In an op-ed titled “Can Putin keep the oligarchs and Russian elites on his side?” published in The Washington Post, Professor of Government Sharon Rivera shared data from her Survey of Russian Elites (SRE). Based on SRE results, she wrote in the March 1 essay that “elite backing is likely to be tepid” for military intervention in Ukraine.
The SRE provides the only repeated cross-sectional survey data of Russian elites. This was the eighth in a series that was begun in 1993. Conducted in February and March 2020, it consisted of 245 interviews with high-ranking individuals working in Russia’s federal bureaucracy, parliament, military and security agencies, private businesses, state-owned enterprises, academic research institutes, and media outlets. Respondents are connected in some way with foreign policy issues.
Two key findings of the report are especially relevant. Elite support for the unification of Russia and Ukraine has consistently declined since 1995. “In 2020, that support fell to its lowest level ever, only 5 percent — while support for maintaining Ukraine and Russia as independent countries reached an all-time high of 67 percent,” wrote Rivera. She also pointed out that, “Crucially, elites have consistently been more concerned about how failing to solve domestic problems threatens Russia’s security than about threats emanating from the West.”
In her concluding remarks, Rivera wrote, “If military action in Ukraine and its consequences for the Russian economy make it impossible for the Kremlin to progress on key domestic concerns such as infrastructure, health care, inflation, and climate change, Putin may lose elite support for any bid to stay in power beyond 2024.”