The war in Ukraine is clearly leading to increasing divisions in Russian society, fueling one of the Kremlin’s greatest fears: domestic instability. And that’s not the only problem.
What traces is the war in Ukraine leaving on Russian society? Experts have differed widely on this since the beginning of the invasion. While FOCUS Online expert Thomas Jäger from the University of Cologne attested to the political apathy in broad Russian society that had been infiltrated by years of propaganda, the Russia expert at the “Foundation for Science and Politics” Sabine Fischer assumed early on that the war would quickly spread to other countries as well of the Kremlin would arrive.
“From a military perspective, Russia is paying for Putin’s misjudgment with high casualty figures. As a result, the war is spreading more and more to the population, more and more families are more or less directly affected,” she said in an interview with FOCUS Online at the end of March. All of this will increase the pressure on Putin.
Now save articles for later in “Pocket”.
Two months of war and many victims on both sides later, a close supporter of Putin, of all people, gives an insight into the inner workings of Russia and indirectly confirms Fischer’s prognosis. The American military think tank “ISW” quotes in a recent briefing from the blog of the self-proclaimed “People’s Governor of Donetsk Oblast” Pavel Gubarev.
In Putin’s head: the logic and arbitrariness of an autocrat
There Gubarev writes about how the sluggish mobilization for Putin’s war has split Russian society into two parts: a small group of those involved in the war on the one hand, and the group of “peaceful” on the other Russians” who distance themselves from the war and are bothered by foreign economic sanctions.
Gubarev accuses the latter group of holding back the Russian invasion with their fear of conscription. The fact that the Kremlin is constantly reporting successes with its propaganda further reduces the willingness of the population to go to war. In his opinion, a mass mobilization could overcome the divisions in society. However, the Kremlin is reluctant to take this step for fear of enormous losses due to untrained conscripts. Something similar had already happened in the “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The analysts of the “ISW” come to the following conclusion: Gubarev describes a typical phenomenon for a locally limited war, which at the same time demands a high number of victims.
Soldiers and their families’ resentment toward those who would evade the horrors of war could grow rapidly, even in a purely volunteer army. As an example, the analysts refer to the mood within western warring factions during the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In the Russian military, which relies heavily on conscripts and involuntarily drafted reservists, this dislike is likely to be even more pronounced, the ISW concludes.
It is precisely this mixed situation that can weaken morale and the will to fight in the troops on the one hand. On the other hand, the willingness to volunteer for military service is also decreasing. In addition to the social division, another problem for the Russian war plans.
Thomas Kunze, the representative of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation for the Russian Federation, agrees that the war is increasingly dividing Russian society. Although there are many apolitical people “who don’t notice or want to notice so much of what is happening”, on the other hand, an increasingly critical attitude is establishing itself, especially among younger people.
“Approval is crumbling,” writes Kunze. The younger, more educated and living closer to big cities, the less effective the state propaganda is, the more differentiated and critical the voices are: “The generational conflict is noticeable.”
Given the sluggish course of the war, this development comes at an inopportune time for Putin. If the war lasts longer, as many experts expect, new personnel will have to be found. At the same time, the unconditional patriotism that Putin repeatedly praises in his speeches seems to be much less anchored than assumed, at least in part of the Russian population.