New Survey Of Russians About The War In Ukraine

Vladimir Putin waving during a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow

Vladimir Putin waving during a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow

By Slava Tsukerman

On November 15, 2023, Russian independent website Current Time published a report on the latest poll by the independent research group Russian Field.

The report was headlined: “Poll of Russians on War: For the first time, supporters of peace talks outnumber those in favor of continuing ‘special operations.'”

In the months since the previous poll (June 2023), the number of Russians who would support the start of peace talks has maximized. For the first time, there are more such people than those who favor the continuation of the war: 48% vs. 39%. Back in June the shares of respondents in favor of continuing the ‘special operation’ and in favor of a transition to negotiations were equal: 44% to 45%. Male respondents and respondents over the age of 45 most often choose to continue the ‘special operation’.

Daria Pavlova, head of public research at Russian Field, notes that the quantitative method of the survey does not allow us to say with precision why there are now more Russians who support the idea of peace talks.

“But there are indirect questions that can prompt an assumption. For example, these are the questions about respondents’ attitude to and trust in the news, questions about the respondent’s emotional state,” Pavlova says.

“It can be assumed that such a serious break is really related to fatigue: there is no significant news from the front, but the life of citizens is still affected by the situation. Almost half of the respondents are sure that the economic situation will be even worse in the future. Perhaps that is why Russians increasingly want a quick and peaceful resolution to the situation.”

Among those who choose the “peace talks” option, the largest number are those who would cancel the decision to start a war if it were possible to go back in time, as well as those who believe that the “special military operation” is not going well.

The survey also shows that many Russians prefer to continue the war only because it is Putin’s policy, which they trust. If Vladimir Putin decides to start peace talks, 74% of Russians surveyed would support him.

Only 25% consider the Russian army’s military operations unsuccessful. More than half of the respondents believe that for the Russian army, the “special military operation” is progressing well. However, compared to the previous poll in June 2023, the number of positive assessments decreased from 58% to 56%. Only 25% call the combat operations unsuccessful.

Of the options offered by the researchers for further actions of the Russian army in Ukraine: “offensive actions”, “withdrawal of troops” or “holding the current positions”, 66% choose holding the current positions, while 60% support offensive actions. 32% are in favor of withdrawal of troops.

Daria Pavlova, head of public research at Russian Field, notes that almost a third of those in favor of troop withdrawal is a high percentage and was surprising to the research team:

“However, it should be understood that among these people there are also many who are ready for troop withdrawal only if Russian conditions are met. But such a high percentage for a rather radical solution also suggests that a large proportion of Russians want an end to military operations,” Pavlova said.

The researchers also asked Russians about their attitude to the second wave of mobilization. Those who do not support it are more than half – 58%. Education and material wealth do not influence this choice, but those who get their information from TV news support the second wave of mobilization more often than the audience of the Internet.

Reflecting on the emotions they would experience if a second wave of mobilization were announced, 61% of respondents said they would be negative. At the same time, almost half of Russians (49%) would not reverse the decision to go to war if it were possible to go back in time.

Realizing the inevitable imperfection of mass polls in dangerous wartime, many researchers prefer to rely more on personal interviews with citizens than on surveys. During the war, the independent Laboratory of Public Sociology collected interviews with opponents, supporters of the war and “doubters”.

Here is a list of reasons why some supported the war:
• reaction to the threat from the West.
Russian propaganda stresses the ideas that the entire World is against Russia; NATO is the organization created by the West, in order to destroy Russia; Ukrainian desire to join NATO is the worst possible unti-Russian action;
• protection of the inhabitants of Donbass;
• getting ahead of the enemy who was preparing to attack;
• fighting “Ukrainian Nazis”;
• the need to support their country in any situation;
• delegation of expertise to political elites, who “know best” (“since they started it, it was necessary”).

As the war progressed, the motivations of the Russians who supported it were changing. Some of the arguments listed above have survived to this day: for example, the justification of the war as a way to get ahead of the enemy and “since it was started, it was necessary”. At the same time the argument of presenting the war as a struggle against Ukrainian Nazis has faded into the background.

Some of the latest interviews were filled with new meanings – they became richer and more complex. The justification of the war through the need to take the side of one’s country, Russia, has undergone transformation. “To be with one’s country” is becoming more and more important for Russians. This dynamic has proved to be particularly characteristic of people who are insecure and/or far from politics, including well-educated people.

Many of them did not think about abstract values at the beginning of the war and were alienated from its assessment precisely because the discussion of the war by opponents and supporters was an argument between political ideas which were alien to them. But as the war progressed, sometimes unexpectedly, they themselves began to talk about these ideas and ideals. Here is a typical example – excerpts from an interview with a 52-year-old woman, a university professor, for whom disagreement with governmental politics seems to be equal to emigration from the country:

“My father taught me that the interests of one person (i.e. my personal interests), they have no value, because there is a nation, there is a homeland. And if you are here, either you act in the interests of your society, or you split off and live your life separately from the country.

“I will tell you honestly that everything that is happening is a tragedy. I mean, I want this war to end. But because I understand how much is at stake for our country, I can’t help it but want the situation there to be resolved in Russia’s favor, naturally. It hurts me, I want it to end sooner rather than later. But with the interests of our country at heart. Some people may say that this is a cannibalistic position, because you kind of want to win, it’s a completely militaristic slogan, but you realize how much is at stake. And Russia has already suffered so much hardship that Russia’s interests should be taken into account. At the same time I don’t see what the end result should be. What kind of construction? How many of our interests are in Ukraine, how much of this Ukraine do we need? How do we get on with it? I don’t see the possible design, how it’s all going to be. I realize that it is not in my power to stop it. But I am still on the side of my homeland – no matter what you do to me, I will not go anywhere. I don’t want anything else, I want to live here. This is the best place for me, I have traveled all over Europe. I have friends there, I participate in projects. And I decided for myself: even if we are wrong, even if everyone hates us, I don’t care. I’m not going to prove anything to anyone, I’m not going to apologize to anyone. I want to be here, and I will be. Even if we’re wrong, what are we wrong about? Are they right?”

Some of the young people who support the war express their feelings in a more straightforward way. Here is a music video of the most popular young singer in today’s Russia, Shaman, filmed on Red Square in Moscow (Seen by 6.2 mln. viewers on YouTube). Luckily for us the video has English subtitles:

Updated: December 3, 2023 — 3:03 pm