Casualties of the Russian People’s War, Analysis Shows

Casualties of the Russian People’s War, Analysis Shows

At the start of the war, some US officials predicted that public support for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would wane as the war went on and economic sanctions deepened, potentially putting the conflict on hold. There was pressure to finish. But this has not happened. Support for the war remains strong in Russia. It started off slightly in early March, according to FilterLabs’ analysis, only to rebound around the country’s May 9 Victory Day celebrations.

Still, US officials say it has been difficult to accurately track Russian public opinion, and they also believe cracks in support have begun to appear in recent months.

Polling in Russia, or any other authoritarian country, is an accurate measure of opinion because respondents will often tell pollsters exactly what they think the government wants to hear. Pollsters often ask questions indirectly to try to get more honest responses, but they are difficult to measure accurately.

FilterLabs tries to address this shortcoming by continuously collecting data from small local internet forums, social media companies and messaging apps to determine public sentiment. FilterLabs chief executive Jonathan Teubner said it also seeks platforms where Russians can feel free to express honest opinions.

FilterLabs has worked with Ukrainian groups to try to measure their ability to influence Russian opinion. The company’s work is most useful in measuring the direction of sentiment rather than as a snapshot. As with any attempt to measure public opinion, sentiment analysis is imperfect, contains various sources of potential bias and represents the analysis of only one organization.

FilterLabs uses native Russian speakers to help detect common features of colloquial speech, improving the algorithm’s ability to recognize nuances of language, such as sarcasm and irony. The Company also tries to identify known sources of promotion on such forums and track them separately.

Concerns about high casualties earlier in the war eroded support for Mr. Putin, prompting a propaganda push by the Kremlin. But that loss of support was only short-lived, and according to FilterLabs the public rallied behind the government once again.

The situation looks a bit different now.

FilterLabs found that Kremlin-aligned news outlets are trying to counteract the growing concern, publishing articles that are more optimistic about Russian casualties. But state-controlled news media have had limited influence on opinion so far this year, Mr. Teubner said.

US officials have warned that while the Russians are aware of the high number of casualties, so far that knowledge has not led to war or less support for Mr Putin. But, one official said, the number of recent casualties could be different.

As the war progresses, the shocks of the battlefield become less shocking to the Russians. So one incident has a hard time changing overall support for war, Mr. Teubner said.

But over time, if concerns over casualties persist, support for war is likely to wane. “Despite efforts by Kremlin-aligned information sources to reverse the Russian view,” Mr. Teubner said, “the reality of the death is still one of the Kremlin’s greatest weaknesses.”


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