Kremlin Lures Russians to Support War with Access to Its Spoils

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 19


Executive Summary:

  • Support for Russian presidential candidate Boris Nadezhdin indicates readiness among Russians to oppose the war openly, reflecting discontent with both Putin and ongoing conflicts and motivating the Kremlin to regain support.
  • The Kremlin has linked war benefits to everyday needs, portraying destruction as lucrative opportunities for personal gain, such as investing in Mariupol’s real estate market.
  • Promoting Russian migration to Mariupol normalizes the war for ordinary Russians, and makes those Russians who move personally invested in the continuing occupation of foreign territories.

On January 31, Russian presidential candidate Boris Nadezhdin announced on his Telegram channel that he had received 105 thousand signatures of support to the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation (, January 31). Nadezhdin’s unexpected success in his Russian presidential campaign revealed that many Russians are ready to oppose the war openly if such opposition is relatively safe. Queues formed at signature collection points both in Russia and abroad, demonstrating that many Russians do not blindly follow Kremlin policy (Е, January 25).

Opposition leaders are urging voters to support Nadezhdin despite understanding that such a successful figure could only have emerged in Russia via coordination with the Kremlin. These opposition leaders demonstrate this support to express their stance against the incumbent president (, January 31). Independent sociologists are confident that this support illustrates people’s fatigue with both Putin and the war (, January 26).

Kremlin political technologists are attempting to connect people’s everyday needs to the war, demonstrating that the ongoing war satisfies the Russian people’s basic needs. For instance, in late January, social media users on X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok began promoting excerpts from a documentary about the real estate market in occupied Mariupol. According to propagandists, investing in destroyed housing, which can be sold at a higher price after restoration, is the most profitable path after the chaos (, January 26). Thus, the destruction of residential buildings as a result of the war is portrayed as an obvious benefit, allowing people to address the notorious “housing issue” in Russia and earn money from it.

At the same time, residents of Mariupol claim that destroyed houses are being restored exceptionally slowly, with many remaining in the same condition as at the end of hostilities. Hot water has not been fixed in numerous houses, and electricity is periodically cut off (, January 22). Nevertheless, these realities do not deter Russians. As early as mid-summer, independent media reported that residents from various regions of the country are willing to purchase houses or apartments in any condition and personally restore them after being damaged from shelling, viewing it as a “good investment” and an opportunity to “live by the sea” (, June 29, 2023).

The “allure” of moving to the occupied territories for personal gain involves offers of cheap housing and employment opportunities. By late autumn of 2023, a new wave of high salary offers, even for unskilled work, emerged for those willing to work in the so-called “new regions of Russia.” For example, an “educational worker” in Kherson can earn up to 110,000 rubles per month (over 1,000 US dollars)—a substantial sum by Russian standards, especially for a more rural area. Security guards earn about the same, while dump truck drivers earn 140 thousand rubles monthly. There is a demand for drivers, doctors, engineers, foremen, welders, and more in the occupied territories. Qualified personnel can earn about a 250 thousand rubles per month (, November 16, 2023). According to independent media reports, many Russians are willing to move to the occupied territories to earn money. Some claim they did not fully grasp the extent of the city’s destruction before moving and went there solely for the high salaries (, March 31, 2023).

Similar sentiments are prevalent among Russian elites. Independent analysts, drawing from government sources, report that while officials generally dislike the war and would prefer to avoid it, many have adapted to the situation and find it advantageous as long as they can profit from it in some way. Paradoxically, the frustration and opposition to the war often spur government officials to become more actively involved in “addressing frontline issues and gathering humanitarian aid” (Verstka, January 22). This underscores how the rationale of prolonged conflict and the benefits reaped outweigh people’s initial attitudes.

The concept of linking the innate need to address daily survival concerns to the war is not new. In the first year of the full-scale invasion, Russian authorities released extensive “social advertising” campaigns, encouraging citizens to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense to fight in the war to pay off debts or even purchase new iPhones for their daughters (, December 27, 2022;, December 28, 2022).

In spring 2023, there was a resurgence of such advertising to encourage people to sign contracts to fight in Ukraine. Investigative journalists uncovered deliberate efforts by the Ministry of Digital Development and the “Internet Development Institute” to engage in such propaganda, distributing it free of charge within the social advertising quota. Banners promoting contractual service garnered over 200 million views within the Yandex advertising network (Verstka, January 25).

The number of individuals willing to engage in violence for financial gain, even amidst Russian poverty, remains limited. Consequently, involving people in more “peaceful” reliance on the war is a less challenging task. In the absence of an immediate threat to their life, Russians are more inclined to invest in destroyed housing or “instill patriotism” in children in occupied territories.

This promotion of the policy of moving to occupied territories for personal gain achieves two objectives. First, it normalizes the war for most Russians and even turns it into something advantageous. Second, Russians searching for work and housing who have become personally dependent on the occupation of foreign territories, despite their desire for an end to the war, insist that any resolution occurs on Russia’s terms. For instance, recent surveys reveal that only a third of respondents advocate for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. Furthermore, sociologists observe that even among these individuals, many are only willing to withdraw troops under Russian terms (, November 15, 2023). This approach unquestionably dampens public demand for an end to military actions and strengthens support for Putin, who has made war the linchpin of his rule.