Even as Moscow sends columns of tanks, artillery, air-defense systems and combat troops into the eastern Ukraine for a possible winter offensive, the Russian public’s support for the war could be quite low.
A recent survey by the Levada Center, considered the most important independent pollster in Russia, offers compelling evidence that enthusiasm for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is waning—or was never very high in the first place.
According to the survey, 68 percent of Russians polled “do not want their sons to fight” in southeastern Ukraine on the side of pro-Moscow militants. Only one in seven—13 percent—would support their sons doing so.
The poll also indicates that Russians are skeptical of the Kremlin’s official story regarding the involvement of Russian forces in Ukraine. Just 13 percent of Russians accept the government’s claim that no Russian forces are fighting there.
The survey took place between Oct. 24 and Oct. 27 and contacted 1,600 people ages 18 and older in 134 localities throughout the Russian Federation. Levada Center estimates statistical error as 3.4 percent.
Levada Center is an independent, non-governmental polling and sociological research organization named after its founder Yuri Levada, the first Russian professor of sociology.
By contrast, support for Russian annexation of Crimea remains strong. Fifty-five percent of Russians polled said they approve.
In large numbers, those who approve of the Russian takeover of Crimea say “it is Russian land” and believe Russia annexed Crimea without force.
“People consider the unification of Crimea the result of a free referendum without military interference,” Aleksey Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Center, said in a written statement. “The situation in Ukraine’s southeast is different, and Russians do not consider that Russian military units are required to interfere in this conflict.”
In addition, many Russians don’t want to see Russian units involved or their involvement investigated—because it might undermine the nation’s reputation.
So far, there is no word on the Kremlin’s reaction, if any, to the poll.
Putin’s polling numbers remain sky-high. One recent Levada Center poll indicated his approval rating with the Russian people is 88 percent—and his numbers steadily increased during the last six months of the Ukraine crisis.
However, the Levada Center has proved a political irritant to Putin, rousing him to action last year in an effort to shut down the independent pollster.
In May 2013, Moscow prosecutors threatened the center with closure, accusing the organization of violating Putin’s law on foreign agents and agencies receiving financial support from foreign nations.
Last year, Levada Center received $770,000 in grants from American organizations such as the MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Both the National Endowment for Democracy and University of Massachusetts partner with the center to conduct sociological research and polling in Russia.