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Public opinion analysis on Prigozhin a day AFTER the coup attempt

[
Russians’ Attitudes
]
Jun 30, 2023
10 min

Russia before and after the military mutiny: Have Russians’ attitudes towards Putin, Prigozhin, and the war in Ukraine changed?

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On June 22, 2023, Open Minds Institute research team conducted an online survey to measure the attitudes of Russians toward Yevgeny Prigozhin. This survey involved 1,004 Russian participants aged 18 to 60, with an almost equal representation of genders and age groups. Unbeknownst to us then, the very next day, the mercenary leader would instigate a mutiny against the Ministry of Defense. The Wagner factions, led by its head, captured two Russian regional centers and advanced rapidly towards Moscow with virtually no resistance. 

By evening, the mutiny was brought to a halt due to the agreement reached between the leader of the “Wagnerites” and the president of not Russia but Belarus. This pact was perceived by many as a personal failure of Prigozhin. 

Following the unsuccessful rebellion, Open Minds Institute again collected data on June 25, posing the same questions to the respondents, with a few additional ones.

These extra questions allowed us to evaluate if there had been any shift in the perceptions of Russians towards the war, the direction of their country, the incumbent President Putin, and the insurgent Prigozhin. The sample comprised 1,027 Russians, also almost equally distributed by age and gender. Here is what we found out.

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Russians were watching the events carefully but carelessly

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Those interviewed closely followed the news during the military mutiny. Two-thirds (66.5%) followed actively or almost all the time. 15.5% of respondents didn’t watch at all or very little.

Simultaneously, many Russians may have underestimated the situation and its inherent threat. Specifically, 38% of surveyed believed that there was either no threat or little threat to Russian statehood. Even more (41%) thought that the Wagner uprising didn’t pose a serious threat to Russians. 

The news from Rostov-On-Don, which “Wagner” controlled for a day about the calm and friendly mood of the citizens, confirms our evidence. 

It’s challenging to envisage a democratic country with robust institutions wherein an assault on the capital by thousands of armed militants, many of whom had joined the PMC straight out of prison, wouldn’t be perceived by the majority of residents as dangerous.

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The opposing camps and the witnesses

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When asked which side they rooted for in the confrontation, 42% of Russian respondents sided with the Ministry of Defense. However, the largest proportion, a considerable 45%, stated they were on neither side. Only 13% expressed sympathy for the Wagner mercenaries. 

This indicates that nearly half of the respondents feel such a lack of connection to their army they remained neutral even during such a critical event as an armed mutiny threatening the very foundations of the state. This group, combined with the outright sympathizers of the Wagner Group, constituted over half of those surveyed. 

A comparison of the groups - neutrals, the Wagner, and the MoD followers - revealed notable differences between the first two groups and the third. Thus, we can consider the flexibility of the opinions of the neutral group. Had Prigozhin been the victor in the conflict, some of the uncertain respondents might have claimed to stand by the winner’s side.

Prigozhin’s mutiny garnered significantly more support from anti-war Russians compared to those expressing approval for the Russian MoD. In this context, the war and MoD supporters of the war demonstrated greater “statesmanship,” recognizing that the success of the mutiny could potentially lead to an end of the war in favor of Ukraine.

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The war in Ukraine and Russia’s future

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Military actions initiated within Russian territory by one faction of Russian combatants against others hold the potential to alter the attitude of Russians toward the war in Ukraine. The desire to avoid armed conflict within their homeland may lead to a deeper understanding that its root cause is the Russian invasion, which could foster an intention to cease the war.

On June 22 survey, 47.5% of our respondents supported the war against Ukraine, commonly referred to as a “special military operation” in the official Russian discourse. On June 25, the proportion of those either wholly or partially in favor of the war was 46%. Regrettably, it appears that attitudes toward the war have not significantly shifted, at least if we ask a direct question.

Respondents followed the same pattern answering whether they believed the country was moving in the right direction. On June 22, 46.01% of the surveyed indicated that the Russian future, in their view, is somewhat bright. Following the raid on the country’s capital by elite troops, nearly the same percentage (45.66%) held the same belief.

The atomized Russian society, rendered passive by the authoritarian regime and lacking positive experience with civil-political action, does not hold very strong views on the existential issues of national politics. Why expend emotional and cognitive resources on matters perceived to be beyond your control, particularly when initiative can lead to punishment?

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Vladimir Putin: even more popular?

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The vast majority of respondents maintained their existing perspective of the president, with a small shift to more positive.

After Prigozhin’s rebellion, we asked Russians whether their attitudes towards Putin had altered since. It was hypothesized that the occurrence of an armed uprising which constituted the biggest challenge to Putin’s authority since he became president in 2000, by a group that Putin himself had nurtured might have negatively influenced Russian sentiments towards him. 

