05.07.23 Prigozhin Review

Aftertaste of Rebellion: The level of support for Prigozhin is estimated to be at least 20% after the rebellion, but it could potentially be significantly higher

The Wagner rebellion and emergence of Prigozhin on the Russian political scene, with his fierce criticism of the authorities and the course of the 'military operation', have made a strong impression on the Russian public, according to a new telephone survey conducted by the Levada Center. This impact was facilitated by the fact that Prigozhin appeared in two simultaneous roles: a war hero (65% of respondents view the involvement of the Wagner PMC in combat operations positively) and a harsh critic of the authorities (about half consider Prigozhin's claims to be justified to some extent). Although the rebellion caused short-term shock/fear and a serious sense of apprehension in society, even after its end, the support group for Prigozhin stands at approximately 20% of those surveyed by the Levada Center. Furthermore, more than 30% are undecided about their attitude towards the events or prefer not to express their opinion, meaning the potential support for Prigozhin could be significantly higher. This goes some way to explaining the Kremlin's cautious actions: excessively harsh measures against the participants of the rebellion could deepen the rift within the 'pro-war coalition,' for which Prigozhin has laid serious groundwork.

Nearly half of Russians (46%) consider the criticism of incompetence, corruption, and underreporting of Russian military losses directed by Prigozhin at the Ministry of Defence and military command in recent months to be justified, according to a telephone survey conducted by the Levada Center from June 28 to July 1. Among them, 16% believe that the criticism is fully justified, while 30% consider it partially justified. It should be noted that Prigozhin has recently expanded the scope of his criticisms, by even questioning the reasons behind the invasion of Ukraine. Since this was not reflected in the wording of the survey question, we cannot determine from the available data which specific criticisms levied by Prigozhin resonated most with respondents.

66% of those who rely on YouTube channels as a source of information (of which 37% consider this criticism fully justified), 59% of Telegram channel readers, and 55% of those who rely on Internet media believe that Prigozhin’s criticisms are justified. This opinion is shared by young Russians as a whole, who obtain information about the world from the Internet (58% of respondents aged 18 to 24). Among these groups, the proportion of individuals undecided about their view of events is significantly lower — 14–18%, compared to the sample average of 24%. Particularly high levels of undecided respondents were found among television viewers (28%), which is not surprising given that Prigozhin's grievances against the Ministry of Defence have not received extensive coverage on state channels. Accordingly, only 36% of 'television viewers' consider his criticisms to be justified, while an equal number consider them unjustified. In other categories of media consumption, the proportion of those who do not support Prigozhin’s criticisms is less than 25% on average.

The survey showed that more than half of Russians (52%) closely followed the development of the rebellion, while another 40% had heard something about it. Only 8% heard about it for the first time during their participation in the survey. These are very high levels of awareness. At the same time, the rebellion received the most attention from users of Telegram and YouTube. Several days after witnessing the rebellion unfold in real-time, 21% of respondents described their emotions as 'anger and outrage,' while half (49%) chose neutral descriptions of strong feelings ('fear, horror, shock' — 21%) or indicated confusion ('anxiety, dismay, consternation' — 28%). However, almost a quarter of those surveyed (22%) did not have any particular feelings about the event, possibly because they did not fully understand the meaning and causes behind what was happening.

31% of respondents could not name the reasons that had prompted Prigozhin to launch his assault on Moscow. This was the most common response when asked about the reasons for the events. 21% of respondents believed that Prigozhin’s personal ambitions or selfish interests were behind the decision to start the uprising. Almost as many (19%) believed that 'justified grievances' were behind it ('mistakes of the Ministry of Defence, denying weapons, speaking the truth but not being listened to'), demonstrating sympathy for Prigozhin's actions. 17% explained the events as a conflict between the Wagner group and the Ministry of Defence without expressing sympathy for either side. Thus, we see the presence of at least three groups when it comes to sentiments regarding what happened. Around half of the respondents consider Prigozhin's grievances to be justified, 30% consider them unjustified, and another quarter are undecided. Approximately 20% of those polled described the motives of the rebellion with sympathy, while the same number expressed a negative attitude towards Prigozhin's motives, and about 50% did not express their opinion (they are undecided or described the conflict neutrally).

However, even the widely held view that Prigozhin's criticism of the authorities was justified did not prevent an increase in those who view him in a negative light. As Re: Russia previously reported, according to sociologists, the rebellion has contributed to a decline in support for Prigozhin and his main antagonist, Sergei Shoigu. The new survey by the Levada Center confirms these findings: 36% reported a deterioration in their attitude towards Prigozhin after the rebellion, while only 5% reported an improvement. In the case of Shoigu, the respective figures are 28% and 7%; however, the majority of respondents did not change their opinions about either figure as a result of the rebellion. Sociologists note that sympathy for Prigozhin persists primarily among young and middle-aged men who rely on the Internet as their primary source of information.

Meanwhile, a quarter of respondents believe that Prigozhin has the support of a significant number (7%) or quite a few (19%) Russians. This view was shared by approximately 40% of those who get their information from YouTube and Telegram channels, as well as respondents aged 18-39 more generally (37–39% across different groups). As with the previous questions, approximately 30% were undecided or chose not to express their opinion.

In Your Opinion, How Many Russians Support Yevgeny Prigozhin After the Events That Took Place June 28 — July 1, 2023, Percentage of Those Polled (by Type of Their Preferred Information Source)

In sum, these figures demonstrate that the rebellion and the emergence of Yevgeny Prigozhin on the political scene, with his fierce criticism of the authorities and the course of the 'military operation', have made a strong impression on the Russian public. This impact was partly due to the fact that Prigozhin appeared to take on two different roles: a war hero (65% of the survey participants positively assess the involvement of the Wagner PMC in the war in Ukraine) and a harsh critic of the authorities (about half consider his grievances at least partially justified). And, although the rebellion caused temporary shock and placed society on high alert, even after it had ended, the number of those who support Prigozhin still amounts to about 20% of those surveyed. At the same time, over 30% of respondents have not made up their minds or prefer not to express their opinion on the matter. This goes some way to explaining the cautious actions of the Kremlin: overly harsh or cruel measures against the participants of the rebellion might deepen the rift within the 'pro-war coalition', for which Prigozhin has laid serious groundwork.