03.07.23 Polls Review

Rebellion and Peace: The share of those who believe it is time to move to peace talks with Ukraine has increased, while a significant part of society sympathises with the Prigozhin uprising

In June, the number of Russian residents in favour of starting peace talks with Ukraine increased markedly, polls show. At the same time, the share of those who view the course of the ‘military operation’ as successful has fallen to the lows of autumn 2022. This may be due both to fears of a Ukrainian counteroffensive and to reactions to the Prigozhin mutiny, which has made a strong impression on Russians. Although initial measurements suggest that attitudes towards Prigozhin worsened sharply in the immediate aftermath of the mutiny, a substantial part of society — perhaps around 20% — was sympathetic towards him. The level of sympathy for Prigozhin is particularly high among men.

In June, there has been a notable increase in the number of supporters of the start of peace talks with Ukraine, according to a June 22–28 poll conducted by the Levada Center. The transition to negotiations is supported by 53% of respondents, with 38% of those polled noting that Russia is currently more interested in the negotiation process (17% consider Ukraine to be the more interested party). Among women, the proportion of those supporting peaceful negotiations is conventionally higher at 63%. In May, the share of those who support negotiations was 8 percentage points lower (45%), and among women it was 10 percentage points lower than it was in June (53%). The survey also shows that, against the background of the progress of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which is a concern for 66% of respondents, and the internal conflicts within the Russian forces, the proportion of those who believe that the ‘special military operation’ is progressing successfully has decreased: over the course of the month this figure fell by 7 percentage points — from 61% to 54% (the last time such estimates of the success of the ‘SMO’ were at this level was in the autumn of 2022, after the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast).

Do you think we should continue the military action or should we begin peace negotiations now? 2022–2023, percentage of those polled

Sociologists from the Levada Center believe that the increase in the demand for peace negotiations may be partly related to the Prigozhin uprising. The face-to-face survey conducted by Levada from June 22 to 28, showed that prior to the start of the uprising, there were fewer supporters of peace negotiations (49%), but from June 25 to 28, the proportion in favour of negotiations increased to 55%. This breakdown of data by day should, however, be interpreted with caution as it reflects the distribution in partial subsets rather than the full sample. Generally speaking, as during previous waves of surveys, respondents under the age of 39, women, and individuals who do not support Putin are more likely to support the start of peace talks. 

The sociologists also asked respondents to characterise their attitude towards certain figures in the Russian political arena. Prior to the uprising, about 60% of those surveyed expressed approval of Shoigu, while after the events, his approval rating dropped to around 50%. Prigozhin’s approval rating experienced an even more significant decline, from 58% in the days preceding the rebellion, to 30% by the start of the following workweek. Prior to the uprising, the following characteristics were popularly associated with Prigozhin: straightforwardness, openness, and honesty (27%), leadership qualities (23%), and vigour (18%). However, after the uprising, a negative opinion of Prigozhin began to prevail: 34% of respondents noted that he ‘instigated a rebellion/disorder, went against the authorities/Putin/Russia/the people,’ ‘aspires to power,’ and so on. The halving of Prigozhin's rating is confirmed by another question within the survey: the proportion of those who would support his candidacy in the 2024 presidential elections decreased from 19% during the pre-uprising period to 10%. However, this data should also not be taken too literally. The survey was conducted during a period of informational shock, and, in general, public opinion regarding these events was yet to be fully formed, according to the Levada Center sociologists. They anticipate a further decline in Prigozhin's rating in the future.

Moreover, the Prigozhin uprising was a high-profile event: 19% of respondents in the FOM survey noted it as a memorable event. Given that the survey was conducted from June 23 to 25, which was essentially during the development of the uprising, and information about it from official sources was relatively scarce at that time, this is an impressive figure. For example, during the survey conducted from June 9 to 11, only 18% of respondents noted the destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station, despite the significantly higher media attention paid to this catastrophe. In turn, only 11% noticed the raid by Russian Volunteer Corps forces into the Belgorod region at the beginning of June, and the drone attacks and explosions were noticed by just 16% in the same survey conducted from June 2 to 4. In terms of the level of attention, Putin’s speech to the Federal Assembly received the same level of recognition from Russians in the February 24–26 survey at 19%. 

In reality, the resonance of the Prigozhin uprising could have been even greater, but since the event took place on a Saturday, the effect of the weekend cannot be excluded, as a significant portion of Russians disconnect from the news agenda over the weekend. Respondents to the FOM survey described the Prigozhin incident as follows: 'an armed uprising'; 'yesterday we watched traitors: our own against us, Prigozhin'; 'the Wagner group entered Rostov'; 'Prigozhin's protest march'; 'Prigozhin has caused trouble'; 'uncertainties with Prigozhin,' and so on.

The independent polling company Russian Field also managed to conduct a telephone survey following the Prigozhin ‘convoy’ from June 26 to 30. When compared with survey results from mid-June when 55% of respondents expressed approval of Prigozhin, after the uprising, his activities were viewed positively by just 29% (with 39% holding a negative view). Among men, 37% of respondents retained a positive view of Prigozhin after the mutiny. In mid-June 45% said they supported Prigozhin in his conflict with the Ministry of Defence, while only 12% supported the Ministry of Defence. After the uprising, 40% expressed their support for the Ministry of Defence, while 20% supported Prigozhin. Among those who primarily use the Internet as their source of information, there is a parity, with 30% of respondents on each side of the conflict between Prigozhin and the Defence Ministry. Additionally, 21% of respondents believe that Russian society was more likely to support the uprising, and 20% believe that if Prigozhin had reached Moscow, he would have had the opportunity to stage a coup.

It is most likely that, at the time that the surveys were conducted, the public's opinion about the uprising had not yet formed conclusively, but in these initial measurements, it appears divided. While some respondents quickly changed their view of Prigozhin, another significant portion clearly sympathised with the ‘rebellion.’ It seems that this group may account for around 20% of individuals.