What are Russians saying about the war in Ukraine?
We analyzed Russian tweets to gauge public opinions about the war
A significant amount of western media attention has focused on public opinion in Russia since the war began. And for good reason. While there are very few political checks on Vladimir Putin, if the conflict became protracted and increasingly unpopular among Russians, it could force him into a compromise.
At Addition, we've been doing a lot of data science work with Large Language Models like GPT-3, which can simultaneously analyze and translate content in non-English languages. So when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, we decided to use these capabilities to try to understand Russian opinions about the evolving situation.
We scraped all Russian language Tweets about Ukraine since the war began
We scraped the 'location' field of the author to determine their country of residence
We isolated the Russian Tweets and fed them into a GPT-3-based classifier to determine their views about the war
We clustered the Russian Tweets using GPT-3 Similarity Embeddings
We provided samples from each cluster back to the GPT-3 to summarize themes
Classifying Russian Opinions About The War
Given the well-publicized crackdowns on dissent in Russia, it's not surprising that most Russians who are publically Tweeting about the war in Ukraine express a pro-Kremlin point of view.
Of the thousands of tweets we analyzed:
53% classified as 'Pro-Russia’
18% classified as 'Pro-Ukraine'
28% did not express a clear position
It is worth highlighting the significant number of Tweets classified as 'Pro-Ukraine.' Given the risks civilians face by publicly speaking out against the war, this likely reflects a much larger percentage of privately held opinions.
Identifying Themes Among Russian Tweets
By clustering Russian Tweets about the war using GPT-3 similarity embeddings, we can group them based upon the similarity of the ideas they express. We then took the top clusters and asked the AI model to summarize them, resulting in key themes.
Please keep in mind the following themes and summaries have been taken directly from GPT-3 summaries of Russian tweets and do not reflect our own opinions.
“Some Russians say the operations in Ukraine are going well
The tweets seem to suggest that the general consensus among Russians is that the military operation in Ukraine is going well, with all tasks being successfully accomplished. There is particular mention of the fact that Putin has said that all objectives have been met, which seems to reflect a feeling of approval and support for the actions taken thus far.”
“Some Russians express concern about the loss of communication in multiple cities in Ukraine
The tweets discuss the loss of communication in multiple cities in Ukraine, with most tweets mentioning the city of Mariupol. The causes of the communication loss are speculated to be due to damage to infrastructure and citizens fleeing to shelters. The communication is slowly being restored.”
“Some Russians say they will free their Ukrainian brothers and sisters and leave when Ukraine is safe
Russians on Twitter say they will free their Ukrainian brothers and leave when Ukraine is safe. They believe the current Ukrainian government is installed by the United States and is not in the best interest of the Ukrainian people. They hope to free their brothers and leave when Ukraine is safe”
“Some Russians support Ukraine, criticize Russia's actions
These opinions from Russians on Twitter say that ‘Ukraine has not died’ as others have claimed. They criticize Russia for taking over Ukraine, and say that even when fighting a regime, it is not acceptable to take over another country. They also say that Russia should not be proud of taking over Ukraine, because they do not have the right to do what they did in World War II when they liberated Germany from the Nazis.”
Caveats and Conclusions
While we did some quality control to ensure that the conclusions we outline here reflect empirical evidence, they should not be considered definitive. There are many considerations for accurately gauging public opinions, and the steps we outline here are just a start.
Yet despite their exploratory nature, these methods outline a step forward in the ability to analyze international public opinions at scale and in real-time. And by better understanding the dynamic changes and nuances within international opinion as the war evolves, policymakers may be able to identify strategic opportunities that apply pressure to Putin and help bring the conflict to an end.