘special military operation’ and had tried to make sense of events in their conversations with friends and relatives. But after a few weeks, the emotions of shock and confusion began to fade. The war became routine and faded into background noise.

So we knew that the ‘return of war to society’ following the announcement of mobilisation would also likely be temporary. We waited a few weeks and, on October 11th, conducted our first interview as part of the second stage of our research into Russians' perceptions of war. Between October and December 2022, we conducted 88 interviews with ‘non-opponents’ of the war, deciding this time to focus the study on support for and disengagement from the war, rather than resistance to it. Forty of these interviews were repeated conversations with supporters of the war as well as its doubters doubters, with whom we had already spoken in the spring. 

We were driven by the desire to understand how perceptions of, and predominantly support for, the war were evolving. From the interviews conducted in the spring of 2022, we roughly divided all ‘non-opponents’ of the war into supporters and doubters. Despite the fact that among supporters of the war, there were interviewees who were convinced to a greater or lesser extent, all of them found some means to justify the ‘special military operation’. Some were staunch supporters of ‘the Russian world’ and believed that the war would push the geopolitical threat away from Russia's borders and strengthen the country’s position; some were worried about loved ones in Donbas and rejoiced at the prospect of an imminent resolution to the longstanding conflict; some, viewers of Russian TV channels, spoke of ‘combating fascism’ and ‘protecting the Russian-speaking population of Donbas’; many expressed confidence or, at the very least, hope: ‘if our government started the war, then it must have been necessary’. Although these people were worried about the casualties caused by the war and looked with apprehension at a future defined by isolation and sanctions, they remained supporters of the ‘special operation’.

It seemed to us, as it did to many others, that the announcement of mobilisation might fundamentally change something in the way Russians viewed the war. However, in addition to mobilisation, the war was marked by a series of other events, each of which could have left an impression on Russian society: the seizure of new territories and their subsequent annexation to Russia, the retreat of Russian troops, the bombing of the Crimean bridge, news of the bombing of Russian border regions. All this occurred against a backdrop of increasing Western sanctions, muddled explanations from the authorities as to why the country was at war, repression of dissenters, and increasing polarisation of views on the war in society. In such a state of affairs, we assumed that the views of the war held by ordinary Russians could not be sustained. In some ways, our assumptions were right, and in other ways, we were wrong.

It was not without reason that we waited a few weeks after the announcement of mobilisation and the swift ‘return of the war to society’ before we began the second stage of our research. The October interviews showed that the emotions associated with the announcement of mobilisation were as strong as they were fleeting. After a few weeks, they began to subside, and ‘partial mobilisation’ became normalised as a part of the new everyday reality. But, most interestingly, despite the negative attitudes towards mobilisation expressed by many of our informants who were not opposed to the war, their dissatisfaction with mobilisation rarely translated into dissatisfaction with the 'special military operation'. 

While in the case of convinced, politically savvy supporters of the war, dissatisfaction with mobilisation influenced their attitudes towards military action in general, rendering them a kind of supporter-critic, in the case of those Russians who were were already distant from politics, mobilisation and the ‘special operation’ in its totality seemed to exist on separate planes of perception. Many informants were 'not happy' about the announcement of mobilisation, were worried about their lives and the lives of their loved ones, and complained about the lack  of clear conscription criteria, but they did not rethink their perceptions of the war as a result. For example, one of our interviewees confessed that she was ‘freaked out’ when she heard the news about the announcement of mobilisation and that she felt anxious and scared:

Yes, I was anxious, of course, that he would be taken away. I was anxious that my boyfriend would be taken away, and I was anxious that my close friends would be taken away. Because it's just normal — worrying about a person who might leave and not return (female, 34, co-founder of an IT start-up).

But she then went on to say:

On the one hand, when these things happen, it's very scary to think that someone close to you will be taken away, and that person will just die out there. On the other hand, when people started rushing to other countries — some to Kazakhstan, some to Turkey, some to wherever else... Honestly, if someone from my immediate circle started doing that, I'd probably have less respect for them. It's a very strange, mixed feeling. But still, I guess we were all taught in our childhood about the struggle against Nazi Germany and all that, that we had heroic men who went to war, fought there for the motherland, peace, and so on. It's hard to distance ourselves from how we were raised, after all.

