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#18. Chronicles of the resistance: what we know about war opponents in Russia

Post-release #18, May 7, 2023 - The article in Novaya Gazeta, Europe

Elena Koneva


The war has been politicising even the neutral part of Russia’s population. It becomes harder and harder to explain away not having a political stance with the usual “I’m not interested in politics”. External factors — the ongoing “military operation”, emerging public debate, communication in reference groups — demand everyone define where they stand. Society has reached the dichotomy between the party of war and the party of peace, the divide has already happened, and the distance between the two sides keeps growing.

A person’s stance on the war is likely to foretell how they will respond to most questions. The war is the main focus of the research conducted by the Chronicles project which is why the main questions in the poll were “military”-themed. Based on them, one can see the polarisation of the opinions especially clearly.

Source: the Chronicles project, ninth wave, February 2023
Source: the Chronicles project, ninth wave, February 2023

During the entire research, around a third of respondents (31%) found it difficult or refused to answer a direct question about supporting the war, which seems like an unusually high percentage when it comes to the defining issue in the country. The highest number of those who evaded answering directly (36%) were polled on 29-30 September 2022, that is, immediately in the aftermath of the “partial” mobilisation announcement.

Source: the Chronicles project
Source: the Chronicles project

Around 10-13% of respondents answered “I do not support the war” when asked over the past year. The data shows that this figure is actually 2-2.5 times higher when you add those who respond with “I don’t want to answer this question” due to safety concerns (12-17% of respondents). The response “I find it difficult to answer” came from 15-19% of respondents. The analysis of the answers to additional questions gives us grounds to assert that the percentage of people opposing the war in Russia is 30%.

Who are the ‘undecided’?

The undecided are respondents who found it difficult or refused to answer a direct question on their support of the “special military operation”.

This category should be analysed as a phenomenon unique to surveys conducted during wartime — the high percentage of those who found it difficult to answer and those who refused to do so is basically one of a kind.

These responses became a haven for those opposing the war, those who support the war but are anxious about the situation, and those who really do not have an opinion on difficult issues. The last category responded with non-answers to most questions, even some non-sensitive ones. They do not care as much as those who oppose the war and thus do not worry about their answers.

There are three subgroups among the “silent” ones: those who are inclined to support the war, those who are inclined to oppose it, and those who are, in fact, undecided. According to Chronicles, for the most part, the answers of the undecided are closer to the answers of respondents who oppose the war. When it comes to projected questions (indirect questions that require an answer as if from another person’s POV — editor’s note) their answers are usually “milder” than those of war opponents.

Source: the Chronicles project, February 2023
Source: the Chronicles project, February 2023

Demographic shifts also confirm our model: the share of younger people is significantly higher among the undecided. Over the entire polling period, the 18-29 age bracket group had the highest percentage of those directly opposing the war as well as of those who found it difficult or refused to answer the question — 42-52%.

The undecided are a resource that could increase the number of those openly opposing the war. But the overall inertia, the habit of adapting to circumstances, the lack of critical thinking, and psychological defences built to deny the reality one lives in are the reasons why the process of realisation has been slow-going.

What we know about people opposing the war

War opponents were the most difficult section of people to study and analyse, so our researchers used different sources.

The group opposing the war was described in detail by researchers from the Public Sociology Laboratory. Our colleagues’ conclusions confirmed the structure of the opinions collected in quantitative surveys. This helped us explain the complexity of war opponents as a group.

People who oppose the war have very conflicting views on various aspects of the war. There’s anger towards the government that started it, empathy towards Ukrainians and shame, despair because of their inability to stop the war — these views belong to the most radical part of the group. People who oppose the war are motivated by different things: some do not accept the war in general, some are afraid of losses and mobilisation, there’s also the negative economic impact.

Dislike of mobilisation might be the most universal opinion these people share —

73% of people who openly oppose the war and about 90% of all opponents, including the “silent” ones, do not support mobilisation, while 83% are not ready to take part in hostilities.

The same can be observed with responses to the question on whether they would support Putin’s decision to withdraw troops from Ukraine. Around 80% of respondents from the group want to put a stop to the war. Furthermore, 82% of war opponents (compared to 34% of war supporters) are sympathetic towards citizens who evade military service.

The majority of these people find it difficult to formulate or openly state their stance on issues important to them and the public. Nevertheless, their answers to less sensitive questions allow us to assign them to either the party of war or the party of peace.

It’s important to note that many of the people who oppose the war are young. The group that opposes the war the most are young women. They are also the most “silent” ones — about half of them refuse or find it difficult to respond when asked whether they support the war. But we can draw conclusions from their first spontaneous reactions to the war.

