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Oleksandr Shulga  18 kwietnia 2024

Putin is again the President of Russia. New escalation is coming

Oleksandr Shulga  18 kwietnia 2024
przeczytanie zajmie 6 min
Putin is again the President of Russia. New escalation is coming wikimedia commons

War has become one of the habitual problems of Russians and was sidelined by another traditional problem – low salaries and high prices. Putin does not and will not be able to offer a solution to the problems that Russians face in everyday life. The way out for the regime will be an effort to return Russians to the emotional state of early 2022, when all material problems receded before the problem of war. The only instrument to achieve this goal would be a new escalation.

Gap between Russians’ expectations and Putin’s

There was no intrigue and no doubt that according to the results of the voting on March 15-17, Putin will be declared the winner. However, from this very moment, a fundamental gap between public expectations and what the newly elected head of state can offer became increasingly apparent.

The main priorities for Putin in 2024, according to Russians, should be improving their financial condition, ensuring decent salaries, pensions and social benefits, strengthening the economy in general, improving the quality and making the medical services cheaper, and only then the successful completion of the so-called “Special Military Operation” , which, by the way, is gaining as many votes as the task of improving the welfare of the people.

It is no coincidence that Putin and his political technologists are well aware of these expectations. The lion’s share of his speech to the Federal Assembly, which turned into a pre-election rally, was devoted to promises of huge payments from the budget to a variety of categories of the population and for a variety of programs – including housing and communal services (4,5 trillion of Rubles), healthcare (1 trillion of Rubles) and education (0,8 trillion of Rubles).

It is financial problems that are the main ones for Russian society and it is precisely their solution that it expects from Putin. On this issue, different socio-demographic groups are in agreement, including age groups. Therefore, decisions in the first half of the year of the new term, in the opinion of Russians, should not worsen their financial situation: the majority are against raising taxes and the free exchange rate of the ruble.

In addition, they once again repeat their rejection of the second wave of mass mobilization – 50% believe that Putin will not make this step immediately after his re-election to the presidency.

Society changing attitude matters… also in Russia

Russian society and its public attitudes should not be underestimated even by the current Kremlin regime. Its deeply ingrained features and the consequent assessment of the Russian-Ukrainian war dictate certain limits for waging it and starting new wars of aggression against other neighbouring countries, including NATO members.

The very first trend that finally took shape over two years of full-scale hostilities is the routinization of war for Russian society. Half a year ago one could talk about the increasing strength of this tendency. In general, the trend towards greater actualization of financial and economic challenges for ordinary Russians, which emerged at the end of last spring, finally crystallized by the second anniversary of the full-scale war.

Now it is a social fact – war has become one of the habitual problems of Russians. Moreover, the problem of war was sidelined by another traditional problem – low salaries and high prices. If in December 2022 the war was the main problem for 50% of Russians, and low wages and pensions were in second place and accounted for 25%, now the situation is exactly the opposite – 40% and this is the most frequent answer, call the financial situation as the main problem and twice as less often, Russian citizens name war (full results of our surveys and their methodology can be found here).

According to our research at IKAR, one more factor demonstrates the routinization of the war for ordinary Russians over this period: a significant increase in the share of those citizens who have relatives and friends participating in the war against Ukraine. As of now, more than 70% of Russians have close ones or acquaintances mobilized since the beginning of 2022. However, even more significant is the dynamics of those who are named by respondents as mobilized. Since December 2022, when the question was first asked, the number of Russians who spoke about the conscription of members of their inner circle – these are relatives or friends – has increased from 27% to 46%.

Thus, they felt the impact of the war not only at the level of propaganda but at the level of their everyday lives and can receive real information about the war from its direct participants. Along with getting used to the very fact of war, as well as getting used to permanent, albeit unannounced, mobilization, most Russians also know someone who has died since the beginning of full-scale hostilities. In general, this figure doubled over 14 months of observation – from 30% to 60% of those who knew someone killed in action. The majority of responses concern acquaintances who have died—their share has doubled since December 2022, from 21% to almost 40%.

