Attacks on Russian territory
Other events in May could also have convinced people that the conflict was dragging on and needed to be continued: attempts by Ukrainian sabotage groups to penetrate Russian territory, the barrage
against Belgorod and Shebekino, the bombing
of Zakhar Prilepin’s car, who is much more known than Vladlen Tatarsky, who had died earlier, drone attacks
on Moscow and other Russian cities.
Individually, no such event greatly affects public sentiment. Thus, during one of the last focus groups with young Muscovites, the participants very briefly expressed only general concern about the latest drone attack and quickly moved on to discussing everyday problems. The prevailing attitude was that “it is unfortunate” but “does not directly affect us.” “We are alive – and thank God!” Someone even saw this as a “provocation by the Russian side,” because “the Ukrainians agreed with Europe not to hit Russian territory,” though this version did not turn out popular.
Slightly more concern was expressed by older people: in mid-May, one of the focus groups recalled the drone attack on the Kremlin in the context of a conversation about anxiety and general uncertainty. As one participant said, “if they can get to Putin,” what can we, mere mortals, expect. Older people are generally more attentive
to such events and are thus somewhat more likely to project the risks onto themselves. Still, there were no particular emotions this time either: they talked, complained about “a gap in our defense,” remembered how “at one time a Cessna landed on Red Square” – in other words, this had all happened before – and moved on to discussing other events.
However, taken together, such events gradually blend into a disturbing backdrop, creating a feeling of suspense, uncertainty about the future, and fear. This anxiety remains diffuse, unfocused, often unspoken and not reflected on – positive moods still prevail
. Anxious moods seem typical, first and foremost, for the most well-informed Russians. As they say, the less you know, the better you sleep.
The companion of this anxiety is gradually increasing bitterness, which spills over into focus groups: “why are we pulling our punches with them (Ukrainians, Europeans, Americans);” “we’re still messing around with them;” “it’s time to bang.” Thus, the lobby for a “decisive response” to the enemy is finding new supporters.The question of stability
It is important to understand that socio-economic stability is the fundamental condition that has allowed Russian society to adapt to the vicissitudes of the last year and a half. The insensitivity of public opinion to bad news, as well as the high levels of support for the regime and the military, is due not to our national character, but to the fact that huge resources have been devoted to maintaining public calm.
As noted previously
, the rapid adjustment after the shock from sanctions, the stabilization of the banking system and the dampening of inflation prevented the most dire scenarios from materializing in 2022. For many Russians living outside big cities, the indexation of pensions, salaries of state employees and social benefits was a big boost, as were the generous – by the standards of average Russians – payments to soldiers fighting in the “special operation” and their families, coupled with bonuses paid by regions and additional social guarantees.
All these measures are reflected in public sentiment and recorded in our polls. The most revealing are the assessments
of the current financial situation of families. After a dip in March last year amid the inflationary shock, as early as in April-May, assessments recovered, and in the second half of the year they began to rise. Note that the improvement is primarily due to a shrinking number of people who had previously reported a worsening situation. In other words, we did not get richer, but at least we did not get poorer. The feeling of socio-economic stability, together with the ability to maintain a more or less familiar way of life, has so far allowed the majority of Russians to cope with the anxieties.
In addition, having burned themselves last fall on the announcement of the partial mobilization, which plunged society into a state of tremendous stress
, today the authorities are trying with all their might to avoid a repetition of what happened. Instead of a new mobilization wave, a massive campaign to recruit contract soldiers
has been announced. The abundance of recruiting posters, leaflets and advertisements on social media, the presence of volunteer recruitment stands in shopping centers, and the ubiquitous number 117 (the short number of the Ministry of Defense hotline) are already irritating our respondents. However, it’s better than when they are being rounded up at work based on a list or near the metro. While someone else is fighting for you, you can turn a blind eye to many things.
The further path of public sentiment and the readiness to continue adapting to the realities of a protracted military conflict will directly depend on the ability of the authorities to maintain socio-economic stability and avoid direct involvement of ever larger segments of the population in the conflict for as long as possible. Otherwise, the hitherto unfocused anxiety and anxiety, latent in many Russians, may crystallize and find a way out at the most inopportune moment for the regime.