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Commentary | 22 March 2022

For now, Russia backs Putin and the invasion – but younger people are sceptical of the Kremlin line

Russia Russia-West Relations Ukraine Euro-Atlantic Security

This piece is a republication; the original piece can be found at this link.

Two weeks ago I published survey in Ukraine that showed the determination of its population to defend their country and their view that Britain was doing more than most allies to help.

My latest poll, conducted by telephone in Russia from a neighbouring state, comes with two obvious caveats. The first is that the Putin regime effectively controls what Russians see and hear about the “special military operation” in Ukraine – and this is on top of two decades of Kremlin propaganda for the president and his works. The second is that with protests crushed and prison terms for anyone accused of spreading of “fake news” about the war, many might be cautious in talking about their views to a stranger. We also know, however, that a crisis can often prompt a surge of national loyalty.

With those health warnings, the survey suggests that Putin has managed to shape Russian opinion strongly in his favour – at least for the time being. Here are the main findings.

Most Russians back the invasion of Ukraine – but they don’t claim all of it

76% said they support the “special military operation” in Ukraine, with more than half (57%) saying they do so strongly. Just under a quarter withheld support – 18% saying they opposed the invasion, and a further 6% saying they didn’t know. More than 8 in 10 said they believed Russia would emerge from the conflict stronger than before.

However, a majority – 53% – said they thought Ukraine seemed to be resisting Russian forces more strongly than they would have expected.


More than 9 in 10 (91%) said they believed Crimea should be part of Russia, and 68% said the same of both Donetsk and Luhansk. However, only 39% said any other part of Ukraine should be part of Russian territory. Just over one in three (31%) said President Zelensky and his government were the legitimate authority of Ukraine.

Putin’s narrative has taken hold

More than 9 in 10 Russians said they believed that “the population of Crimea and Sevastopol freely chose to reunite with Russia”. 81% said they thought military action in Ukraine was necessary to protect Russian security, and 79% said the expansion of NATO was a threat to Russian security and sovereignty.


Slightly fewer – but still two thirds (67%) – said it was necessary to (in Putin’s words) “demilitarise and de-Nazify” Ukraine.

Only 16% agreed that Ukraine should be allowed to join NATO if that’s what its population wants.

While 75% said Ukraine bears some or a great deal of responsibility for the conflict, 77% said the same for NATO and 80% said it was true of the United States. Seven in 10 said the EU bore some responsibility. Only 38% said Russia had responsibility, while 30% said it had none at all.

Russians expect a fairly swift end to the conflict and most back negotiations 

Half of Russians said they expected the military operation to be over within 3 months, including nearly one in five believing it would be finished by the end of March. Only 1 in 10 thought the conflict would last more than a year.


Nearly two thirds – 64% – said they supported negotiations with Ukraine, and the same proportion favoured the idea of talking to the West. However, 59% also said they would back stronger military action.

Sanctions are beginning to bite 

More than half (55%) of those surveyed told us that economic sanctions had “started to affect me or people I know”.

However, only just under 1 in 10 (9%) said they would otherwise support the invasion but sanctions on Russia meant the cost was too high. Nearly 7 in 10 (69%) said they supported the military operation despite the sanctions.


On the economy more generally, nearly one third were prepared to say they thought life for ordinary Russians had got worse over the last 20 years.

Just under half (45%) said they thought Russia’s international reputation had been damaged in recent years – perhaps the finding in the survey most implicitly critical of the regime.

The Russian military are even more popular than Putin

85% of Russians said they had a favourable view of Vladimir Putin, including 58% who said it was very favourable. 85% also said they trusted Russia’s current leadership to make the right decisions for the country, and 78% said they thought Putin had the best interests of ordinary Russians at heart.

Even more – 88% – said they had a positive view of the Russian military.


China also received very high scores, with 82% saying they had a favourable view of the country (though most said this was “somewhat” rather than “very” favourable).

Only 19% had a positive view of the EU, 17% of the UK, 12% of the US, 8% of NATO and 7% of President Zelensky.

Young people are the most resistant to the Kremlin line

One group’s answers were markedly different from those of Russians as a whole. Though the sample for this segment was relatively small, the pattern was very clear.

Those aged 18 to 24 were the only group more likely to say that they oppose the invasion (46%) than support it (40%). 42% rejected the argument that the action was necessary to protect Russian security (compared to 15% overall), and they were more likely to disagree (46%) than agree (35%) that Ukraine needed to be demilitarised and de-Nazified. They were much more likely to hold Russia responsible for the conflict – and less likely to blame the US, the EU and NATO – than Russians as a whole.

They were evenly divided as to whether Ukraine should be allowed to join NATO, and agreed by 49% to 43% that President Zelensky was Ukraine’s legitimate leader. They were the most enthusiastic about negotiations and the only group to say they would oppose stronger military action and that they favoured withdrawing Russian forces.

A quarter were prepared to say that they had an unfavourable view of Putin (compared to 11% overall), while 1 in 5 said they had a positive view of Zelensky.

They had a notably less favourable view of the Russian military and were more than three times as likely to have a positive view of NATO. Nearly half (46%) had a favourable view of the EU, and one in three said the same of the US.

A majority (52%) said they had a favourable view of the UK, more than three times the level among Russians as a whole.

1,007 adults in Russia were interviewed by telephone on 11-13 March. Data have been weighted to be representative of all adults in Russia. 

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the signatories and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or the entirety of its membership. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.

Image: Presidential Executive Office of Russia, Wikimedia