The failure of the rebellion of Yevgeny V. Prigozhin has severely eroded his domestic support, but nearly 30 percent of Russians still view the mercenary leader Wagner favourably, according to opinion polls released Monday.
And the results of two June polls conducted by Russian Field, a Moscow-based nonpartisan research firm, found that Mr. Prigozhin’s decision to march Wagner’s mercenaries into Moscow on June 24 reflected a steady rise in opinion polls that had made him one of the most popular Russians. People’s war leaders.
Prigozhin’s short-lived rebellion, which he quashed within hours, had posed the biggest challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s leadership in his two decades in power.
The remaining support for Mr. Prigozhin is particularly remarkable in light of the Russian government’s concerted effort to discredit him; lack of popular support for the rebellion from Russian political and military leaders; and the deaths of several Russian military pilots who faced the Wagner rebels. The election also took place amid an increasingly harsh crackdown on free speech, which has seen Russians jailed for expressing anti-government views.
Experts are divided on the accuracy of polling in Russia, where criticism of the war in Ukraine is illegal. Some claim that suppression prevents respondents from expressing their true opinions. Survey companies defend their business by saying that well-designed surveys can still produce reliable results.
Between 70 and 80 percent of people contacted by phone through “Russian Fields” refused to participate, highlighting the difficulties of attracting public opinion in the country.
Russian Field surveyed two separate groups of about 1,600 people across Russia by telephone, one shortly before and the other shortly after the Wagner Rebellion. The polls have a margin of error of 2.5 percent.
Overall, Prigozhin’s support dropped by 26 percentage points in the aftermath of the revolt, according to the poll. Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed said they still viewed Mr. Prigozhin positively, while nearly 40 percent said they viewed the mercenary leader negatively. A third of respondents said they were not aware of his activities or refused to answer.
The findings appear to align with an analysis by FilterLabs.AI, a public opinion firm that monitors social media and Internet forums to track popular sentiment in Russia. This analysis found a sharp drop in support for Mr. Prigozhin after the rebellion.
Polls conducted by Russia’s Field Marshal found that as Mr. Prigozhin launched increasingly scathing attacks against the Russian ruling class, his support rose steadily until he made his high-stakes gambit against the government. The share of Russians who supported him rose by 14 percentage points, to 55 percent, from February to early June, according to the research firm, despite the lack of media coverage from state-controlled television networks, which remain an influential source of news for Russians.
Prigozhin’s rating was based on two pillars: support for Vladimir Putin and honest rhetoric. “He called a spade a spade and talked about problems that others are afraid to talk about,” Artemy Vvedensky, the founder of the Russian Field, said in written responses to questions.
Opinion polls show that state propaganda has partially succeeded in changing these perceptions. In the aftermath of the rebellion, Mr. Prigozhin’s support has fallen sharply among Russians over 60 and those who mainly get information from television, according to opinion polls.
Polls find, by contrast, that Russians aged 18 to 44 are split roughly evenly between supporters and opponents of Prigozhin. The mercenary leader and tycoon has also maintained strong support among Russians who mainly get their information from popular messaging app Telegram and online news sites, suggesting his online media network has a significant reach.
Mr. Prigozhin arrived in Belarus last week, according to that country’s pro-Russian president, Alexander G. Lukashenko, though he has not been seen in public since the rebellion. The Russian authorities blocked the news and other websites controlled by the Wagner leader.
His future popularity will depend on how active he is in public, given that few “straight shooters” remain in Russia’s tightly controlled media space, Mr. Vvedensky said.
Julian Barnes Contribute to the preparation of reports.
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