Russia-Ukraine War: Public Perceptions and Sentiment in Russia
As the Russia-Ukraine war continues, Russian public sentiment remains unclear.
Independent survey research organizations recently found that 58% of Russians support the invasion and 23% oppose it. According to polling experts, this represents relatively modest early support compared to past incursions, like the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Unsurprisingly, state-controlled polls tell a different story. The pollster WCIOM found 71% of respondents support Russia’s so-called military operation, while FOM showed support from 65% of respondents.
However, polling is an unreliable way to assess public sentiment during war. Polls may fail to capture the nuances of an individual’s stance. Results are also influenced by heightened emotional states, and poll questions can be intentionally worded to manipulate responses.
Russia’s tight control on information—which now criminalizes the spread of non-official narratives—also means that citizens may adjust their answers to avoid repression and punishment. Persistent anti-war demonstrations in Russia represent a small proportion of the country’s population, but likely represent a larger group of silent opposition.
Russia has censored some major social media networks and Western news sources, and non-state media outlets have either closed or paused operations. And since most Russians get their news from state-controlled media, much of the population likely views the conflict very differently from the West.
According to various Western news outlets, Russian official messaging includes:
- Terms like “special military operation,” “military action,” or “peacekeeping mission,” rather than “war”
- Intentions to liberate Ukrainians by demilitarizing and denazifying the country, as well as end discrimination towards Russian-speaking people in the Donbas
- A lack of information showing the destruction of cities, casualties, heavy weaponry, civilian evacuations, or Russian losses
- Human rights abuses by Ukrainians, including stories that the Ukrainian military is targeting civilians and using them as human shields
- Accusations that the US and NATO members are responsible for the conflict, and that Russia is simply addressing the growing threat of militarization
What’s the impact?
Understanding Russian public sentiment is valuable for several reasons. At scale, a lack of support for the Russian invasion could damage morale for Russian forces and minimize Putin’s popularity. This could influence the war’s trajectory and the fate of Russia’s leadership.
Assessing Russian sentiment can also help Ukraine’s allies assess sanction impacts. Economic sanctions imposed on Russia have significantly changed daily life for citizens. Declining consumer confidence and increased poverty will likely change public sentiment towards the war in the coming weeks and months.
Obtaining a more accurate picture of Russian attitudes also supports intelligence efforts to assess Russia’s strategic position and helps governments develop counter-information strategies.
A word cloud representing VK and OK.ru posts (popular Russian networks) using the hashtag #standwithukraine—created by the Echosec Systems Platform
How Can OSINT Help?
We know that polls offer a limited picture of Russian public sentiment. But public information sources like social media can provide more candid user opinions unconstrained by polling formats and social desirability bias. This open-source intelligence (OSINT) provides a more nuanced and comprehensive view of public perception.
Even though Facebook and Instagram are currently blocked in Russia, VPN-savvy citizens may still be using Western networks. Other social media sources that are still online in Russia, like YouTube, are also valuable for sentiment monitoring. Specialized OSINT tools can support Russian sentiment analysis by:
- Providing access to relevant regional networks (like VK and OK.ru), as well as hard-to-access sites that Russians may use to avoid censorship and repression—like the dark web
- Generating analytics to visualize emerging sentiment trends. This is often aided by machine learning models, which support analysts by evaluating text for different sentiment categories.
- Identifying and predicting Russian state narratives.
To learn more about OSINT and the use of OSINT tools in the Russia-Ukraine war, contact us today.