This is not only Alexei Navalny, interest in whom began to decline
shortly after his arrest, but also, for example, the young Saratov communist Nikolai Bondarenko, who had for some time gained nationwide prominence for his sharp criticism of local and federal authorities. In addition, the former governor of Khabarovsk Region and the symbol of the 2020 mass protests in the Far East, Sergei Furgal, who recently was given a long prison sentence, has finally disappeared from the radar. For ordinary Russians, political protest does not look attractive
today – it comes with big risks and, most importantly, it seems pointless.Polarization increasing
Despite the recorded consolidation and falling popularity of opposition politicians, roughly 20-25% of Russians persistently do not support
the country’s leadership and Russia’s actions in Ukraine
. This is mostly residents of the biggest cities, the younger and Westernized part of Russian society. In addition, the most economically and socially disadvantaged segments of the population represent a special group of discontent citizens. Meanwhile, the antagonism between dissenters, on the one hand, and the authorities and the majority of the population, on the other, has risen significantly over the past year. Dissenters typically give the most pessimistic assessments of the current situation and most often say that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Whereas the bulk of the population demonstrates optimism and confidence, dissenters report increased pressure from the authorities, a growing sense of unfreedom and uncertainty about the future.
The reports about increased pressure on dissenters from the majority seem fair. It manifests itself, for example, in a fairly common attitude toward people who have gone abroad as traitors
(although not everyone thinks so, even among supporters of the authorities), in a suspicious attitude
toward critics of the leadership, in a shifting attitude
toward the foreign agents law – against the backdrop of escalating tensions with the West, the number of people who see the point of the law in limiting the negative influence of the West has risen – and in a high level of support
for the law on fakes about the Russian army.
The increasing pressure on dissenters from both the authorities and a significant part of Russian society, along with the general rise in their emotional discomfort and alienation, played a big part in the mass flight of urban, savvy, financially secure and mobile Russians. The authorities still cannot decide how they feel about people who left: to “calm down and embrace
“ them so they come back and continue to work for the Russian economy, or to forever stigmatize them as traitors and make an example of them and seize their property
in order to please the most conservative segments of the population and score extra political points.
Polarization is also reflected by people’s choices about where to get information. At the very beginning of the “special operation,” there was a surge of trust
in official sources and rising distrust toward the internet and social networks. Our respondents told us: “Now people should only be looking at verified information.” However, such attitudes were mostly characteristic of the older generation and supporters of the regime. Young people and critically thinking citizens continued to use online sources. Moreover, last year the use of Telegram channels jumped
from 6-7% of respondents at the beginning of the year to 18-20% at the end, with most of the growth coming in the spring – amid the blocking of foreign social networks and as Telegram as a platform was harnessed by both independent and official journalists and commentators. Still, YouTube remains the main source of alternative information and commentary (for the mass consumer, video is preferable to text), as the service continues to function without restrictions. In short, the internet and TV audiences have diverged even more over the last year.
The picture of public sentiment outlined above reveals a more complex situation than if one were to simply judge by the high ratings of the authorities and superficial indicators of support for the “special operation.” As public opinion has consolidated and people have rallied around the country’s leadership, polarization and pressure on dissenters, as well as younger and Westernized city dwellers, have intensified. That pressure comes from both the authorities and the majority. All this means that the conflicts within Russian society have not been resolved, only obscured. As society gets used to the new situation, these conflicts look set to make themselves felt with renewed vigor.