Seven months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we’re faced with a serious paradox: As things go from bad to worse for President Vladimir Putin’s troops on the ground, he remains overwhelmingly popular at home. But what does overwhelming popularity actually mean in a nation with virtually no political opposition, little free press and a siege mentality?
For an answer, I turned to the people behind some of those polls: Denis Volkov, director of the Levada Center in Moscow — which has been surveying Russian public opinion monthly since before Putin assumed the presidency — and his frequent collaborator Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Moscow Center. And their answer was ... well, it’s complicated. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:
Tobin Harshaw: Putin gave a speech this week proclaiming that Russia was annexing four territories in Ukraine . How is this being received by the Russian people?