What Were Russians Most Worried and Anxious about during First Three Months of Special Military Operation
A special edition of the National Index of Anxieties has been released, identifying and ranking the phobias and fears of Russians based on the analysis of the traditional and social media in the three months since late February 2022.
The ranking of phobias by their importance for people in the traditional and social media:
· The course of the special military operation
· New restrictions on the Internet (blocking of Facebook, Instagram (owned by Meta, a company recognized as extremist and banned in the territory of the Russian Federation), Twitter and other resources, increase in VPN usage)
· Public reaction to the special military operation and Western sanctions
· International companies' exodus from Russia
· Sabotage (pops/explosions, fires at facilities, increased terrorist threat level)
· Rising prices and shortages of goods and medicines
· Reaction of the Western media to the actions of the Russian army in Ukraine
· Escalation of the conflict with the West (war with the US and NATO, the possibility of a nuclear strike)
· Financial instability and reduction in the number of payment instruments (ruble exchange rate, Visa and MasterCard suspending operations)
Despite the fact that the special military operation was altogether a major event, according to the overall evaluation of the traditional and social media, the dominating anxiety was the rise in prices (1873.16), ahead of both the public reaction to the special military operation and Western sanctions (1678.16), and the special military operation itself (1654.43). This suggests that the agenda was generally determined by socio-economic issues that directly affect people’s lives.
Having only the third place in the overall index, the course of the special military operation was the absolute leader according to the Index of Phobia Experience (5.51), with the index value almost one and a half times higher than that of the strengthening of restrictions on the Internet (3.66) and the reaction of society to the special military operation and Western sanctions (3.64). These results suggest that people actively express their concerns and worries about the course of the special military operation in the social media, while the traditional media are dominated by the official point of view.
Anxiety related to the special military operation is also confirmed by the fifth place of sabotage in Index of Phobia Experience (1.72), which is indirect evidence of people’s fears about the possible future course of events.
The international companies' exodus from Russia ranked high in the fourth place both in the overall index (775.10) and in the Index of Phobia Experience (2.42), confirming that it has caused worries among people as one of the tangible consequences of Western sanctions. At the same time, the financial consequences of sanctions (the ruble exchange rate, the situation with payment cards) worried people to a lesser extent. This news ranked in eighth place in the overall index (460.07) and in tenth place in the Index of Phobia Experience (1.14), which may be an indication of the government’s effective work in this respect.
"The first three months of the special military operation saw several overlapping waves of anxiety. The first one was the reaction to the special military operation and to news about this event, including comments in the social and new media. The second wave was related to the consequences of sanctions and the assessment of risks to personal well-being (prices and employment, above all). The third wave was, paradoxically, caused by the reaction to the measures of information control on the Runet – the related blocking and bans cause concerns and worry people," Peter Kirian, CROS Director for government relations and a co-author of the research, said.
"The results of the research suggest that people are getting used to living in the new environment, but there are a number of factors that remain a serious concern. They mainly relate to the changing structure of consumption, for example, the strengthening of restrictions in the media and on the Internet. Everyone was used to free communication in different social media, and now the possibilities for this have narrowed down. It is also about the exodus of international brands from Russia: the prospects for their replacement are unclear to people, and many do not want to change their tastes and habits," Andrey Lebedev, CROS head of analytics and a co-author of the research, commented.
Top anxieties in terms of the importance for people
The course of the special military operation
Social media users actively monitor the developments of the special military operation, expressing fears of further aggravation of the situation and the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons. They are also worried about the shelling of Russian border territories. Military personnel and civilian losses and casualties as well as the pace of the operation are discussed in the social media more actively than in the traditional media.
Anxiety is also fueled by the regular extension of restrictions on flights to the southern airports of the country, which gives people reason to assume that the special military operation is far from over.
New restrictions on the Internet (blocking of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other resources, increase in VPN usage)
The decisions to block access to Facebook (4 March 2022) and Instagram (14 March 2022) (owned by Meta, a company recognized as extremist and banned in the territory of the Russian Federation) drew a great response. The blocking of Instagram was of particular concern, as this social media has become a platform for commerce and various other businesses.
