The general surge in optimism and support for the country's leadership could not be dampened by concerns over the introduction of Western sanctions, the resulting plunge in the ruble exchange rate, the freezing of Russian investors' accounts or the jump in price inflation. The sanctions mostly hit two very different groups: a narrow stratum of well-to-do members of the middle class who live in big cities and are part of the global economy, and the poorest segments of the population. The former were not numerous enough for their problems and fears to spread broadly across society, while their access to resources helped them to adapt. The latter were somewhat supported by the state.
Two thirds of the population felt
the impact of the sanctions rather indirectly and are not particularly concerned about them. Moreover, at least half of respondents see the sanctions as an opportunity
for the development of domestic industry – ‘they did not want to develop on their own, but now Western countries have forced them.’ This has further fueled optimism on the part of the common man.
With all the ups and downs, the peak of optimism came
at the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. By that time, most Russians had already calmed down following the shocks of February-March and began to actively adapt to the situation, at the same time accustoming themselves to the idea that the special military operation did not directly impact them – ‘it is being fought by professional soldiers and volunteers somewhere on the outskirts of the country.’ Thus, the announcement of the partial mobilization at the end of September came as nearly a bigger shock than the launch of the special operation.
At that time, very unclear criteria for being drafted, mess-ups at enlistment offices and contradictory statements by officials at various levels created the impression that almost any Russian man could be called up. This meant that what was happening could no longer be brushed aside. At the end of September, public sentiment deteriorated sharply. Russian society was facing tremendous stress, and assessments of the current situation tumbled
across the board, marking the biggest single deterioration
in the entire history of regular sociological surveys. Nevertheless, these events did not particularly affect
the government’s ratings.
The most egregious mess-ups at enlistment offices were eventually corrected, while frightened members of the well-to-do stratum were allowed to leave the country. Most importantly, by November the government reported that the mobilization had been wrapped up. Most of our respondents breathed a sigh of relief – ‘it’s over!’ Sentiment began to pick up, and by the end of the year it had almost completely pared the sharp losses at the end of September, approaching pre-mobilization levels: in July, 80% of respondents indicated a positive mood
, dipping to just 52% at end-September before rebounding to 63% in October and 77% in December. In addition, 68% said that the country was moving in the right direction
in August versus 63% in December.Nostalgia and family
Conversations with focus group participants, along with the responses to open-ended questions, point to several factors behind people’s seeming satisfaction with the current state of affairs. It is here – and not in a mythical endurance of Russians – where we must look for an answer to why people have successfully adapted to the hardships of 2022.
People who believe that the country is headed in the right direction usually mention increased social support: bigger pensions, benefits, welfare and broadly more concern shown by the state. Luckily, a significant part of the population has very modest expectations – ‘there are products in the stores – that’s already good;’ ‘we survived the 1990s and we will survive these difficulties too.’