Fear of mobilisation was coupled with a belief that real men should not refuse to serve. This fear did not transform her into an opponent of the war, and she did not stop believing in the necessity of the 'special operation': ‘Well, it is not like they say, “we invaded another country, we are the aggressor” and so forth: we did not invade without reason,’ she explained in an interview, alluding to a threat from Western countries. As with many others we interviewed, the perception of mobilisation was not directly linked to respondents attitudes towards the war. The transformation of discontent regarding mobilisation into dissatisfaction with the war itself, which many observers had anticipated, did not materialise.

‘Even if we are wrong, what are we wrong about?’ Arguments and narratives

The fact that informants did not rethink their attitudes towards the war as a result of mobilisation does not indicate that there has been no shift in the perceptions of and justifications of the war. The interviews we carried out in the autumn showed that arguments in support of the war evolve dynamically with the changing realities of the conflict: some arguments expand their scope, others recede into the background, some are imbued with novel meanings, and others see the emergence of completely new arguments. 

From the first stage of our research, we identified a few key arguments (link in Russian) which were used by informants to justify the war in the first months after after the full-scale invasion: 

  • reaction to the threat from the West; 

  • protection of the residents of Donbas; 

  • preemption of an impending attack by the enemy; 

  • the battle against fascism; 

  • the need to support one's country in any situation; 

  • delegation of expertise to political elites (‘if they started it, it must have been necessary’). 

Some of these arguments persisted into the autumn of 2022: for example, the justification of war as a way to get ahead of the enemy and the rationale that ‘if it was started, then it must have been necessary’. While the pretext that the war was a necessary challenge to Ukrainian fascism, for example, has faded into the background, some of these arguments have been infused with new meanings. The justification for the war as the need to stand on the side of one's country, Russia, has undergone such a transformation.

‘Standing with my country’: a reflection instead of a cliché

In the spring, the overwhelming majority of interviewees who spoke of the need to ‘stand with their country’ referred to a statement by actor Sergei Bodrov which they had recently heard ‘somewhere online’. In the early months of the war, this justifying construct appeared in the interviews as somewhat of a cliché, a ready-made phrase that the interviewees had appropriated but not yet fully assimilated. In the autumn, these same informants shared their reflections on the new, emerging feeling of connectedness to their motherland. This dynamic was particularly characteristic of those who were ambivalent towards and distant from politics. Many did not reflect on abstract values at the beginning of the war and detached themselves from evaluation of these because they perceived the discussion about the war in which the opponents and supporters were engaged as simply a debate between political ideas alien to them. But, in the autumn, sometimes they found themselves unexpectedly beginning to talk about these ideas and ideals too:

My father made it very clear to me that one person's interests (i.e. my personal interests) do not matter because there are the people, and there is the motherland. And either you are here, you act in the interests of your community, or you detach yourself and live your life like this. <...> I will tell you frankly that everything happening is a tragedy. I mean, for instance, I want this war to end. But because I understand how much is at stake for our country, of course, I cannot help but wish the situation were resolved in Russia's favour [so that] Russia's interests would be taken into account. <...> Well, damn, this is very difficult. It pains me; I want it to end as soon as possible. But with the interests of our country in mind. When you talk like this, it represents a kind of cannibalistic position because you wish to win, this is some kind of utterly militaristic message, but you understand how much is at stake. And there is already so much deprivation that such interests have to be taken into account (male, 30 years old, editor).

How does one deal with a given? (Answer to a question about the attitude towards the ‘special operation’. — S.E.) Everyone recognises that it cannot be concluded in one day; it is impossible. But at the same time, I do not see the outcome or what the end result should be. What? What design? How many of us in Ukraine, how much of Ukraine do we [need]? How do we go on with it? What is all this? I don't see a structure or how it will all ultimately turn out. I understand that it is beyond my power to stop this. But all the same, I am on the side of my motherland; no matter what you do with me, I won't leave. I don't want anything else; I want to live here. This is the best place for me; I have travelled all over Europe. I have friends there; I am involved in various projects. And I have decided for myself: I don't really even care if we are wrong or if everybody hates us. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone; I'm not going to apologise to anyone. I want [to be] here, and I will be. Even if we are wrong, what are we wrong about? Are they right? <...> For me, the state and my motherland, the place where I live, are not the same thing. People are not fighting for Putin. Putin is a mortal man, he could die tomorrow. And what, we won't have a homeland? Yes, we will (Female, 52 years old, university lecturer).

