Sociologists of war: why anti-Russian sanctions should be extended to Russian Public Opinion Research Centre

The Russian authorities are going to announce the so-called ‘entry’ of 4 Ukrainian regions into the Russian Federation. The aggressor country is trying to legitimize the forceful seizure of parts of the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk regions in Ukraine.

No civilized country will ever recognize this decision. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has explicitly called it a takeover. Even countries under strong Russian influence, such as Belarus with a puppet government and president, are in no hurry to announce their recognition of these Ukrainian territories as annexed by Russia, realizing all the illegality and absurdity of what is happening. 

On the territory of each of these regions, there are now the troops of the Russian Federation and the Russian occupation administrations. They are fighting with the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which successfully liberate city after city. In this situation, Russia has no choice but to declare these territories ‘its own’ and under the pretext of ‘protection’ to continue the illegal mobilization of its citizens for the war with Ukraine. Trying to deceive Russians, stating that Ukrainian cities are a part of their country, and consequently, which they have to protect.

Having lost the regular part of the army in Ukraine and found themselves in international isolation, the Russian leadership has shown its complete incompetence. And now they want their ordinary citizens to pay for these crimes and mistakes, who could not even point Berdyansk, Kherson, Severodonetsk, and Mariupol on the map of Ukraine 6 months ago, and most of the mobilized had not heard anything about these Ukrainian cities.

Now the Russians are told that this is ‘their land’ and they must ‘protect’ it from its rightful owner. 

In fact, it is an armed robbery. But the seemingly intelligent and a little shocked by such impudence, the victim refused to surrender, and the Ukrainians are taking their property back. Now the robber is calling for help from its citizens, whom it wants to make direct accomplices in the crime of war. It looks absurd, so the Russian leadership had to somehow justify it and add logic, presenting the robber as a victim – and there are many methods used for this.

Occupation is not only when the enemy military stands in the city, it is also the occupation of the media space, ideological capture, the imposition of one’s own agenda and the forcible squeezing out of any other. It is no coincidence that the invaders first of all brought huge mobile screens to the bloodless and destroyed Mariupol to broadcast their propaganda to those people whom they themselves had made homeless, depriving their city of any future.

But suppressing any dissent and resistance is not enough. The occupiers need to broadcast their picture from the captured cities at the international level and for their fellow citizens who have no idea about life in Ukrainian cities, which, according to Putin, have always been Russian. Russia needs to be shown as it is not an occupier and does everything according to the ‘will of the people’, and sociologists of the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre draw ‘the will of the people’.

On the eve of the so-called ‘referendums’, the so-called Russian sociologists published the results of a ‘poll’, according to which the majority of the inhabitants of the occupied territories ‘declare their intention to take part in voting on the issue of the territorial affiliation of these regions.’

The majority of the polled residents of the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, who are ready to participate in the ‘referendum’, voted in favour of the republics joining the Russian Federation as subjects of the Russian Federation (97% each)’. Participants in this ‘poll’ from Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions support joining Russia ‘as its subjects (87% and 89% respectively)’. Russian ‘sociologists’ say they conducted their survey by phone and interviewed 4,000 people.

‘The data obtained testify to the high degree of mobilisation, charged society to participate in the vote. Such a situation develops when personal motivation is supported by ideas about a socially approved model of behaviour. You can predict a very high level of turnout. Most likely, the majority will vote in the first days, and will not postpone their will. Participation in voting for the majority is a consolidation of the previously made choice,’ Mikhail Mamonov, head of the Political Analysis and Consulting Practice, comments on the results of his ‘poll’, head of the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre.

For a long time I worked on the topic of the Russian occupation of Donbas and civilians who found themselves in the territory of the military conflict and occupation. During my work, I participated in several sociological studies both in the regions controlled by Ukraine and in the Russian-controlled territory. These were both surveys and focus groups. I remember how difficult it was to coordinate the questionnaire with professional sociologists, how I had to check every word in the question in order to get a relevant result. And even this did not guarantee that a person would speak openly.

At the same time, it was always stipulated that this topic is conflict, that people under occupation cannot speak openly on many topics, and their real position can only be guessed from the answers to indirect questions. At that time, the Russian invasion of Ukrainian Crimea and Donbas killed 14 000 people, and the situation was classified as a ‘conflict’ of low intensity.

Now a new phase of the Russian invasion has cost dozens of times more lives. Residents of the Ukrainian regions, in which the so-called ‘referendum’ was held, are not watching the war on TV; it is in their homes in the form of explosions and shelling. The war is on their streets in the form of patrols of the occupiers, terror and violence. Any sociologist will say that under such conditions it is impossible to get truthful answers to any question. What poll can we talk about when hundreds of thousands of people have left the occupied areas, saving their lives?

Mistakes can only be pointed out to those who make them unconsciously and really want to get an exact result.

In this case, Russian ‘court’ sociologists were engaged in media coverage of the occupation with the help of fake polls. They are the same accomplices in crime as the Russian military and politicians, and maybe worse. With their ‘polls’, they also support mobilisation in the media, sending their own citizens to death, motivating them to ‘protect’ people whom they have never seen in their lives and who did not ask them about it.

Young and elderly residents of the provincial part of Russia will come to Kherson and Berdyansk, hoping that they are expected there. But in reality, guerillas, illegal workers, explosive devices, shelling, and in the best case, just the hatred of the local people, from whom they stole peaceful life, will be waiting for them there.

Russian ‘court’ sociologists are accomplices in crime and should be punished on a par with their accomplices.

Sanctions against Russia should be extended to Russian Public Opinion Research Centre and its leadership. They consciously became an instrument of war against Ukraine and must be punished.

Vitalii Syzov, journalist of the FREEDOM TV channel.