A close examination of credible polling in the country suggests a clear desire for negotiations to end the conflict.

by David Cortright and Alexander Finiarel, Responsible Statecraft

Over the past year, as thousands of Russians have fled their country to avoid serving in the war, European countries have closed their borders and have cancelled or suspended visas for Russians seeking refuge. Rather than accepting war refusers as potential allies for peace, political leaders seem to hold them responsible for the war.

It is commonly assumed that Russian public opinion is in favor of Putin’s aggression, but a closer look at the most commonly cited survey and other polls on the question suggests that support for the war is soft, and that many Russians prefer negotiations to military action.

A demonstrator takes part in a single picket with banner

The Levada Center is the principal polling firm in Russia, an agency trusted by the Kremlin and relied upon by most Western observers. It releases a monthly report on the war based on an iterative survey of identical questions.

At first glance the results seem to confirm a pro-war stance. In the poll for March 2023, 72 percent of respondents say they support the military activities in Ukraine, a number that is consistent with earlier surveys. The number of “definitely” yes responses has declined slightly, but stands at 41 percent.

Consider the question being asked, however. “Do you support or oppose the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine”? The words “war” and “military force” are not mentioned, in line with Kremlin propaganda. The “actions” in question are not specified. The question obfuscates the reality of the war and projects a veiled meaning that could be understood as “do you support the troops?” Keep in mind that repressive laws adopted since the start of the invasion make “discrediting” the armed forces a criminal offense.

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