Russians Still Support the War But Are Less Certain What It’s About, Poll Finds

Some 74 percent of Russian citizens recently surveyed said they support the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine. But 22 percent, up from just 9 percent in March, say that they don’t actually understand what the war is about, according to a Chicago Council- Levada Center survey of Russian public opinion released this week. 

The survey, conducted at the end of November, found that 53 percent of respondents believe that Russia’s so-called “special operation” is succeeding, while 30 percent said the opposite. And some 53 percent believe that the Russian government should open negotiations with Ukraine to end the war. 

Polling and surveys of Russian citizens are notoriously problematic, especially since the Kremlin has effectively criminalized public dissent. But even in an authoritarian state, polls can reveal new truths about public opinion and the populace from which it emerges. The survey found that Kremlin television propaganda is working on the Russian citizenry. Some 53 percent of the respondents who get most of their news from television were strong backers of the war, and the number was higher among those who said they get all their news from TV. But support dropped among people who sought out different information sources. And of the one-quarter of respondents who use virtual private networks to bypass censors and reach foreign media, just 28 percent expressed strong support for the war. All of that suggests that efforts to reach out to more Russians with accurate information could be helpful, if logistically difficult. 

For a growing number of Russians, it is “difficult to say” why the country was attacking Ukraine; part of the reason is that the Kremlin has changed its story. Many Russians initially believed that the war was about protecting the Russian-speaking population in the annexed areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea. But as many of the Russians in those annexed regions have been mobilized for war, belief in that justification has fallen. Similarly, back in March some 14 percent believed that the objective of the war was to restrain NATO expansion, in line with comments that Russian President Vladimir Putin has made previously. But far from constraining NATO, the war prompted Sweden and Finland to apply for membership. In November, only 6 percent cited NATO as the justification for the war. 

Whether they support the war or not, respondents expressed little hope that the war will improve their lives. More Russians than not believe that the war will worsen the economic situation in Russia and a large majority acknowledge that it has hurt relations with the West. While 53 percent believe that it’s time for Russia to begin negotiations—41 percent do not— a heavy majority wouldn’t negotiate away territories that Russia illegally annexed back in 2014

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