19.09.22 Polls Review

Geopolitics, Escapism, Depression: Researchers have analysed 213 interviews to understand Russians' attitudes to war


In contrast to data observed in sociological surveys, Russians are not actually divided into “supporters” and “non-supporters” of the war. There is a range of ambiguous and often contradictory positions among the war’s avid supporters and opponents, according to researchers at the Laboratory of Public Sociology, who analysed the results of 213 in-depth interviews with Russian residents. Generally, those who can be classified as “supporters” want to rationalise and normalise the invasion of Ukraine. They resort to the language of geopolitics and revenge. “Doubters” avoid any well-defined position, citing a lack of information, and push politics out of their private lives. Dissenders appeal to moral and legal arguments, but a sense of responsibility and helplessness sends them into depression. All three groups share a sense of war fatigue and dissatisfaction with the state of things inside Russia.

The study of the Laboratory of Public Sociology divides all interviewees into three large groups: supporters, dissidents and doubters. It also outlines their "portraits", specifying that each group has its own subgroups, as well as gradations in relation to how staunch their position actually is. The positions of the respondents are neither clear nor inflexible: the same person can simultaneously have both radical and milder positions, consistent and contradictory views.

The key difference between the three groups is the language ​​and points of reference they have. War supporters reproduce the language of realpolitik (Realpolitik), largely based on "practical" considerations regarding Russia's geopolitical interests. They see the war as an opportunity to strengthen Russia's world status, considering the country to have been unfairly humiliated by the West (primarily the United States), or a necessary act of "protection" from the growing threat from Ukraine and NATO. The authors of the study detail their arguments in the article “Perhaps he’s a grandfather who forgot to take his pills,” published by Re: Russia.

Most supporters of the war predict a deterioration in their financial situation and the economic situation in the country as a whole. At the same time, they believe that the sanctions against Russia were planned in advance, as opposed to being the result of Putin's decision to start the war, according to the authors of the study. Despite this, the supporters of the invasion are optimistic about the future of the Russian economy. Keeping in line with official rhetoric, they believe that sanctions will strengthen the Russian economy, and the exit of foreign companies has opened new opportunities for domestic businesses.

Doubters cite a lack of awareness regarding the actual circumstances surrounding the hostilities, don’t have "objective information" and the necessary intellectual capabilities to assess what's going on. They feel like powerless observers, do not want to be responsible for the choice of one side or the other, and feel like they’re hostages in a situation that they didn’t create, but the consequences of which they have to deal with. Doubters are more focused on social issues and the effects of the war on their private lives. They are critical of many aspects of Russian reality and criticise the government for raising the retirement age and, interestingly enough, are dissatisfied with the restriction of political freedom in the country, namely the absence of fair elections. They also do not like the recent constitutional amendments.

Most supporters of the war predict a deterioration in their financial situation and the economic situation in the country as a whole, but believe that sanctions against Russia were planned in advance, that is, they are not related to Putin's decision to start a war, the authors of the study write. Despite this, the proponents of the invasion are optimistic about the Russian economy’s future: in line with official rhetoric, they believe that sanctions will strengthen it, and the exit of foreign companies creates opportunities for domestic businesses.

Dissidents emphasise the unacceptability of war from a moral and ethical standpoint, as well as the principles of international law. Dissidents do not see any justification for war, unlike supporters. In their opinion, the conflict is causing irreparable economic, social and reputational damage to the country and its citizens. 

Unsurprisingly, belonging to one group or another correlates with how people consume media. Supporters of the war tend to believe the official media and TV. Doubters tend to mistrust any sources, although they consume information more passively overall and do not care where it comes from. Dissidents use social media and read foreign news sources.

Supporters of the war and doubters, unlike dissidents, often equate patriotism with loyalty to the Russian government and the president’s decisions. This data is consistent with the results of recent nationwide polls, which show that the majority of respondents form their opinions not because of personal choice, but as a result of the authorities’ decisions. On the contrary, dissidents oppose the state, and especially the president, who made the decision on their behalf to attack Ukraine. “For dissidents, the fact that the decision to launch a ‘special operation’ was made on their behalf, but does not reflect their position, is an important argument against the war and against Putin,” the researchers write. “Supporters and doubters, on the other hand, support, or at least do not oppose, the decision to go to war, precisely because it was made by their government and their state.”

The most negative feelings, such as shock, anger and disappointment can be noted in some way or another among all respondents. However, only among supporters  can we find those who also feel optimism, hope and pride. Dissidents are affected by the war the most. They go from one depressive state to another. At the same time, all three groups have experienced a gradual decrease in emotions. Fatigue from the protracted "special operation" limits the desire of all respondents to consume the news.

In addition to fatigue, all respondents share a critical attitude towards the state of affairs in Russia. Both supporters, doubters and dissidents mention economic and social problems (for example, police violence or lack of social support) that the country's leadership cannot control. The authors of the study have also made a cautious prediction: the growth of socio-economic problems, along with the conflict dragging on, may lead to a significant part of the population changing their attitude towards the war. Even its supporters.


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