AI can tell us how the Russians feel about the war. Putin will not like the results. End-shutdown

Artificial intelligence can help with this. During the past year, the Center for Strategic and International Studies has worked with FilterLabs.AIa Massachusetts-based data analytics company, to track local sentiment in Russia using AI-enabled sentiment analysis.

Sentiment analysis is a well-tested form of artificial intelligence that trains computers to read and understand human-generated text and speech. The analysis evaluates documents and public comments collected on social media, news outlets, messaging app groups (including Telegram, which is widely used in Russia), and other popular forums to gauge what people are thinking and feeling about local level, and whether that sentiment is trending positive or negative.

These data tell a different story about Russian public opinion, especially outside of Moscow, a story Putin will not like.

Standard surveys often focus on population centers like Moscow and St. Petersburg, which can skew national averages. Outside of those big cities, a more negative image emerges. Our analysis shows that the Kremlin is increasingly unable to control public sentiment outside major cities with national propaganda.

Kremlin propagandists work iteratively, piloting slightly different messages in succession and rolling them out in waves when their analysis indicates they are needed. Since the invasion, waves of Russian state-sponsored propaganda have heightened public sentiment toward the war by on average 14 days across all regions and themes. However, as the war in Ukraine progresses, these positive waves of public sentiment are waning, particularly outside major cities, and need to be deployed more frequently across Russia.

In other words, the Russians seem to be less and less influenced by Moscow’s propaganda, especially when it clearly contradicts the struggles of their daily lives. With Putin’s election war inflicting personal costs on citizens, Russians seem less willing to swallow the state narratives that are broadcast on state television, which remains the main source of information for most Russians.

Effects of mobilization

The news is not all bad for Putin. Russian information operations remain formidable in their ability to mobilize and harness state resources. They are particularly adept at confusing information environments, making people unsure what to believe and undermining their motivation.

But as the war moves into its second year and as more Russians feel its effects in their daily lives, especially the growing number of men conscripted or conscripted into the armed forces, the limitations of the Kremlin’s propaganda are becoming increasingly apparent.

This is particularly true in the regions of Russia most attacked by Putin’s mobilization. Some of the first data FilterLabs collected after the invasion was from the republic of Buryatia, a mostly rural undeveloped region 3,700 miles from Moscow and bordering Mongolia. many of those conscripted into the Russian Army regardless of age, military experience, and medical history they come from regions where ethnic minorities predominate such as Buryatia. In April, a national propaganda campaign generated a positive rise in local sentiment in Buryatia toward the war that lasted for 12 days before returning to pre-campaign levels. But by the end of May, that cycle had been reduced to nine days. In June, when EU sanctions began to affect the economy and reports of Western consolidation behind Ukraine and strong resistance to Russian advances in Buryatia, it took just eight days after a wave of propaganda for public sentiment to fall to a negative steady state. .

These trends are not unique to Buryatia. Significant changes in Russian attitudes were detected throughout the country, sometimes about the course of the war itself. For example, when the Russian military encountered much fiercer resistance from the Ukrainians in March and April 2022, and reports of a high death toll leaked to Russia, FilterLabs detected a decline in support for the war in many countries. regions of the country.

When “partial mobilization” was announced nationwide in September 2022, there were demonstrable drops in the effectiveness of pro-war propaganda. We tracked sentiment across Russia’s eight federal districts, from Siberia to the far east, south, and northwest, and the drop in public sentiment was clearly visible. Opinions tended to be negative, and efforts to impact those opinions were less effective and lasted for a shorter time.

The analysis suggests that the Russians, especially outside of Moscow, are not buying the propaganda as before. Nor has the Kremlin been able to use its propaganda to sustainably mobilize popular sentiment around an affirmative agenda, in this case its war in Ukraine. Confusing the information environment and sowing mistrust has not generated positive support for Moscow’s misadventures.

regime fragility

The data suggests that the Russian government may be more fragile than it likes to admit. Corruption and weak institutions have contributed to the fragility of the state in Russia for decades. The war appears to be exacerbating that trend.

Indeed, our analysis suggests that the social contract between the Russians and the Putin regime is fraying. Financed by high energy prices over the past two decades, the public has acceded to Putin’s autocratic rule in exchange for higher living standards and functional public services.

The state propaganda apparatus, which has expanded from print and television to online platforms, has been crucial in crystallizing this acquiescence, especially since Putin came to power in the early 2000s. The Kremlin has used information operations to create a more chaotic and imperceptible media space and to darken the fragile underbelly of the regime, adopting “foreign agent” and “Extremism” Laws other intimate voices of potential opponentsall while supporting Kremlin-aligned politicians, authorities and policies.

However, events in recent years—the 2014 and 2022 invasions of Ukraine, protests led by opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and the Covid-19 pandemic—have repeatedly shown that propaganda narratives are not enough to cover up the decline in public confidence in the legitimacy of the state. And chaos itself can backfire, or at least quickly diminish its effectiveness, when it is out of step with lived experience, further undermining legitimacy in the state. Given all this, telling Russian men and their families that it is better for them to fight and die in faraway Ukraine is a harder story to sell.

It’s hard to get reliable information from Russia, but our research suggests that the Kremlin’s control over its people may not be what it seems. Despite messages pushed by the Kremlin about high, or even rising, levels of support for the war as the country celebrates the anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine, our analysis suggests that general sentiments have changed. very little in 2023 and that propaganda is still not as effective as it once was.

AI-enabled sentiment data analysis can provide a window into how Russians are feeling and how fickle public sentiment is. This poses internal threats to Putin’s legitimacy and thus his power. It also indicates an inherent mistrust of state institutions that will be a part of Russian society, especially outside of Moscow, long after Putin’s reign ends, whenever that happens.

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