Contrarily, the attitudes stayed almost constant, with a 3.8% increase in the number of people who viewed him more favorably. 

On June 22, 73% asserted that Putin was either fully or somewhat capable of serving as Russia’s president. By June 25, the number of Russians holding this view had declined to 72%, which easily falls within the statistical margin of error. 

Of note is the nearly 5% drop in those expressing full confidence in Putin's ability to lead the country, offset by a similar rise in those considering him "rather capable" of running Russia.

This evidence is counterintuitive regarding the obvious fact of undermining the pillars of Russian state authority and the numerous articles predicting the beginning of the end for Putin. We can conclude that either Russian propaganda worked 10 out of 10 or Russians’ strive to preserve stability is stronger than we thought.

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Yevgeny Prigozhin: fall in popularity and further obscurity?

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Conversely, the opinions on Yevgeny Prigozhin changed drastically. 

After Wagner’s mutiny, the percentage of people who claimed to know about him quite a lot or very well dropped by over 6%: from 46% on June 22 to 40% on June 25. And some respondents remained eager to know more about him: on June 22 - 36.5%, and on June 25 - 37%.

This can be attributed to Prigozhin’s actions. Both his decision to initiate the “march for justice” and his abrupt conclusion of it were unanticipated. Moreover, the specifics of the agreement between the head of the PMC and the Belarusian authorities remain largely vague and obscure. As a result, some respondents admitted that their understanding of Prigozhin was not as deep as they had previously assumed.

43% of those surveyed changed their attitude toward Prigozhin for the worse, and only 6.3% for the better. It seems almost like an emotional response to the betrayal. The videos of crowds of Russians cheering the Wagner mercenaries and booing the state servicemen show how Russians embraced the PMC and their actions. 

Prigozhin’s “presidential rating” almost halved in the immediate aftermath of the rebellion. On June 22, 21% believed that he was capable of leading Russia, whereas by June 25, this number had dramatically dropped to just 10.5%. It could be speculated that Russians might have admired Prigozhin’s audacity and decisiveness had these traits been carried to their logical conclusion - the seizure of power.

Because of the mutiny, Russian respondents’ perception of Prigozhin’s personal traits, such as empathy, intelligence, competence, and effectiveness, dwindled further. The drop in the latter two qualities presumably stemmed from the unsuccessful outcome of the rebellion, which initially appeared promising but fell short of completion. Concurrently, Russians perceived the leader of “Wagner” to be more dominative, violent, and independent than before the events of the past Friday and Saturday.

As corroborated by previous data, Russians’ attitudes towards Prigozhin have significantly deteriorated. The chart below contains the statements about him, which validity we asked respondents to evaluate. The populist notions surrounding Prigozhin, asserting that he cares about ordinary soldiers and civil Russians, have found fewer supporters.

However, the most notable shift has been the emergence of a non-serious, even ironic attitude toward the head of “Wagner.” This positions him as a troll from the Telegram channels - a PR figure who, given the opportunity to seize power in Russia, failed to do so. This attitude surged from 10% to 41%, signaling a dramatic rise in skepticism towards Prigozhin.

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Conclusion

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Russians have grown more skeptical about Yevgeny Prigozhin's political prospects following the uncompleted armed uprising of Wagner mercenaries. The warlord mutiny left a bitter aftertaste as frustrating as a wake-up just before the best bits of an enjoyable dream.

The respondents paid close attention to the weekend events, with one-third recognizing their potential threat to both the state and its citizens. However, the majority regarded the events lightly, not seeing them as a critical threat. 

Only a little over a quarter of those surveyed had clearly sided with the Russian Ministry of Defense. On the contrary, nearly half declared neutrality during the uprising, a stance difficult to comprehend in a standardly functioning developed nation. 

The passive and uncertain reaction of Russians to the coup attempt once again confirmed their tendency to stay aside the “dirty politics” and go wherever the wind blows.

Simultaneously, support for Putin seemed unshaken, as did the number of those who believe Russia is on the right path or those supporting the war against Ukraine. 

If the insurgency by armed mercenaries planted any seeds of doubt about the regime’s legitimacy, these uncertainties have yet to surface in public opinion polls. Prigozhin’s populist image started to wane. He is now perceived as aggressive and determined but lacking in competence and effectiveness. 

Evidently, there was considerable disappointment in Prigozhin’s inability to follow through among Russians. This failure cast a dark cloud over the image he had crafted of himself as a man caring for soldiers and Russia and fighting against corruption and inefficiency.

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[
Russians’ Attitudes
]
Jun 30, 2023
10 min
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