RIGA - Even though the attitude of Russian public towards the war in Ukraine is complicated and changing, at present there are no signals about threats to political stability of Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime, Latvia's Constitution Protection Bureau in its latest analytical report.
Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the stability and viability of Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime is being tested. The military mutiny of “Vagner” chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and the expansion of the war on the Russian soil are just some of the recent challenges facing the regime. In SAB’s assessment the Russian regime remains stable, but that the dynamics of the situation require regular monitoring and analysis. The attitude of the Russian public is one of the indicators that can influence both the course of Russian domestic policy and the context of international relations.
To a large extent, the trends point to a growing alienation of Russian society, which can be explained by two factors. First, there is an observable growing social apathy and distancing from political processes in the country (depoliticization). Secondly, social distrust between people and fear of being punished for expressing one's personal opinion is becoming more widespread, which is due both to the pressure of the majority of society and to the effect of the regime’s repressive measures.
The trend is also evident in social surveys where Russian society takes caution, especially if it does not align with the ruling line. When asked about the support or opposition against the “special military operation”, the absolute majority of Russian public (75-80 percent) state that they are in favor or rather in favor of a "special military operation". At the same time, a less clear picture emerges when the questions allow for the possibility of abstaining from answering or when it is necessary to give an assessment of the preferred future course of the war. In such a situation, the attitude towards "special military operation" is more nuanced.
·A quarter of the public (23 percent) supported the initial invasion and believe the operation should continue (supporters). A third (32 percent) were against the invasion from the outset and believe that a settlement is needed (opponents). The majority of the public, around two fifths (41percent), supported the initial invasion, but considered it necessary to reach a settlement (neutrals).
There is a clear correlation between support for war, government, Russian president and mass media consumption habits. The older the demographic group, the more outspoken is the support for the “special military operation,” the government and, personally, Putin. This age group is the main consumer of information provided by Russian propaganda channels. In contrast, the younger Russian demographic, primarily sourcing their information digitally and skilled at circumventing internet content restrictions, are largely opposed (47 percent) or neutral (41percent) to the "special military operation".
The attitude of the Russian public towards the war in Ukraine is a clear determinant of opinions on other related topics, such as personal readiness to take part in the war, attitudes towards criminalization of public opposition to the war, or the view that Ukrainians are part of the Russian world. In contrast, in rural Russia and among the most economically disadvantaged, the war is viewed through the lens of personal survival. For these individuals, the dire state of their living conditions makes joining the armed forces an economic imperative, not necessarily a decision driven by ideological or political beliefs.
Looking back at Prigozhin's military mutiny, this too has not had a negative impact on the public's assessment of the V. Putin regime. On the contrary, public support for Prigozhin's position has dropped significantly since the military mutiny. Before the mutiny, almost half of the Russian public supported Prigozhin's position and views, while after the mutiny only one fifth did. Meanwhile, support for the position of the Russian Ministry of Defense has increased several-fold: whereas before the mutiny it was supported by only one tenth of the Russian population, after the mutiny this figure has already approached two-fifths of the public.
Although Russian public’s views on the war in Ukraine are complex and changing, there are currently no indications suggesting they pose any significant immediate threat to the political stability of the V. Putin’s regime. At present, public protest movements in Russia are not institutionalized, but rather isolated individual manifestations of protest (burning of mobilization points, emigration, avoidance of political processes and events, etc.). This, in turn, significantly reduces the possibility that such large-scale protest movements could emerge spontaneously, although such a scenario cannot be completely ruled out. Rather, any kind of public involvement in anti-regime activities would be linked to an elite group and new political leaders championed by them.
Overall, several vulnerabilities and shocks can be identified that could lead to a wider escalation of conflict in society. These include ethnic tensions, unpopular or ambiguous decisions or politically significant occurrences such as the announcement of a general mobilization or blatant irregularities in the conduct of the Russian presidential elections in 2024. Nonetheless, these events are not likely to lead to widespread unrest or instability in the Russian regime, but rather to cause only short-term disruptions.
Large-scale protests spearheaded by an elite group offering an alternative to Putin are also not very likely. The Russian public typically avoids engaging in conflicts between elite groups, instead acting as cautious outside observers, aligning with the victors. This was demonstrated by Prigozhin's military mutiny when the public refrained from getting involved in a conflict situation. The historical experience of Russian society shows that involvement in such situations of uncertainty and infighting between elite groups can be personally dangerous and most of the time does not lead to significant positive changes for the society itself. However, in the future, under certain circumstances, Russian society could play a key role in bringing about political change in Russia.