And they are found not only in “deep Russia.”Not Putinists and not liberals
If we discard the outward supporters of the war who are obedient to the authorities and the few opponents of the war, what remains is the core of support for the war, which amounts to
30-35% and has barely decreased over time. Sociologist Yelena Koneva calls them “committed supporters of the war.”
The word “patriot” can be used in relation to them without quotation marks. They believe in the great-power myths. They help Putin put his words into action. It is this group of Russians who supply contract soldiers and volunteers to the army. They collect
money and buy ammunition for the military. They read reports from the front lines every day on jingoistic Telegram channels.
“We must go through this test with dignity...Socks, underpants, camouflage, money for the needs of the guys, this is all OUR WAR!!!,” writes
a female organizer of donations on a social network. And the funds come in.
When the Putin regime attacked Ukraine, these people felt that this was their war. Even though for many of them, Putin had never been a leader, or even respected.
A phenomenon that can be called illiberal opposition to the regime has existed in Russia since the country emerged. It never had adequate political representation. But it always found a way to express itself.
For example, through Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party. The LDPR was created back in Soviet times under the auspices of the KGB. In the 1993 elections to the Duma, with its demagoguery around violence, xenophobia and sovereignty, the party gained 23% of the vote and since then has served the authorities as a useful lightning rod, collecting votes from illiberal opponents of the government.
Zhirinovsky (1946-2022) was a hired puppet of the Russian authorities. But studies
of the LDPR electorate conducted 10-12 years ago, before the first Russian invasion of Ukraine, showed that in terms of hostility to the Putin regime, LDPR voters were far ahead of those of any other illiberal party. Including those of the KPRF, supposedly the main “systemic opposition” force.
Before the Russia-Ukraine wars, LDPR supporters were the youngest among all “systemic parties” (66% under 45 years old) and the most male (68% are men) with quite similar levels of education, income and social status compared with the electorate of the ruling United Russia party. These people were not marginals at all. And not just from “deep Russia,” though the share of LDPR supporters in medium-sized cities is higher. The idea
that political parties were not needed, but rather leaders who directly go to the people was very popular with this group. The circle of people who think like this was much wider than just LDPR voters. In their eyes, the cynical and hypocritical Zhirinovsky looked like only a surrogate vozhd
. They were looking for their real self.Forgotten experienceThis role was briefly played by the former governor of Khabarovsk Region, Sergei Furgal, who became a national figure after, apparently on Putin’s orders, he was arrested and removed from office in 2020.Furgal, an unremarkable LDPR functionary and shady businessman, unexpectedly won the gubernatorial elections in 2018, riding a wave of hatred toward the candidate officially backed by Putin. But then Furgal made the mistake of behaving as a conscientious leader of the region, responsible to voters and at the same time independent from the regime. His removal caused widespread unrest that lasted several weeks. The democratic spirit of these protests evoked sympathy among many Russians.Putin’s justice system accused Furgal of murders allegedly committed in the early 2000s, motivated by commercial interests. The trial, which ended with a sentence of 22 years in prison, was clearly unfair. But it is characteristic that Furgal’s backers refused on principle to discuss his past, though his previous involvement in criminalized business was well known.