- Three in four Russians remain confident in military
- Confidence in police, other institutions rises as faith in military slips
- Disconnect grows between confidence in military, country’s leadership
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After almost two years of fighting in Ukraine, there are signs that Russia’s failure to quickly win the war -- which it originally expected to last just weeks -- has slightly dented the Russian public’s confidence in the military. Three in four Russians (75%) interviewed this past summer expressed confidence in the military, which is down from the 80% measured in the early months of the war.
Quick Summary: Alongside the thousands of civilians estimated to have been killed since the war began in February 2022, casualties have been high for both armies. Russia implemented a partial military conscription less than six months into the conflict and, at the end of 2022, announced a plan to increase the size of its professional and conscripted military by more than 30% in the next few years. But in the meantime, setbacks on the battlefield spurred discontent and likely contributed to the failed Wagner Group mutiny in June, while Gallup’s latest survey was in the field.
Military Confidence Bucks the Trend of Other Institutions
The dip in Russians’ confidence in their military confidence contrasts with the trajectory of Russians’ faith in other institutions. Confidence in the police, financial institutions and the judicial system have increased in 2023, with all three reaching record highs since Gallup began tracking these data in Russia.
While more people express faith in the military than in other institutions, it nevertheless was the only one that has seen a significant decline in confidence in 2023. This was not driven by any one demographic group. Men and women, young and old, rich and poor alike have all expressed less confidence in their military this year than in 2022.
Growing Disconnect Between Military Confidence and Leadership Approval
The root of Russians’ waning faith in their military may lie in a growing disconnect between perceptions of Russia’s political and military leadership. Between 2006 and 2018, confidence in the military followed a similar trajectory, irrespective of whether people approved or disapproved of Russia’s leadership.
Among Russians who approve of their leadership, confidence in the military has been stable -- at around 90% -- since 2015. But since 2018, faith in the military has collapsed among those who disapprove of Russia’s leadership.
This trend has continued in 2023, with confidence in the military among those who disapprove of Russia’s leadership dropping to its lowest point (40%) since 2006. The decline in military confidence took place even though overall leadership approval in Russia remained high and stable at 68% (on par with 2022’s 66%).
There is now a 50-percentage-point gap in military confidence between those who approve (90% are confident) and those who disapprove (40%) of Russia’s leadership -- one of the biggest gaps measured anywhere since the World Poll began. The failed Wagner mutiny could well have played a part in this decline, as a significant public challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s authority that put both military competence and leadership approval into the spotlight while this survey was in the field.
Three in every four adults in Russia have confidence in their armed forces. This is still a robust figure and in line with the European median from 2022. That said, the five-point drop in military confidence in 2023 may be of some concern to the Kremlin. During a period when confidence in many other state institutions rose significantly, the fact that the military bucks the trend is noteworthy.
In the last few years, Russians who disapprove of the Kremlin’s leadership have grown increasingly critical of the military. While leadership disapproval alone does not necessarily cause a lack of military confidence, and vice versa, the collapse of military confidence among those already disapproving of Russian leadership could have wider implications.
If people’s confidence in the military continues to fall in 2024, this may pose an even greater challenge to Russian leadership in maintaining public support for the conflict it has yet to win.
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