Not Putin alone. Majority of Russians surveyed have no problem with Russia’s carnage and destruction in Ukraine
100 days into Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has no victory to boast of, but also too little reason to be seriously worried. His war machine, Bloomberg economics reports, is “still very much operational” with the world described as paying for his war in Ukraine. All too many western commentators appear to think that Ukraine should cede more territory to help Putin / Russia ‘save face’ and the Russian population are showing no sign of revolt. Nor, judging by the latest survey by the independent Levada Centre, is this merely because draconian new legislation has made it dangerous to speak out.
The surveys, carried out by the Levada Centre three times so far, at the end of March, of April and at the beginning of June, should be read by all of those wanting to believe that a single madman is dragging his country into a war they didn’t ask for and do not support. There is absolutely nothing to indicate that this is the case. Even if we assume, as seems likely, that many would be wary of expressing open disapproval of the war, the overriding impression is that the population are happy to blame anybody but Russia for an act of aggression not seen since the Second World War.
Levada follows the official line in referring to the war as a ‘special military operation’, albeit using inverted commas. Interest in the war has been falling, with 64% at the end of March saying that they were following events very or fairly closely, against 56% at the beginning of June. Older groups in society are more likely to be following events than younger, with only 45% following among the group aged 25-39 and 34% among those from 18-24. Although Levada does not comment on such differences, it seems likely that it would be those younger Russians who would know how to bypass the blocking of Internet sites and be less likely to mainly watch television.
Judging by the results of the survey, 77% of respondents support “the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine”, with 47% saying that they definitely support them (the others – that they basically support them). This is a few points lower than in March, but higher than at the end of April. These may be normal fluctuations, however it was in April that the Russian atrocities committed in Bucha and other Kyiv oblast cities first received widespread coverage, eliciting international outrage. Levada found support to be greatest among the older respondents, lowest among the younger, however even among the 18-24-year-olds, there is still 70% (decided or general) support.
The survey at the beginning of June was noticeably shorter than those carried out in late March and then April, and the questions on each occasion have changed slightly. It is unclear whether certain questions were deemed too ‘dangerous’ or criticised, since surveys carried out month by month would normally ask the same questions in order to easily assess changes in position. Only at the end of March were those who supported the actions of the armed forces asked, as an open question, why they thought Russia had started its ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. 43% claimed it was to protect Russians in Ukraine; 25% to prevent an attack on Ukraine; 21% repeated Putin’s claims about ‘denazification’ of Ukraine, and ‘clearing’ the country of ‘nationalists’, while 14% said it was to deter NATO. These are all reasons pushed by the Kremlin and by the state media.
Those who did not support the war were asked, as an open question, why they opposed it. 43% said that they were against war, or that civilians were dying, or that there were a lot of deaths. A further 19% said that Ukraine was a separate country, that you should not interfere in another country’s affairs.
In the next survey at the end of April, those questions were removed, with people asked open questions as to why they thought the so-called ‘special operation’ was either going successfully, or not.
By June, the only question asked along these lines was whether people thought it was going successfully, or unsuccessfully. 73% said ‘successfully’, with only 15 suggesting it was not going well. In the last two surveys, people were asked how the war would end. In June, 75% said with Russia’s victory, with virtually nobody believing in Ukraine’s victory. No attempt is made to ascertain what Russians understand their country’s ‘victory’ to entail.
In the very first survey, respondents were asked why they thought “a considerable number of countries” had condemned Russia’s actions. 27% claimed that the world was always against Russia, while another 29% asserted that the western media had misinformed people and 36% that the other countries obeyed the USA and NATO. 16% said that the countries consider that Russia has violated international law and Ukraine’s rights; 12% that the countries were appalled by Russia’s actions and supported Ukraine; while 15% answered that they (the countries) were frightened that Russia would treat them all in the same way.
Russians appear to have most difficulty in acknowledging their country’s responsibility for the war Russia began and is waging with savagery which has led the International Criminal Court to initiate proceedings at an unprecedented speed, and international experts to warn all member states of an imminent risk of genocide. In late April, an incredible 57% of Russian respondents claimed that the USA and NATO members bear responsibility for the death of people and destruction in Ukraine. 17% blamed Ukraine. 8% said nobody in particular, with only 7% stating that Russia bears responsibility.
In June respondents were asked if they believe that they bear moral responsibility for the death of people and destruction in Ukraine. 58% were categorical that they did not. 11% said yes, definitely, while a further 25% said that to some extent they bear responsibility.
In June, people were asked whether the coverage of events in Ukraine was objective. 53% thought that television was either entirely, or broadly objective. This is not a view shared by most democratic countries that have imposed sanctions on particular propaganda channels and propagandists. The view is in detail refuted by over 30 human rights lawyers and other scholars who have warned the world that there is a serious risk of Russian genocide in Ukraine and find clear incitement to commit genocide from both Russia’s leaders and the state media (a summary and link here).
Russian state media are heavily censoring information about the war, and either do not show or lie about images that show the scale of Russia’s destruction of entire cities and clear targeting of civilians. It is, however, clear from the very many Russian citizens or Crimeans prosecuted for protesting against the war, as well as from some independent media, that those Russians who wish to learn what is happening in Ukraine, can and do find out. It would seem that many prefer not to know.