In the Afina survey, conducted in the first days of the war (28 February — 1 March), before the “fake news” law and the fear mongering, the percentage of women in the 18-24 age bracket who openly opposed the “special military operation” was 47%. Since then, young women have partially become more “silent” but they are still the group that is the most unaccepting of the war.

Source: the Afina project, the Chronicles project
Source: the Afina project, the Chronicles project

Having a college degree, in general, does not have an impact on one’s stance on the war. But a young woman with a degree is more likely to be against the war than an elderly man with a high school diploma. Men over 50 usually support the war, mobilisation (that they are no longer subject to), and “victory”.

Here are another three factors that help us predict a person’s views on the war:

  1. Employees of state-owned companies support the war to a larger extent than those involved in the private sector.

  2. Independent media are a big contributing factor to people rejecting the war. One’s use of VPN correlates with their anti-war stance and is a clear sign of someone being unwilling to accept the official propaganda.

  3. The consequences of war — job loss, income loss, fights with relatives — help people have a more sober-minded view of the war.

Source: the Chronicles project, ninth wave, February 2023
Source: the Chronicles project, ninth wave, February 2023
The cost of being anti-war

The group opposing the war has been in a dire moral state for the past year. Unlike the people who support the war, they don’t feel like they can have an impact on their own lives; their principal emotions are anger, shame, disappointment, exhaustion (61% compared to 26% when it comes to war supporters), growing anxiety (from 53% in spring 2022 to 76% in February 2023), and apathy.

These people live in isolation and lack the information they require — 44% of war opponents have lost Internet resources important to them, while only 9% of war supporters share the same concern.

Since the start of the war, over 40% of people opposing the war have been going through conflicts with their loved ones. Those who oppose the war expect their loved ones and people from their inner circle to reject the war, too. When they encounter pro-government rhetoric or the “it’s not so simple” stance in people, they continue defending their position despite the risks. Over 40% of those who oppose the war end relationships over this issue.

Relationships are broken not only because of the fights but also because some people flee Russia: by the end of March 2022, a third of those opposing the war had people in their circle who had left Russia (though this includes people who left not only after the war).

According to the estimates of different demographers, around a million of Russians have left the country over the two migration waves. Since the start of the war, half of those who don’t agree with the government talk about wanting to leave.

Furthermore, there are also those who came back — it turned out no one was waiting for them abroad, adapting turned out to be difficult or even impossible, and additionally the three-month authorised stay came to an end in some countries. It’s hard to even imagine the feelings of people who were pressured to leave their country, who had to leave their families, and then were so frustrated in a foreign environment that they had to come back.

Last summer, 75% of war opponents thought that one should be allowed to be critical of the “special military operation” in the country. But they cannot, in fact, express their opinion: 60% in May 2022 and 73% in July 2022 felt it was dangerous to publicly speak out against the war, and they were right. The government responds with brutal repression to even indirect and non-public criticisms. Meanwhile, 58% of war supporters approve of today’s criminal persecution of citizens who publicly condemned the “special military operation”.

Since then, the Russian authorities managed to become even more successful in fear mongering those who disagree with the party line by increasing censorship, introducing more repressions, and demonstratively jailing those who oppose them.

For 73% of war opponents, it feels as if there are fewer and fewer channels and formats of self-expression, group support, and ways to self-identify. People who oppose the war are more demanding in their communication and emotionally unstable, which leads to additional difficulties when socially adapting in times of crisis.

According to their own assessments, the financial situation of people in this group worsened significantly more than that of war supporters: 72% against 35%. They are being massively fired for not being loyal, especially when it comes to professions with a public aspect to them. Teachers and professors are being persecuted.

Denunciations have become a daily routine. Ideologisation of social life, culture, and education impacts primarily those who do not fit the criteria of the aforementioned ideology. The closing of the borders, the difficulties with getting visas, and the suspension of flights isolates primarily this group from the world, while 77% of them considers Russia’s partnership with the West important.

Those who can have left or are about to leave. Our research is mostly limited to those who continue to live among the propaganda, the loud majority, and repressions.

The new amendments to the military service law puts an end to people opposing the war having rights. Yes, the law applies to men, but it will have an impact on all other family members, too.

People opposing the war don’t have support, excluding internal resources and kindred spirits. Their environment ranges from neutral to negative. Even “their people”, who left Russia, sometimes talk about those who remained as if they had betrayed the main belief.

People who oppose the war have lost their future and find themselves in an existential dead-end.


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