The last interviewee noted the contradictions in her views herself (‘I cannot see the result, but I still side with my homeland’). During the interviews, she reflected on what it means to be on the side of one's country. In a similar way to our interviewees from the spring, for her (and many other autumn interviewees), speaking out against the war was almost equivalent to speaking out against one's country and motherland. However, the difference between this justification and the justifications provided in the spring is that it ceases to be a ‘cliché’. It has been appropriated, become an object of reflection, and been filled with a multitude of meanings.

War as a natural disaster

The interviewee I quoted above began her explanation of her attitude towards the ‘special operation’ with the rhetorical question: ‘How does one deal with a given?’ This comment is significant. It is part of yet another new form of justification for the war. Here is another example that gives a better sense of this justification:

Question: What is your attitude right now? What is your attitude towards the ‘special operation’ at this moment?

Answer: This is just what is happening. It is… It's cloudy right now. This is what is happening. On Earth, in general, there is always shooting and killing going on somewhere. It’s just that now it is happening so close, you can just jump in your car and drive there (male, 42 years old, IT specialist).

In the framework of this justification, war is portrayed as some sort of unpleasant and even catastrophic natural phenomenon. It may be horrible and claim human lives, but there is no more use in 'speaking out' against it than there is in speaking out against a flood, hurricane, or earthquake. In this framework,  war has to be accepted as a natural disaster.

‘Once we have started, we cannot retreat’

Similarly, in one of the other new ways of justifying the war, the focus shifts from the need to explain its beginnings to the need to come to terms with its continuation and unfinished nature. For example, in the interviews conducted in the autumn, interviewees often stressed that war, once started (albeit erroneously and unjustly), cannot simply end:

Many of my friends are pro-war. I am now in contact with people who are not so much for the war, they don't say it is awesome. Those who have stayed think war is very bad, but if it has started, we have to participate. <...> If our country is at war, it is very bad, but losing this war would be even worse. We did not start it, but we are the ones who will finish it (Female, 21 years old, student).

This argument can be summarised as follows: since our country started the war, it needs to continue because a defeat would make the lives of Russians even worse. This justification indicates passive rather than active support for the war, supporting it as ‘the better of two evils’:

So initially, it began with me being very much against what had happened. It was sort of a shock to me. However, as time passed, I realised that this was going to drag on, that it was no longer possible just to step back and say, ‘I'm sorry, we... Don't hit us. We messed up there.’ It has become clear by now that it can never come to that. And I, basically, started to take the position that we can’t just give up. I mean, I just have acquaintances who... Well, it seems to me that no sane person would be in favour of war. Yes? In this case, I think he should go to the front if he supports the war. It seems to me that no human being would be in favour of war. But many people take the position that if we are against the war, let us just surrender, and that is it. I do not believe this. I think I am against war in general. But nothing can be done, so you can’t give up since you started it (male, 23 years old, data analyst).

If that's the way they are, it serves them right

The latest new way of justifying the war, that we have identified, also focuses on its progress and consequences rather than its beginnings. It may be called ‘reversive’ (or travelling backwards). Certain consequences of the war — for example, the aggressive behaviour of Ukrainians towards Russians — begin to be seen as causes of the war and become arguments in favour of its necessity. Ukrainian soldiers torture prisoners, Ukrainian acquaintances have begun to hate Russians, the AFU bombs border territories, NATO countries supply weapons to Ukraine — all this is seen as a manifestation of the ‘true’, ‘evil’ nature of Ukraine and thus used to justify attacking it:

I have a negative view of these pro-Azov nationalists and their attitude towards peaceful citizens. <...> And those civilians who lived there were more afraid of this territorial defence, these National Security Forces, the same Azov. They did nothing but, pardon the expression, trick and shoot people in the back. This is documented. <...> These are all really proven facts of the involvement of these nationalist formations of Ukraine in the atrocities. <...> And the most terrible thing, again, [this] confirms that we are doing the right thing, we have a case, and we are fighting against Nazism and fascism — this video footage of the execution of civilians. I mean the shooting of civilians, the killings in these abandoned territories. So it shows that we are fighting for the right reasons. And the ‘special military operation’ is right (male, 43 years old, profession unknown).

