Putin’s Propaganda Reached Its Limit, Most Russians Beleive Now Conscripts have Already Died In Ukraine

A NATO official said this week that it was likely 300,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the conflict.

Russian citizens are “losing faith in Putin’s propaganda narratives,” according to a recent survey conducted by The Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF), a Moscow-based non-profit group founded by imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Despite the current difficulties in polling the Russian public—which is threatened with fines and imprisonment in case of dissent or criticism of the country’s military—the group claims that their surveys show that, ten months into the conflict, Russians are no longer buying into the Kremlin’s idea that the country’s war in Ukraine is going well.

Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff and chairman of the ACF, published the results of two recent surveys on Twitter conducted by the group in October and November, showing that the number of Russian citizens who believe that the course of the Kremlin’s “military operation” in Ukraine is “rather successful” dropped from 23 percent to 14 percent in a month.

So far, the number of Russians who believe the war to be “rather unsuccessful” grew from 10 to 14 percent from October to November. A vast majority of respondents—as many as 36 percent in October and 41 percent in November—chose to skip the question, while many others said they were “not sure” or declared it was “too early to judge.”

“The majority is not yet ready to call it a failure, they are trying to avoid the uncomfortable truth (‘too early to judge’, ‘not sure’, ‘prefer not to answer’), but what does it actually mean?” wrote Volkov.

“Kremlin’s powerful propaganda machine works 24/7 to explain that the war is going successfully, according to Putin’s wise plans. And they are clearly failing to sell this narrative. Only 1/7 of the respondents are still buying it!” he said.

“Does it mean that the other 6/7 are now Putin’s enemies? Supporters of Navalny? Of course not! But they are finally not ready to blindly buy whatever Kremlin is trying to sell them. They are ready to listen to other stories!” he continued, adding that this is a crucial time to talk to the Russian public and offer them a different source of information.

“Putin’s propaganda has reached the limit of its effectiveness,” wrote Volkov. “It is important to keep talking to Russians looking for alternative narratives.”

As for why the Russian public has lost faith in the Kremlin’s propaganda, the ACF believes it has to do with the military draft ordered by President Vladimir Putin on September 21, when Russian troops were quickly losing territory in Ukraine.

Some 64 percent of respondents to the ACF survey in October said they were about to be mobilized, while 60 percent said so in November. Volkov thinks that being mobilized made these citizens “aware of what’s actually going on” and led them to lose faith in that image of stability that the Kremlin has been promoting for itself for decades.

The number of respondents believing in the superiority of the Russian army has also dropped in recent months. According to Volkov, 35 percent of respondents to an August survey believed the quality of the Russian army to be above average, while in November only 20 percent of respondents believed the Moscow troops to be formed by “highly trained soldiers” armed with “advanced equipment.”

Volkov admitted that the surveys must be approached cautiously, as responses from participants have dropped since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

“People are scared. The response rate has dropped. Pollsters should expect respondents to give ‘socially acceptable’ answers,” Volkov said.

“There has to be a huge systematic error in our surveys, as we talk only to those who don’t hang up when a pollster calls them from an unknown number. But we do it every month. And the systematic error should be the same every month. So, while the absolute numbers have to be taken into account with an extreme caution, we still believe the trends we can see are reliable.”

The group never asked the direct question of whether respondents supported the Kremlin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine or not, as “one can’t expect respondents to answer sincerely, as they are well aware about the liabilities a ‘wrong’ answer might yield,” said Volkov.

There are signs too that the Kremlin’s propaganda has changed in recent months, as the war in Ukraine has revealed itself to be a longer conflict than the quick invasion the Russian leadership likely expected back in February.

Even Putin’s biggest allies and supporters have reframed their commentary of the “military operation” in Ukraine on Russian TV.

While Putin is never criticized directly, messaging around the conflict has now left space for the occasional criticism of the broader strategy applied by the Russian military in Ukraine and the recognition not everything is going smoothly on the battlefront.

That the mobilization of up to 300,000 reservists has triggered a potential political fallout of Putin’s leadership has been shown by the unleashing of rare displays of criticism among the Russian public back in October when hundreds of thousands of Russians tried to flee the country to avoid conscription.

Reports that newly drafted troops were being sent to the front with little training or equipment are likely to have contributed to the widely reported low morale of Russian troops in Ukraine.

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