In the Thick of It

A blog on the U.S.-Russia relationship
People in Moscow

Pre-War Poll: Young Russians Unwilling to Sacrifice for Russia’s Might

December 07, 2023
RM Staff and Associates

Russia’s RBC news agency has just published its summary of a study mostly conducted before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine looking at the attitudes of young Russians toward their country’s development and global role, as well as their own contributions to both. According to RBC’s summary of the report, the majority of young Russians opposed sacrificing their lifestyle for the sake of Russia’s might, and one-third did not want Russia to pursue global goals. 

The report was co-researched and drafted by a polling center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies and the Higher School of Economics. It should be noted that, first, all three entities are either directly or indirectly affiliated with the Russian state, and, second, most of the polling of the young Russians (4,000 individuals aged between 14 and 35) took place in 2021, before Vladimir Putin chose to start the Russia-Ukraine war in February 2022. These factors should be taken into account when thinking how forthcoming the respondents were, as well and how their (and their pollsters’) views may have evolved. We should also, of course, factor in how fear of persecution may have influenced the responses.1 Still, there are some points in the report worth pondering. 

When asked (multiple answers allowed) what idea should serve as the basis for developing a strategy for the successful development of Russia, almost 39% said it should be the idea of social justice, while 33% said uprooting corruption and almost 33% said the protection of constitutional human rights. 

Of the Russian youth surveyed, 31.1% believed that Russia had already become one of the leading world economies and was a democracy, while 31.5% expected both to happen relatively soon, in the next five to 10 years. In comparison, 15% said Russia would never become a leading economy or a democracy. At the same time, more than half of Russian youth believed that Russia “needs swift and drastic reforms.” Older respondents were more pessimistic about such a development: 21.7% of those aged 30-35 were sure Russia would never have a developed economy, and almost 27% were sure Russia would never be a democracy. 

When asked about Russia’s geopolitical role, 47.3% of young Russians said Russia should be one of the most economically developed and politically influential countries in the world; however, almost 31% said Russia should not pursue global goals. Thirteen percent said Russia should become a superpower, and 8.5% said Russia should be a leader in the post-Soviet neighborhood. 

Russians across different ages perceived “foreign threats” as a foundational concern. In the spring of 2022, 73% to 84.7% of Russian youth aged 18 to 35 and 87.5% of the older generation (aged 36 to 65) expressed concern over foreign-origin threats, according to RBC’s summary.

When asked what the respondents would be prepared to sacrifice for the sake of “enhancing the might of Russia and its sovereignty,” 68% of Russian youth said they are either not ready at all or not quite ready to accept any changes to their lifestyles. Some 87% said they would not accept any increase in taxation, 86% said they would not accept freezing wages, 69% said they would not accept restrictions on Internet use, 55% said they would not agree to refrain from using Western-made consumer goods and 52% said they would not agree to refrain from using Visa and Mastercard. (This final point happened de facto due to Western sanctions imposed after the beginning of Russia’s so-called special military operation in Ukraine.) However, most young people saw the loss of foreign brands and travel to the EU and U.S. as acceptable sacrifices: 38.4% of young Russians were ready to get by without visiting Europe or the United States, and 52% of the youth would tolerate losing access to Western-made products (specifically, food).

It should be noted that young Russians have consistently shown less enthusiasm for some of Russia’s policies when polled by Russia’s leading independent pollster, the Levada Center. This trend has persisted even after the launch of the so-called special military operation (SVO) in February 2022. For instance, Levada’s latest poll on the SVO shows that Russians’ support for peace talks decreases as their age increases. Some 25% of those aged 18 to 24 did not support the “actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine,” according to the Levada Center’s October 2023 poll. In comparison, 82% of those aged 55 or more supported these actions, and only 12% did not support them. At the same time, however, young Russians appeared to be no less supportive of Putin than some of their senior compatriots. In October, Putin’s approval rating among those aged 18-24 was 87%--the second highest level of support among the poll’s six age groups. Only those aged 65 or more were more supportive at 93%. 



  1. As usual with polls in Russia, at least two mitigating factors are important to note: the power of state-run propaganda and respondents’ wariness about speaking with pollsters, both heightened by increasingly harsh laws restricting freedom of speech and punishing dissent.  

Photo by Michael Siebert free for use under the Pixabay Content License.