The social pact broken between Putin and the Russians who no longer want war

According to a ‘confidential’ survey, conducted by the Russian Federal Protective Service, 55 percent of Russians are in favor of negotiations with Ukraine, and only a quarter would like to continue the war. If these data collected by the special body that deals with the security of the Russian presidency were true, it means that the war that Vladimir Putin had started largely as doping for his declining popularity is instead marking an unprecedented gap between the opinion public society and the Kremlin.

Support for the war has more than halved since July, when it stood at 57 percent, while the number of peace advocates nearly doubled from 32 percent.

The social pact broken between Putin and the Russians

Of course, all questions remain about thereliability of the “secret” surveyrevealed by the opposition newspaper Meduza, and on the general possibility of measuring public opinion in a country where whoever calls war “war” risks being sentenced in court. The numbers and the trend, however, are confirmed by Levada ZentrRussia’s only independent opinion poll center, whose director Denis Volkov arguably attributes the overturning of the polls over the past three months to mobilization called by Putin on 21 September last: “Citizens do not want to participate personally in a war that many supported”.

The mobilization marked a breach of the social contract that Putinism had been proposing for more than twenty years: delegating political decisions to the Kremlin in exchange for greater economic well-being and the image of a Russia great again broadcast by television propaganda. The first part of this covenant had been violated by pension reform in 2018the mobilization broke the second clause, and the reaction of the Russians was immediate: in addition to the million people who fled Russia in the days immediately following, consent to war – and therefore to Putin, a president who has built its political capital – it collapsed.

Negotiations with ‘loot’

It is a turning point that leaves Putin with very little time for a maneuver, before being definitively considered by his nomenclature as a loser. When two drones from Kyiv penetrate Russian territory to destroy strategic bombers undisturbed at two military bases 700 kilometers away from the border, he replies to this military and political humiliation by showing the president driving a Mercedes along the Crimean bridge repaired after the Ukrainian bomb two months ago doesn’t look very convincing, and sociologist Grigory Yudin tells Meduza that the Russians are starting to ask for negotiations because “after the defeats at the front they no longer believe in victory, in the absence of a credible theory of how Russia could win”.

This is an important and delicate moment: if the majority of Russians no longer want war, there remain big doubts about the negotiation that they are starting to invoke. Wishing to end a clearly lost war is not the same as admitting it as a mistake, and probably for this very reason Putin insists – or at least, various diplomatic leaks speak of this – to negotiate a truce that it leaves to Russia the currently occupied territories of Ukraine, to be presented as the spoils of a “victory”.

The problem is that a third of the expenditure of the 2023 budget is destined for war or garlic repressive bodies, and if today disaffected Russians prefer to flee, at least those who can afford it, tomorrow the economic crisis superimposed on the feeling of having lost the war could trigger a protest on a larger scale such as the ones seen by the dozens in the barracks of the reservists often called to war without means or weapons. There new law that prohibits demonstrating in numerous public places – schools, stations, ports, hospitals, government offices or infrastructures – seems to be yet another sign of how the Kremlin lives innightmare of a ‘Russian spring’.

Who stays and who flees

However, it is not only the Putin regime that saves the Putin regime in a potentially explosive situation repressionbut also theabsence of a more or less organized protest movement. Alexey Navalny has been hidden from the world in a maximum security prison, his followers are behind bars or in exile abroad, like a large part of their potential electorate.

As so many times in its history, Russia has split between who stays and who fleesand even among the latter the confusion of ideas on past responsibilities and plans for the future is notable, as also demonstrated by the case of dissident TV reporter Dozhd, who from his exile in Latvia called to help “our army”, i.e. the Russian one. His inevitable dismissal sparked a controversy that further alienated Russian liberals from both Ukrainian and European public opinion.

No changes on the horizon

Even among the ‘good Russians’ who condemn the war, many are not ready to embrace Ukraine’s reasons, or to wish their country’s defeat, and many are terrified of the chaos that could result from a regime change. But if the intellectuals – essentially in exile – who give a brilliant and ruthless diagnosis of the Russian failure are still many, the leaders of dissent who are reflecting on solutions to get out of it are very few.

Supporters of the “beautiful Russia of the future” as he defined it Navalny they are fleeing, or they are forced into silence. The reform and re-foundation projects proposed by, for example, Mikhail Khodorkovsky or Sergey Guriev may look convincing on paper. What is missing is a force that can harness the potential of the 55% of Russians who no longer want war and turn it into a movement for change.


The social pact broken between Putin and the Russians who no longer want war