Russian Public Appears to Be Souring on War Casualties, Analysis Shows
Why it matters: Putin needs public support.
At the start of the war, some US officials predicted that public support for Russian President Vladimir V. Putin would fade as the war dragged on and economic sanctions deepened, possibly ending the conflict. will be pressed for. But it didn’t happen. Support for the war in Russia is strong. It started to dip a bit in early March, only to rebound around the country May 9 Victory Day Celebration as analyzed by Filter Labs.
Still, U.S. officials say that while Russian public opinion is difficult to accurately track, they also believe that support has begun to crack in recent months.
Background: How to measure public opinion.
Polls in Russia, or any other authoritarian country, are an imprecise measure of opinion because respondents will often tell pollsters what they think the government wants to hear. Pollsters often ask indirect questions in an attempt to elicit more honest responses, but these are difficult to gauge accurately.
FilterLabs tries to address this shortcoming by constantly collecting data from small local internet forums, social media companies and messaging apps to determine public sentiment. FilterLabs chief executive Jonathan Teubner said it also seeks platforms where Russians can feel free to express honest opinions.
FilterLabs has Worked with Ukrainian groups. Trying to gauge their ability to influence Russian opinion. A company’s performance is most useful in measuring the direction of sentiment rather than a snapshot. As with any attempt to measure public opinion, sentiment analysis is imperfect, contains various sources of potential bias, and represents only one organization’s analysis.
FilterLabs uses native Russian speakers to help detect common features of speech, improving the algorithm’s ability to detect language nuances, such as sarcasm and irony. The Company also attempts to identify known sources of propaganda on such forums and track them separately.
What’s Next: Kremlin Propaganda
Concerns over high casualties at the start of the war sapped support for Mr Putin, fueling Kremlin propaganda. But this loss of support was short-lived, and according to FilterLabs, the public once again rallied behind the government.
Now the situation looks a little different.
FilterLabs found that Kremlin-linked news outlets are trying to counter the growing concern, publishing articles that are more serious about the Russian death toll. But state-controlled news media appear to have limited influence on opinion so far this year, Mr. Teubner said.
US officials have warned that while the Russians appear to be aware of the high death toll, that knowledge has not yet reduced support for the war or Mr Putin. But, an official said, the recent deaths may be different.
As the war continues, battlefield setbacks become less shocking to the Russians. A single event would have a hard time changing overall support for war, Mr. Teubner said.
But over time, if concern over casualties continues, support for the war is likely to wane. “Despite efforts by Kremlin-linked intelligence sources to change Russian attitudes,” Mr. Teubner said, “the reality of the deaths remains one of the Kremlin’s greatest weaknesses.”