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Do Russians Support Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine? It Looks Like They Do, But It’s Complicated

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Putin’s war on Russia drags on to its third week, with Russian artillery and bombing operations continuing all across the front, especially in the port city of Mariupol. One of the key factors on whether Putin will continue his war is if there is popular support for it, and new polls show that a majority of Russians approve of Putin’s war on Ukraine, but the numbers are not as high as the last time Russia annexed Ukrainian territory.

Two polls conducted over the last week show that a majority of Russians are supportive of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, albeit both surveys show significant differences in how strong is the support for the war. A survey conducted by a group of independent pollsters and quoted by The Washington Post found that 46% of Russians strongly supported the war, 13% said they somewhat supported the invasion, meaning that 59% of Russians have some level of support for the invasion. In contrast, only 23% of Russians say they oppose the war while 19% reported being on the fence or did not want to answer the question.

Locals of Odessa learn war tactics as reports grow over a potential Russian offensive against the city (EFE)

This survey also showed some very significant differences between age groups, as younger Russians were far less enthusiastic about the war than older Russians. Only 29% of respondents between 18-24 years of age said they supported the war and 39% opposed it, while Russians of more than 66 years were overwhelmingly (75%) in support of the war.

Similarly, a survey conducted by the government-owned VCIOM polling firm shows that 68% supported the “special military operation”—the name used by the Russian government for the war against Ukraine—while a private survey firm reported a number that was more similar to that of the Washington Post poll, as 58% of Russians said they approve of the war.  

Although these numbers do show clear support for Putin’s war on Ukraine, the numbers are not as rock-solid as they were when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. Back then, the VCIOM poll showed that an overwhelming 91% of Russians supported the invasion, and Putin’s personal popularity soared to more than 80% according to polls by the Levada Center.

 In fact, the Crimea annexation, conducted in 2014 with Russian troops without insignias (the infamous “little green men”) was even supported by Alexei Navalny, one Putin’s strongest critics. The support towards the Russian conquest of Crimea remains high to this day, as a survey conducted in May 2021 showed that 86% approve support the annexation of Crimea.

A majority of Russians appear to support the invasion of Ukraine, but the numbers are not as high as those when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 (EFE)

Although it appears that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine does not enjoy the same level of widespread popular support as the Crimean annexation, the polls also show there is a considerable deterioration of the Russian public views on the West. The survey from the Russian Field Research found out that almost 60% of Russians think the United States was the initiator of the conflict, while a Levada Center poll found that there are more Russians with a negative view of the U.S., the EU, and the UK than those who have a positive view.

Putin is facing a daunting challenge in Ukraine. His army has faced a significant and well-armed Ukrainian resistance that has responded far better than expected, the West has imposed significant sanctions on the economy and has caused the Russian ruble to fall, and his people appear to not have the same level of strong support for the war as they did just eight years ago when the Russo-Ukrainian war began.

The Russian state has begun the full mobilization of its propaganda apparatus in order to shore up popular support for the war, and the exit of the few western media outlets in the country might make it easier for the Kremlin to control the narrative around the war. However, it remains difficult to predict if the relatively mild (to Russian standards) support for the war will continue if the war bogs down for months.

Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.

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