Putin’s Support Strong in Russia Amid Ukraine War: Poll | World Report
March findings by The Levada Center, an independent, nongovernmental Russian polling organization, show that Putin’s approval percentage actually rose from 71% last month to 83%. Approval of the Russian government as a whole increased 15 percentage points from February to March.
A strong majority of respondents – 69% – also believe that Russia is moving in the right direction, after just over 50% believed so in February. About a fifth of those surveyed say that the country is on the wrong path. The poll from the center – widely considered among the only credible pollsters operating in Russia and which years ago was included in the country’s register of noncommercial organizations acting as foreign agents – reached 1,632 Russian adults over a weeklong span in late March.
The results are significant, coming a day after a top U.S. military official cited public support as the key reason Putin felt emboldened to initiate hostilities against Ukraine. Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command, told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday morning that a number of factors contributed to Putin’s thinking.
“But the overriding variable, in my view,” Wolters added, “is the fact he believes that he has popular support of his citizens.”
With tight control over the media, Putin’s government has largely been able to control the narrative of the war, blaming Western aggression while concealing the mounting losses by Russia amid the war with its neighboring former Soviet state. A Russian military official revealed last week that more than 1,300 of the country’s troops have been killed in Ukraine, while NATO estimated most recently that the number could be anywhere between 7,000 and 15,000.
Western defense officials have repeatedly noted that Russia’s forces in Ukraine are struggling on the ground, with low food and fuel supplies and morale issues, which has led to an increasing bombardment of Ukrainian cities from the air. Indeed, both Pentagon and British defense ministry officials said recently that Russia is orchestrating a repositioning in Ukraine while being willing to escalate violence in other ways to cover for their temporary setbacks.
“We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told reporters on Wednesday. “So it is increasingly clear that Putin’s war has been a strategic blunder that has left Russia weaker over the long term and increasingly isolated on the world stage.”
The results also come as the Russian economy lurches from the effect of Western sanctions, that sent the ruble plunging and consumers scrambling before largely stabilizing at prewar levels in recent days. However, a separate Levada poll this week indicated that retail investors in the country have a very dim view of the economic situation going forward, with those who expect their finances to improve this year plunging from 44% in October to 13% this month.
In addition, thousands of demonstrators have been arrested and charged in political protests since the war began, testing the bounds of draconian new laws meant to limit the expression of dissent. The highly visible demonstrations come even as Levada noted in a separate poll this month that Russians have a dim view of demonstrations, with less than 30% believing that political or economical protests have any effect and even fewer – less than 25% in each category – willing to participate.
And yet in spite of the unprecedented sanctions, staggering military losses and global isolation, The Levada Center’s latest survey shows that Putin’s citizens appear to be rallying behind him. Previous polling by center – released before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 – found that a majority of those surveyed were rather afraid or constantly afraid of world war, while only 29% said they were not afraid at all. But Putin, who in the past has turned to overseas engagements to bolster flagging support at home, may be benefiting from the nationalist fervor that generally accompanies a foreign conflict – likely a part of his calculus.