'Bursts of anxiety': Impact of Ukraine war on Russians laid bare in poll

'Bursts of anxiety': Impact of Ukraine war on Russians laid bare in poll

New research has highlighted Russians are increasingly feeling the pinch and seeing a more gloomy future due to fallout from the Ukraine invasion – but parts of the population apparently remain resolute.

The Open Minds Insitute (OMI), a research hub focused on disinformation and propaganda, found in a recent poll that around 80% of Russians were worried about their financial well-being.

This figure was a noticeable 30-point jump since the question was last asked in May.

In a statement sent to Euronews on Monday, OMI founder and CEO Sviatoslav Hnizdovskyi said the rise "might indicate a trend where refrigerator reality beats TV propaganda, potentially leading to increased dissatisfaction among the Russian population if it continues.

"Handling an angry and hungry crowd could be tougher than dealing with a small group of protesters who oppose the government's actions on moral grounds," he wrote, "just as it was in [the Russian Revolution of] 1917, when lack of bread and other food shortages, combined with failures at the frontlines, played one of the critical roles in social unrest."

AP/1917 AP
A scene of the Russian Revolution in an undated photo. - AP/1917 AP

Only half of those surveyed by OMI "believe that the average citizen has all the means to live a good life in Russia," he added.

However, researchers at the institute – which works in partnership with five universities from the US and UK – noted that Russians' views of their daily challenges and the future were influenced by their wider political beliefs.

The research split the Russian population into four distinct groups based on their attitudes towards the status quo: Hawks, Loyalists, Moderates and Liberals.

Exactly 84% of respondents wanted to stay in Russia, but 53% of what it called "Liberals" wished to move abroad.

Just over three-quarters of this latter group, who opposed the ruling regime, were worried about potential restrictions on leaving the country, it added.

"Pro-war Russians are mainly satisfied with their life despite the existing problems," the researchers reported.

However, "bursts of anxiety" have started emerging among what it described as "Loyalists" – those who generally agree with the objectives of government, but can question its means.

Media reports suggest the number of Russians who have fled the country since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine could run into the hundreds of thousands, though precise figures are hard to come by.

Euronews in June spoke to Russian emigres in Europe. One interviewee from St. Petersburg who had protested against the war back home said he fled because of intense repression.

The OMI study, which interviewed more than 1,000 people inside Russia, also produced some results that went against lines of argument made by observers in the West.

Sanctions applied after Russia invaded Ukraine don't seem to be having a meaningful impact, bar some issues downloading apps and making payments via Visa and MasterCard, Dr Jade McGlynn, who works with the OMI, told Euronews in an email.

Meanwhile, despite the ruble's plummeting value, only 45% of respondents expressed any concern about the devaluation of their currency, she explained.

The effect of Western sanctions slapped on Russia is hotly debated. Its economy has shown some resilience and is expected to grow in 2023 – unlike some other major European economies, including Germany.

Still, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in August sanctions needed time to work.

A Euronews report that same month found there were many blindspots, loopholes and cracks in the West's sanctions regime that allowed Moscow to rake in billions.

Understanding to what extent Russians truly support the war is difficult.

The Kremlin fiercely represses anti-war dissent.

Critics of the “special operation”, as it is known inside the country, have been subjected to hefty fines, arrests and outright violence, with one Russian father detained for his daughter’s supposed anti-war drawings at school.

Elena Koneva, a researcher at Russia's opinion-polling company ExtremeScan, in May cited polls showing a 50/50 split between those backing the war and those against it.

Other surveys reveal as much as two-thirds of the population support it.

On its website, the OMI notes it is "aware of the possible limitations imposed by the current political regime in Russia and a tense societal atmosphere that may influence the accuracy and reliability of poll results."

However, it claimed the survey was a "reliable source of information" because participation was voluntary and conducted online, meaning respondents feel "safer".

In his written comment, OMI founder Hnizdovskyi said it also corroborates polls with "extensive analysis of social media data", involving scrutiny of 900 Russian websites, forums, and prominent social media platforms, besides reviews of more than 140,000 comments.

Russia spends billions each year on propaganda, greatly intensifying the conflict by shaping the perspectives of Russian society and even reaching audiences in other countries, according to OMI.