Irreversible Changes Underway in Russian Society

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 32

(Source: TASS)

Executive Summary:

  • The Russian population’s interest in the war against Ukraine has significantly declined over the past two years, confirming some sociologists’ conclusion that the initial considerable pro-war sentiment was more about adapting to a new “normal” than genuine public support.
  • Russian society has experienced a significant increase in violence and acceptance of that violence due to the return of pardoned convicts from the front and increased societal distress due to the prolonged war.
  • The Russian public’s acceptance of increased violence alludes to a future of societal regression, which directly influences society’s potential for democratic changes in the short term.

The pro-Kremlin Public Opinion Foundation recently posted the results of a poll asking Russians about their opinions on the war in Ukraine. Despite ongoing war propaganda, sociological data indicates seemingly positive shifts in Russian society. The foundation has been forced to recognize a significant decline in Russians’ interest in the war over the past two years—dropping from 65 percent in March 2022 to 30 percent in February of the current year (Verstka, February 26). In this, sociologists have reached an important conclusion, which some experts have highlighted since the war’s onset: a considerable portion of pro-war sentiment among the Russian population is more about adapting to the stressful situation and conforming to new norms rather than reflecting genuine convictions.

According to the latest poll by the Levada-Center, an independent Russian polling and sociological research organization, 77 percent of Russians declaratively express support for the Russian army’s actions in Ukraine (, February 6). A more detailed survey last fall revealed that only 27 percent of Russians would not support a hypothetical decision from Putin to withdraw troops, even though the military operation’s objectives had not been achieved. Simultaneously, only 12 percent of respondents would support prioritizing budgetary funds for the war. Consequently, sociologists conclude that a significant portion of those nominally “pro-war” merely profess support without daring to challenge the state but, in practice, do not support the war (Re-Russia, January 24).

Based on this data, some may think that a change in the propagandist narrative could easily “reformat” Russian society toward more peaceful development. It is crucial to acknowledge, however, the profound changes occurring within society amidst the war. Regardless of attitudes towards the war, there’s a significant increase in violence in Russian society and, more alarmingly, a growing tolerance towards violence as a norm. 

Several factors contribute to the acceptance of violence in Russian society. First, the continuation of the war has eroded basic taboos about violence from people’s consciousness, demonstrating that killing thousands for elusive goals is acceptable. Psychologists have observed that dehumanizing the enemy, as done by Kremlin propaganda, desensitizes people to such killings (, December 12, 2022). Propaganda, however, affects not only those directly involved in combat but all Russians, fostering complaisance for violence and killing.

Second, the escalation of state repression is a significant factor damaging the Russian people’s psyche. The Russian authorities’ system demonstrates brutal violence, from “Stalinist” prison terms for dissent and political assassinations to systematic torture in police stations and colonies. Reports from various Russian regions indicate that torture has become commonplace in police stations and the Federal Penitentiary Service system (, December 5, 2022). As human rights defenders explain, the chances of obtaining justice for torture victims in court are close to zero (, November 7, 2023). Such practices inevitably influence society, regardless of individuals’ political views. Even if someone disapproves of torture, they may become accustomed to tolerating such violence and lawlessness over time, considering it “inevitable.” This was evident in the Soviet Union under Stalin’s repressions and the age of the Gulag.

Third, the return of war veterans from the Ukrainian front contributes heavily to the escalation of violence in society. This encompasses not only amnestied criminals who have been released early and resumed committing robberies and murders but also ordinary soldiers among the mobilized or conscripted (see EDM, January 22). There have already been reports of a significant increase in violence, torture, and extrajudicial executions within the Russian army (see EDM, December 11). Independent journalists report that such executions have become commonplace on the front lines. Those who refuse to partake in doomed assaults are subjected to rape, beatings, and are kept in freezing conditions in pits with corpses without water and food, among other atrocities (Verstka, February 23). Understandably, such practices traumatize both the victims and the perpetrators.

Last spring, Russian psychologists noted a sharp increase in domestic and family violence attributed to the “normalization of evil.” This includes domestic murders, beatings, a rise in family violence, and so forth. Specialists highlight that in times of instability and vulnerability, people are willing to tolerate much more than in peacetime (, April 30, 2023). The state, in turn, exhibits a reluctance to protect women from domestic violence, which was decriminalized in Russia as early as 2017 (, February 7, 2017). Currently, any attempts by women to defend their rights are branded as feminism and face threats of being banned as extremist ideology, undermining “traditional values” (, April 5, 2023). Chechen police openly abduct women fleeing domestic violence from shelters, sending a signal to society of their complete impunity (, August 30, 2023). The culture of violence as an absolute norm permeates all spheres of society, including children. Even official Kremlin-controlled media reports a significant rise in school bullying and cyberbullying in recent months (Izvestiya, October 25, 2023).

Religious officials take it a step further, attempting to convince their audiences to no longer perceive the deaths of peaceful Russians as tragedies due to the war. According to independent media reports, about 400 settlements in Russia have been shelled in the two years of the war, resulting in the deaths of at least 150 civilians from these attacks (Verstka, February 27). Orthodox propagandists assert that such deaths are “completely normal” in wartime, and our people should consciously and even joyfully accept them because, thanks to the war in Ukraine, we are saving the world from “ultimate damnation and destruction” (, February 18).

Such widespread violence and acceptance will inevitably lead to societal regression, which directly influences Russian society’s potential for democratic changes in the short term. Individuals raised in a cult of violence are more likely to embrace another dictator, viewing them as a “strong leader.” The acceptance of violence, in turn, renders most people unable to protest even in the face of significant deterioration of their everyday lives. Although such changes can be reversed over time, as evidenced by the experiences of many war-affected countries, they must be considered in the short term when forecasting the current state of Russian society.