Another significant indicator that affects the routinization of war for Russians is the increasing presence of war invalids, which, due to their large numbers, cannot go unnoticed by respondents. Something similar, albeit on a smaller scale, happened in the Soviet Union during the Soviet-Afghan war. A significant difference is the concentration in time – after all, as of now increasing of disabled people has occurred in less than two years, whereas in the Soviet period, this happened gradually over ten years and in 15 republics of the USSR, and not just in Russia.

Only 14% of Russians responded that they have not witnessed the appearance of disabled people from this war with visible injuries, such as missing limbs. Overall, 53% responded that such appearances bring discomfort and worry to people. While 12% answered that this does not bother people and another 9% believe that Russians are indifferent to such events.

Thus, over these two years, the war against Ukraine manifests itself in the everyday life of Russians in different ways and gradually affects an increasingly large part of society.

New escalation coming

A few important changes have occurred in Russian public consciousness over the past two years. The first is the routinization of war, turning it into one of the ordinary problems. COVID-19 has taken a very similar path in the public consciousness of Russians: from initial shock to getting used to living in conditions of constant danger and even ignoring this danger. This is certainly good news for the stability of the Russian regime – the war over these two years has not become a trigger for social unrest.

Moreover, the routinization of war over these two years, coupled with powerful propaganda, which in turn exploits deeply rooted features of Russian society, has led to the blurring of red lines for new wars. Any country can very quickly be recognized as an enemy in the Russian public consciousness and new aggression will not meet serious opposition. This is another important change that occurred in Russian society in parallel with the routinization of war.

On the other hand, routinization is also a decrease in the original emotional state. Routinization leads to the predominance of the everyday pragmatic motive over any appeals to the sacred, common good. However, it is to the sacred and spiritual that the Kremlin appeals in its justification for the war against Ukraine and its calls for Russians to sacrifice their lives.

The Russians’ demand for solutions to financial and economic problems is not only a consequence of anti-Russian sanctions and the high cost of war (10,8 trillion of Rubles is only a public part of war budget for 2024), but also a consequence of the fact that traditional problems are again predominant. It is obvious that, due to given circumstances, Putin does not and will not be able to offer a solution to the problems that Russians face in everyday life, for whom a pragmatic or, more precisely, an egoistic motive again prevails over the intangible motive of patriotism and the prestige of the country.

In such circumstances, the only way out for the regime will be an effort to return Russians to the emotional state of early 2022, when all material problems receded before the problem of war. This process could be called as “cognitive turn of Russian public consciousness”. The only way to achieve this goal would be a new escalation, a new attempt to sideline the hardships of everyday life with the so-called “national interest”.

Therefore, the question of new aggression, no matter what it will be called, with this logic of the regime and its stability sounds not like if, but when and against whom. From a socio-political point of view, this must be a short-term and successful escalation, which should instill optimism in the population and again give reason to talk about the strength of the Russian army.

Following this logic, this should be a limited operation without the deployment of troops or an operation that would guarantee the rapid occupation of the territory. Therefore, the first targets of attack after Ukraine might not be NATO members, but countries that already have experienced aggression from Russia – such as Georgia or Moldova.


Even Putin’s regime cannot exist without some kind of consensus with Russian society. This consensus was supposed to be the Ukrainian consensus as a consequence of the rapid occupation of all of Ukraine. The same thing happened with the occupation of Crimea and the partial occupation of Donbas and led to the Crimean consensus. The failure of the blitzkrieg in Ukraine requires the Russian president to propose a new narrative.

The first steps of the “shaping operation” on this path were made after the terrorist’s attack in Moscow on March 22, following the same pattern used for the start of the Second Chechen War. Russian public attitudes which dominate everyday life, their priorities will be replaced with Putin’s priorities of the indefinite war. All means used are the same – fear, anger and group solidarity for survival.

Author: Oleksandr Shulga – Doctor of Science (Sociology), director of the Institute for Conflict Studies and Analysis of Russia (IKAR).

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