Why Russians Support The War Against Ukraine

Sources of information
Many supporters of the war trust Russian propaganda and receive information from official Russian sources, mainly television. But not all. Some of them actively use YouTube and Telegram, subscribe to many channels and check, among other things, Ukrainian media and Russian opposition news. For some supporters of the war – or those who are dissatisfied with what is happening, but declare their support for the “special operation” – it’s an overabundance of information that becomes a problem rather than a lack of it.

“We all understand that, one way or another, we are victims of various propaganda,” one student from Tyumen told us.

An analyst, 34, said: “I have a set of pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian [Telegram] channels. I try to differentiate between their agendas. I can’t say that the Ukrainian [channels] are particularly objective. I don’t really see a difference between what pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian channels show me.”

People who use Russian television as their main source of information, polls show, tend to trust this information, to support the “special operation” and to be older than those who actively use the internet. But this does not mean that all supporters of the war are consumers of state propaganda. Active users of YouTube and Telegram in Russia may escape the attention of polling campaigns due to their smaller number, but they, to a greater extent than TV viewers, participate in pro-war discussions, including online, where they help set the tone.

Some advocates of war, not surprisingly, refuse to call the war a war. Others, however, criticise the use of the term “special operation” as an unnecessary euphemism. A 46-year-old entrepreneur from Yoshkar-Ola told us: “The conduct of military operations and the use of weapons is definitely war. You can hide anything under the term ‘special operation’. This is war. And there is no need to somehow veil it.”

So what?
Our findings suggest that people can be “against the war” but in support of the “special operation” at the same time, and their answers can change depending on the political context, the media environment, and even the circumstances of the conversation.

But among Russian supporters of the war there are people whose perception of current events stems from long reflections on history and geopolitics, from views and sympathies formed over time. This type of support is much less amenable to change. Thus, we can say that the attitude of Russians towards the regime develops under the influence of state propaganda in general.

Our hypothesis – and one that we plan to test in the future – is that people’s perceptions of the war are changing significantly as the conflict draws on. We have not observed that people’s initial support for the war was replaced by rejecting it – supporters of the war continue to find justifications for Russian military actions. But in recent interviews, we rarely encounter unconditional support for what is happening.

Instead, more often we observe someone’s willingness to admit doubt or complain about a lack of understanding of the causes of the conflict. Whether this may at some point lead to a withdrawal of support is not yet clear.

Russia is in a strange moment. As people who are against the war, we must take people who support it – or who are designated as such – seriously. This does not mean we should share their faith or delusions about the war, but view them as real people, fellow citizens with whom we have to conduct a serious dialogue. Only in this way – and not by marginalising these people as crazy fanatics – can one succeed in communicating a different point of view to them. Dialogue with supporters of the war, which is necessary for campaigning against the war, must account for the diversity of Russian people’s support for the war, their likes and dislikes. After all, they will require an equally diverse set of persuasion strategies.

Interviews were collected by Public Sociology Laboratory, Irina Kozlova and volunteers Irina Antoshchuk, Serafima Butakova, Kira Evseenko, Darya Zykova, Nadezhda Kokoeva, Alexander Makarov, Anna Shabanova.

16 April: This article’s headline was changed to correct inaccurate information.