The common starting point for the various justifications given in support of the war has been the perception of the ‘special operation’ as a new reality which cannot be influenced by the individual wills of ordinary Russian citizens. Those ‘left behind’ in the country must somehow come to terms with this reality. For this reason, we observed in the autumn of 2022 an intensification of the tendency (that had already been observed in the spring) to justify the war by presenting it as an inevitability, or even a forced action. The topic of ‘necessity’ has become the leitmotif for a whole series of arguments in defence of the war (‘the war is a forced reaction to a threat from the West’; ‘we are forced to defend the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine’; ‘Russia was forced to attack first, otherwise we would have been attacked’; ‘war is like bad weather, we have to put up with it’; ‘our government attacked, so we are forced to carry on’). 

The perception of events as an inevitable or forced step allows people to sympathise with the dead on both sides and to experience negative emotions concerning the horrors of war, maintaining a certain humanity and humanism without opposing the ‘special operation’, sometimes even standing in support of it.

‘I am more patriotic than I was before’. A patchwork of (un)support

While preparing an analytical report with colleagues based on the results of the spring phase of our research, we divided informants into supporters of the war, those who opposed it, and its doubters. Perceptions of war were organised on much more of a continuum than they were into discrete groups, but this division made sense: opponents, supporters, and doubters viewed the war from different positions; they justified it differently and criticised it differently. By the autumn, this categorisation all but ceased to work. In light of pressure from events both on the battlefield and within Russia, supporters and doubters subtly shifted their perceptions of the war, but these changes did not lead to the formation of other ‘attitudes’. Rather, their perceptions simply became more of a ‘patchwork’, more contradictory.

An interview with a 34-year-old marketer from Moscow illustrates this trend well. This young man held oppositional views before the war: he participated in pro-Navalny demonstrations, was an observer at elections, and spoke out against corrupt Russian authorities. He viewed the annexation of Crimea in 2014 in a negative light and argued about this with his pro-Russian parents living in Donbas. But February 24, 2022, radically changed his outlook on events. He felt that during such hard times for the country and his family from Donbas, he should stand with his family and his country. 

In the first interview, in the spring of 2022, he said that he had seen enough of the war over the past eight years and was used to it and that the intensification of the conflict and subsequent ending would be better than a sluggish, ‘eternal’ conflict. In a follow-up interview in the autumn, he said that, on the one hand, he had ‘asserted’ his pro-Donbas position and ‘accepted’ it. On the other hand, he shifted the focus of his thinking about the war from providing an explanation and justification for the invasion towards a need to end the conflict. He admitted that he would prefer the war to end with a Russian victory but that now even a Ukrainian victory seemed to him to be a better outcome than a ‘prolonged’ military conflict:

I want it to end with something unambiguous — either Russia wins, which is, of course, what I want, or Ukraine wins, which I don't want, but which I would have to deal with, but at least there would be a certainty (male, aged 34, a marketer).

Moreover, he cautiously expressed the following thought: maybe (I dread to think) the war was not so necessary, and the authorities could have paid more attention to negotiations. This interviewee did not like the ‘protraction’ of the military conflict. He wanted the war to end and was no longer convinced of the need to start it in the first place. But at the same time, he had finally ‘accepted’ his support for the war, stopped being ashamed of his attitude towards the war in front of his opposition-minded mates, and, in a sense, had even reinforced his support for the war. Does he have a ‘position’? Is he a supporter of the war, an opponent, or a doubter?

The autumn interview with another informant, a 39-year-old real estate specialist, proved to be no less paradoxical. He began the conversation by stating that his view of the war had changed. In the first months of the war, he says, he distanced himself from the events — he could not tell which side was right because of the abundance of contradictory information. Over time, however, his attitude towards the ‘special operation’ shifted for the worse: he stopped trusting the explanations for the ‘special operation’ offered by the state, and the attack on Ukraine began to seem pointless and unnecessary to him:

I don't see any such clear reasons. I think it is a miscalculation, to put it bluntly, of our leadership, and unprofessionalism on the part of our diplomats. And the reasons given on TV, they seem so insignificant to me, I can't believe them (male, 39 years old, real estate worker). 

