Ever since the Russian army invaded Ukraine, I am constantly asked: what do the Russian people think about the war? Do they support it? This is a deceptively difficult question to answer. Even before the war, when Russia was an authoritarian country with a small, marginalized independent press, it was hard to separate what people actually believed from the sanctioned talking points they would parrot from state-owned television. How many Russians, after all, would give their true and unvarnished opinion to a stranger from an official-sounding organization, calling out of the blue?
Of course, the job of the Russian pollster is that much harder now that Vladimir Putin has pushed the country into full totalitarian mode, shut down what was left of the independent media and criminalized any deviation from the official line on the war. Moreover, as I’ve noted before—and as a group of independent Russian sociologists recently documented—the majority of Russians do support the war, but only as they experience it in an informational blackout. It is not the same war that we in the West are seeing. Instead, they are told, it’s an easy, limited military operation to liberate the grateful Ukrainian people from Nazis, and with few casualties among the Russian military or the Ukrainian people.
I also wanted to understand what people outside my cohort—Russian journalists and creative types who fled en masse with the outbreak of the war—thought. They are all unanimously and loudly against the war, but I am well aware that they are not a representative sample. (As Peter Kafka noted when I joined his podcast, it would be like trying to determine the mood in America by surveying people in the West Village.)