Users also feared that using banned social media via VPN could become a criminal offense.
Public reaction to the special military operation and Western sanctions
The beginning of the special military operation caused a stormy reaction in the society. Users reacted emotionally to public figures leaving Russia: showbiz celebrities, journalists, representatives of the creative class, etc. Chulpan Khamatova’s move to Latvia received the most contradictory reaction. Many of those leaving the country argued that their departure was caused by the fact that they could be persecuted by the state for criticizing the special military operation.
On the other hand, many users actively supported the special military operation (highlighting the Z symbol), which also caused discussions and controversy.
International companies' exodus from Russia
Exodus of Western brands caused a wave of indignation among Russians and an active discussion of the issue in the social and traditional media, as well as a stir around the companies that announced their withdrawal from the local market. People discussed such brands as General Motors, H&M, Intel, Lacoste, Leroy Merlin, McDonalds, Microsoft, Scania, Skoda, Warner Bros, Zara, as well as popular online stores and services (Netflix).
The biggest worry was the closure of IKEA stores. The company announced the suspension of operations in Russia and Belarus on 3 March 2022. The final day when the stores were open was marked by an eruption of shoppers who were buying practically everything.
Sabotage (pops/explosions, fires at facilities, increased terrorist threat level)
Since 11 April 2022, six border regions of Russia have introduced the penultimate level of terrorist threat due to incidents on the border with Ukraine. The largest of them were a fire at an oil depot in Belgorod and a fire at an ammunition depot near the village of Krasny Oktyabr in the Belgorod region. People also reacted nervously to media reports about fires and explosions at facilities and organizations in this or that way related to the military-industrial complex.
Rising prices and shortages of goods and medicines
The problem of rising prices was very notable in the traditional and social media over the past months. The greatest level of anxiety was recorded in late February – early March in connection with the beginning of the special military operation and the introduction of Western sanctions. It was reported that in anticipation of a shortage of goods, including medicines, people began to buy food products, cosmetics and medicines, creating a feverish demand and a shortage of goods in stores and pharmacies.
Later on, social media users showed irritation about the official inflation data, since, in their opinion, it did not correspond to the actual price increase. People were also concerned about the change in the quality of food in educational institutions due to the increase in the cost of products, the shortage of auto parts, animal foods and veterinary drugs. There were worries that further price increases would cause protests in the country.
Reaction of the Western media to the actions of the Russian army in Ukraine
Russian media and social media users actively commented on the materials of Western media about the special military operation. There appeared a widespread thesis that a campaign to spread fakes has been launched against Russia. This issue reached its peak in coverage during April in connection with the events in Bucha. Social media split into two groups, depending on their attitude to how much Western media reports can be trusted.
The surge of worries about the possible mobilization coincided with the first days of the special military operation, when the relevant rumors were actively spreading in the social media. There were posts telling who could be drafted. Expectations of mobilization have partly affected Russians’ migration intentions, with some directly saying that their unwillingness to be conscripted to the army was the reason for their departure from the country.
Escalation of the conflict with the West (war with the US and NATO, the possibility of a nuclear strike)
The greatest anxiety related to a possible war with the United States and NATO appeared at the end of February amid reports that the Russian operational deterrent forces had been transferred to a "special mode." This fear reappeared at the end of April, when Vladimir Putin promised that Russia would give a "lightning-fast response" to attempts by third countries to intervene in the situation in Ukraine.
In general, this anxiety has systemic nature and is connected with regular reports about Western countries providing military assistance to Ukraine.
Financial instability and reduction in the number of payment instruments (ruble exchange rate, Visa and MasterCard suspending operations)
After the introduction of Western sanctions against leading Russian banks and their ban from SWIFT, and after Visa and MasterCard suspended operations with payment cards issued by Russian banks, social media users expressed worries about how they would pay for international purchases as well as send and receive funds from abroad. The ruble exchange rate was also a serious concern. However, further developments have shown that this anxiety has vanished quite quickly.
 The Index of Phobia Experience is a significant indicator of an issue’s relevance and significance and the depth of its discussion. It also allows to reveal pseudophobias, i.e. topics that are present in the traditional media, but are of little interest when discussed in social media.