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What are ordinary Russian soldiers saying about the war in Ukraine?

Insights from online military forums
What are ordinary Russian soldiers saying about the war in Ukraine?

The general rule of data seems to be: the more the merrier. Big data, large language models (AI), national polling – the more information we collect, the more certain our knowledge becomes.

There’s nothing wrong with collecting a lot of data, of course. FilterLabs.AI’s analyses run on large language models that take in an enormous amount of information. Analyzing data on this scale allows us to detect shifts in sentiment on different topics so we can investigate what may be underneath them, as well as differences in attitudes between different regions and communities.

At the same time, we also believe that there’s a lot to be learned from zeroing in on local data, and on individual artifacts that reflect the view of a single person at a single point in time. 

For example, FilterLabs has been monitoring the military forum RusArmy. The forum has about 35,000 monthly visitors. They argue, gossip, and comment on the latest news from the front. 

In combing through the conversations on RusArmy, FilterLabs noticed the following trends:

  1. Anger at generals and politicians

It should come as no surprise that many Russian soldiers are critical of their generals. After all, the war has been a stalemate for years. A large number of Russian soldiers seem to regard Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu in particular with nothing but disdain; there were numerous posts on the forum criticizing him, alongside some that were neutral and a few voicing positive views. In the summer of 2023, one forum message read, “I personally know several angry fathers whose children died in the [meat grinder style] assaults near Marinka. And these fathers blame Shoigu, of course.”

Other messages contrasted Shoigu unfavorably with the mercenary commander Yevgeny Prigozhin. One wrote: “Shoigu’s authority was not high among the troops anyway, … after all, he was the President’s man. And now, after Prigozhin’s speeches, [Shoigu’s] authority has collapsed quite a bit. After all, everyone sees who has achieved what.” Still other commentators wrote that Shoigu’s incompetence was no surprise to anyone who had seen him in his old position as Minister of Emergency Situations (and the target of numerous corruption allegations). 

Forums like these, where individual Russians communicate and express their views online, are part of the body of social discussion FilterLabs monitors on an ongoing basis (along with messaging platforms and posts on Russian social media sites). Looking back over the past ten months, it’s clear that attitudes surrounding Shoigu across these channels was volatile, especially last summer:

However, these soldiers’ acerbic criticism of Shoigu was notably less reflected in the mainstream Russian news:

As we see on the second chart, sentiment in news stories about Shoigu had a few downward tumbles last summer but has remained relatively stable and positive overall. There is, it seems, quite a disconnect between the defense minister’s media profile and the opinion of his troops. 

A few commentators on RusArmy condemn Russian leadership more broadly. Their children, one commentator noted, were not at the front. Politicians “have children in London, Courchevel [France], New York, and Paris. They are cuddling with the same [anti-Ukranian slur] children.” 

Another soldier went even further: “Officials and [law enforcement] need to be periodically frightened with the specter of a revolution or coup. Otherwise they relax too much.”

It’s important to note that soldiers’ dissatisfaction with military and political leadership does not necessarily mean opposition to the war. On the contrary, when these soldiers complain about politicians’ children, or gripe about a coup, they are typically complaining about a lack of commitment to the war effort or about general government corruption, not about the war itself.

  1. Contempt for the Ukrainian armed forces 

The Russian soldiers do not hold their Ukrainian counterparts in high regard. They gloat about the Ukrainian army’s personnel and equipment shortages. 

In terms of personnel, many RusArmy users claim that the Ukrainian army is being forced to enlist people with physical disabilities. “There are only enough [anti-Ukranian slur] left for two or three counterattacks. Maximum five,” wrote one commentator. 

Other posts give detailed comments on the Ukrainian army’s munitions problems. They claim that the equipment from the United States and other Western countries is of low quality, or generally unsuitable for waging modern warfare. Some of the analysis is more perceptive. For example, one post has a long discussion of Ukrainian artillery, and the challenge of using shells made in different countries: “Ukraine is faced with a situation in which a huge number of countries supply it with shells, but it is impossible to lump all these shells into one pile, fire them and count on at least some effectiveness. In turn, this creates an additional burden on military logistics and slows down the work of artillery crews.”

Some posts on the forum note the ruthlessness and brutality they believe characterizes their opponents. One commentator wrote: “I'm betting on terrorism in the style of the Anglo-American terrorists from the North Caucasus at the beginning of the century. Schools, hospitals, theaters and ordinary high-rise buildings, along with nuclear power plants, will be prime targets.” 

Once in a while, a post will emphasize the human costs of the war. One user shared a picture of empty boots and wrote: “Each shoe symbolizes Andryukha, Vanya, Petya, Sasha, Oleg, Kirill, Vasya, Stepan, who died in the fight with Andrey, Ivan, Petya, Sasha, Oleg, Kirill, Vasya, Styopa.” These posts emphasize the tragedy of a war between such ethnically and culturally similar people. 

In general, however, the RusArmy commentators are optimistic about the war. They believe that the Ukrainian army is exhausted, and that the end is near. 

  1. Rumors and conspiracy theories

RusArmy is also full of what can only be called conspiracy theories. 

In one case, a RusArmy poster accused the gay Ukrainian soldier Viktor Pilipenko of sexually assaulting other soldiers. “A Ukronazi [Ukrainian Nazi] rapes wounded AFU [Armed Forces of Ukraine] officers. … Viktor Pilipenko, infected with European values and AIDS, is actively adjusting wounded militants from the 72nd brigade to ‘NATO standards.’” The FilterLabs team found no evidence of this story in any independent or reasonably trustworthy publication, suggesting its roots lay not in fact, but in dislike of Pilipenko as one of the first openly gay Ukrainian soldiers.

There were also outlandish rumors about the Ukrainian government. In a (likely doctored) video, Ukrainian soldiers were buried anonymously in mass graves. The video showed black bags laying in the earth, before a tractor leveled the ground over them. “Why is this happening?” asks the commentator. The post speculates that the burial is anonymous so that the soldiers can be declared “missing in action,” and “the impoverished Zelensky” regime will not have to pay pensions or benefits to their wives and children.

Many rumors concern foreign fighters. One post claims that the US has started to recruit prisoners from drug cartels to be sent to Ukraine. Another says that the Ukrainian military is luring people from countries like Colombia with promises of money and glory, but instead met them with “Fraudulent schemes, total corruption and medical negligence.” 


Judging from RusArmy forum discourse, morale among Russian soldiers seems relatively high. A large number of commentators believe that the Ukrainian army, low on troops and munitions, is near its breaking point. They feel that victory is sure and near. 

That being said, there is also real ugliness and anger on this forum. Many soldiers on RusArmy dislike their own leadership, but not as much as they dislike the Ukrainians. The board is also full of conspiracy theories. The long-term consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war are difficult to forecast, but based on the conversations on RusArmy, it appears that one may be a growing cohort of staunchly nationalistic and often angry Russians.