After the announcement of ‘partial mobilisation’, the informant became perpetually anxious. His attitude towards the president and the authorities deteriorated as a result of the ‘special operation’. He had a negative assessment of the economic consequences of the war — sanctions and the subsequent withdrawal of Western companies, ‘some of the very few who respected the laws in our country’, etc. However, some of his arguments he gave concerning the war are more typically held by those who support it, rather than its opponents. For example, when speculating about the causes of the war, he still tried to find excuses for the authorities' decision for the invasion: ‘It seems to me, after all, that they did not want it to come to this,’ he explained. Moreover, despite all his dissatisfaction with current events, he wished for Russia's victory, or at the very least did not wish for Russia's defeat:

But I understand that now if it [the war] somehow ended, it would reflect badly on me personally. To be blunt, I would have to pay for it. <...> I would be forced to pay a sort of contribution or something. And I would also be accused of something I did not participate in. <...> I did not make the decisions. I didn't support those who made the decisions, but the blame they shoulder would be projected onto me too (male, 39, real estate worker).

Is it possible to describe someone who does not want the war to end as its opponent? Is it possible to call someone a supporter if they believe that the causes of the war are pointless and its consequences are negative? We do not have any answers to these questions.

The attitude towards the war of another interviewee, a young programmer from St. Petersburg, had shifted in the opposite direction. Upon learning about the start of the ‘special operation,’ he was also shocked and began to distance himself from making any evaluations about it. But over time, he became increasingly inclined to support the war. In interviews, he used ‘reversive’ explanations for this dynamic: he had inadvertently begun to support Russia in the war because ordinary, innocent Russians are blamed on all sides, while Ukrainians rejoice at their deaths (for example, when the Crimean bridge was blown up). At the same time, he felt sorry for the Ukrainian civilians who were losing their lives. He did not trust the referendums that had taken place in the annexed territories and did not understand why Russia needed those territories, but he attributed his support for the war to the need to protect them:

Question: And by [your] support for the ‘special operation’, what do you mean?

Answer: I think that what is happening is right. If [these are] already our territories, they must be defended. Therefore, one should not give them up. Why are these territories ours? Why do we need them? I do not know. I don't need Crimea, the DPR, the LPR, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions, I don't need them at all. I am sitting here, and I am ok. This will not make me feel better. I will not earn more if I have these regions. But nevertheless, I do have them. We can’t get rid of them <...> I don't know whether the people agreed or disagreed. I don't know what percentage of people took part in the vote, I don't know whether they actually went door to door with guns to obtain, let's say, people's signatures. I don't know. But they were annexed. They say they are all for it. And I wasn't there. I can't say who's for it, who's against it (male, 22 years old, IT specialist).

His support for the war includes, among other things, his support for annexation and the protection of the new regions. But it is not a consequence of his ‘imperialist views’, indeed he has no ‘views’ at all. His perception of the war, like that of most non-political informants, is a collection of disparate feelings, fears, and hopes rather than a consistent ‘position’. 

Instead of a ‘position’ on the war, many people just have diverging, contradictory anxieties and hopes. This was strikingly illustrated by an interview with a 36-year-old self-employed businesswoman from Moscow. We spoke with this informant twice. In the spring, during the first interview, she simultaneously defended the war, criticised it, and withdrew from making an assessment. She said that she was ‘upset for Russia’, which the Western world had turned against, and which modern brands had left, despite Russia behaving like other powerful geopolitical actors. She liked that Russia was responding to Western threats and showing that it was a force to be reckoned with. At the same time, her personal experience suggested that the many arguments she gave in defence of the war had been heard on television and were without merit. She felt that the consequences of the war would be negative and that the war itself was pointless and unnecessary for Russians. Sharing these experiences, she concluded that: no one really knows the truth, so it makes little sense to evaluate the war in any way, or to take sides.

