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Russian Public Accepts Putin's Spin on Ukraine Conflict

RESEARCH Public Opinion Survey by Dina Smeltz , Emily Sullivan , Lily Wojtowicz , Denis Volkov , and Stepan Goncharov
Russian public celebrating after Putin speech in Feb, waving Russian flags.

A new Chicago Council-Levada poll reveals the Russian public appears to be buying Putin's explanation for "military operation" in Ukraine.

While the whole world seems to be watching the Russian "special military operation" in Ukraine, a new joint survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Levada Center conducted March 24–30 shows that most people living in Russia are not following these events closely. Nevertheless, a majority of Russians say they support their country’s military action—with just over half strongly backing it. For the most part, Russians think these actions are being taken to protect and defend fellow Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine, to protect Russia itself, or to "denazify" Ukraine—storylines that have been amplified by the Russian government’s media apparatus. But as the conflict drags on, it may become more difficult to sustain this support, especially as the casualty rates are uncovered and the economic repercussions of the Western sanctions begin to more seriously affect Russian households.

Key Findings

  • A majority of Russians strongly (53%) or somewhat (28%) support their country’s military operation in Ukraine.
  • Few who support the military action believe it is motivated by Russia’s desire to annex Ukraine and/or the Donbas region.
  • Those who rely on internet sites, social media, or family/friends for information are roughly 15 percentage points less likely to strongly support the military operation than those who get their news from television, radio, or newspapers.
  • While there have been significant protests in Russia against the military action, most Russians are not closely following them.

Because of the Russian government restrictions on the use of certain terms to describe the Russian military action in Ukraine, the joint survey used either "military operation" or "military action" in these questions. To be true to the results, we use that language throughout this report.

President Putin has repeatedly claimed "denazification" as a motive behind the military operation in Ukraine. He has compared Ukrainian elected officials to the Nazi regime, claiming that they oppress, and are even committing genocide against, the ethnic Russian population in Ukraine. This survey used the terms “denazify” and “denazification” because they are prevalent in Russian government and media discourse surrounding the operation in Ukraine.

About the Authors
Senior Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Dina Smeltz, a polling expert, has more than 25 years of experience designing and fielding international social and political surveys. Prior to joining the Council to lead its annual survey of American attitudes on US foreign policy, she served in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department's Office of Research from 1992 to 2008.
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Emily Sullivan
Former Research Assistant, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Headshot for Emily Sullivan
Emily Sullivan joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2021 and was a research assistant on the Public Opinion team.
Headshot for Emily Sullivan
Janne E. Nolan Nuclear Security Fellow, Truman Center
Headshot photo of Lily Wojtowicz
Lily Wojtowicz is the Janne E. Nolan Fellow for Nuclear Security and a PhD student at American University. Her research interests are nuclear deterrence, alliance management, Russian public opinion, and US-Russian relations.
Headshot photo of Lily Wojtowicz
Denis Volkov
Director of the Levada Analytical Center
Deputy Director of the Levada Analytical Center
Stepan Goncharov
Sociologist, Levada Analytical Center
Stepan Goncharov
Stepan Goncharov is a senior research fellow at the Levada Center. Goncharov’s field of expertise and research interests include public opinion on international relations, use of media, and modern social processes in Russia. He is a regular contributor for (Riddle), an online-journal on Russian affairs. Gonhcarov holds a Specialist degree in Political Science from Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU) and has broad experience in qualitative studies.
Stepan Goncharov