One might think that six months later, in the autumn, this informant might have begun to lean one way or the other. But this was not the case. In fact, her critical attitude towards certain aspects of the ‘special operation’ had intensified, while her sympathy and support for other aspects had grown. She began her autumn conversation with us by saying that she has started to care. She now wants Russia to act more decisively and respond to the latest threats from Ukraine: 

Just in the last month, I have been a little bit emotional about the fact that our gas pipelines have been blown up. <...> I know they have been blown up, I know the Crimean bridge was blown up. I was… I did not care at all before, but now — damn, I wish we would act, and soon! <...> Let us also respond because the whole world is laughing at us because such a huge country is involved in such a protracted war, losing to this tiny Ukraine (Female, 37 years old, entrepreneur).

Her resentment had also grown in favour of Russia:

Before, I used to travel a lot, but somehow I just don't really care, I kind of like Russia and Russia. And now I am even offended that America is simultaneously at war in ten countries, doing the same thing, and there is nothing. And Russia... I don't know if we attacked due to decent reasons or not, but the fact is that the whole world is united against Russia, brands are leaving, companies are leaving, and there is some kind of attempt to subvert Russia. It feels like my country is being unfairly insulted. I have even more patriotism than I had before (Female, 37 years old, entrepreneur).

At the same time, after the declaration of ‘partial mobilisation’, the war hit her business hard: the informant lost both a business partner and a number of her clients. Not surprisingly, in the autumn, she spoke negatively and even aggressively about having to go to war and, as a consequence, about generally fighting a war ‘for fuck's sake’:

Can you imagine, these are [those who left due to mobilisation] grown men with children? He cannot do a single pull up, and now he's about to go somewhere with a rifle in his hands, risking his life? For whose sake, for what? I have no patriotism at all. I think this is complete nonsense. Why should a man in the twenty-first century have to go and fight for who the fuck knows? Of course, if I was expected to mobilise, I would be out of here in three minutes (female, 37, entrepreneur).

Along with the increasing ‘politicisation’ of everyday life — the penetration of a distant war into the lives of the interviewees and other apolitical, detached people — it became more difficult for her to maintain the neutrality that she had attempted to sustain in the spring of 2022, albeit not always successfully. The war increasingly disgusted her, affecting her loved ones and her business. But, at the same time, the informant was increasingly giving thought to what she saw as the world’s unjustifiably (in her view) harsh response to Russia's actions, she was increasingly worried about her country, wishing it to be strong, including at the cost of performing military action in Ukraine This interviewee is not an opponent of the war, nor is she a supporter of it or even a doubter. She is a person far removed from politics, who has been gripped by a new, rapidly politicising reality despite her will. She has no ‘position’ on the war, but she has anxieties, frustrations, fears, joys, and hopes. 

This means that any attempt to estimate the number of Russians in favour of the war makes very little sense. Of course, there are steadfast supporters of the ‘special operation’ and committed opponents. But even collectively, they probably do not constitute a majority. Moreover, as the experience of our interviews shows, it is difficult to categorise a considerable portion of the country's population, who are swiftly appropriating the newly politicised reality of the war, as belonging to one camp or the other. They are neither supporters nor opponents of the war, but they support certain aspects of it and protest internally against others.

Throughout this article, I have often referred to both initial and follow-up interviews with the same interview subjects. Of course, we conducted a systematic analysis of the repeat interviews conducted in the autumn. Here are our findings: views of the war do not change radically; its supporters do not become opponents and vice versa. At the same time, people who even yesterday were apolitical are swiftly adapting to the military-political reality, as a result of which their perceptions of the war are unstable and mobile; its connotations are constantly shifting, and not in any one direction, but in different directions (and quite often in different directions simultaneously). 

There seems to be a paradox in this observation. However, in a society where politics (and even more so geopolitics) does not play a role in the lives of a vast majority of citizens, there can be no ‘firm stance’ towards the sudden eruption of geopolitical conflicts. In this sense, the absence of a radical change in the perception of war (when convinced supporters become convinced opponents and vice versa), the ‘instability’, and the fluidity of perceptions of war are two sides of the same coin. To shift perceptions towards the opposite, one must, at the very least, be convinced of something or have consistent views. But most of our interviewees did not. This means that the majority of our interviewees (and, it may be safely assumed, the majority of Russians) have an ‘uncertain’ perception of the war (which prevents them from becoming outspoken opponents or supporters of the ‘special operation’ or from radically changing their opinion). This perception is also ‘unstable’, contradictory, and fluid: it may shift to one side or the other, depending on the circumstances. Which circumstances are conducive to which changes is yet to be explored.