‘Inferred Justification’: Why Many Russians Accept Putin’s Explanations On Ukraine For Same Reason Many Americans Did Bush’s On Iraq – OpEd


Two Russian sociologists point to American research about why many Americans accepted George W. Bush’s explanations about Iraq even if they did not feel they had been given enough evidence to justify that to explain why many Russians accept Putin’s explanations for what he is doing in Ukraine.

The explanation, “inferred justification,” is the idea that if leaders make such claims, they must have evidence and that therefore they should be believed was developed by Monica Prasad and her colleagues in a 2009 article entitled “’There Must Be a Reason’:  Osama, Saddam and Inferred Justification,” Sociological Inquiry 79:2: 142-162. 

Anatoly Kropivnitsky and Alya Denisenko say that this pattern in Russia today arises on the basis of the same logic that was operating two decades ago in the United States and shows that what is occurring among Russians need not be explained by any reference to some unique national trait (posle.media/mne-s-etim-legche-zhit-pochemu-fakty-ne-spasut-ot-propagandy/).

An especially important characteristic of “inferred justification” for any action is its resistance to being changed by the appearance of facts calling that judgment into question, Prasad and her co-authors say. And that is certainly confirmed by more recent research on Russian views on the war in Ukraine (publicsociology.tilda.ws/war_report).

At the same time, the two sociologists say, there are differences between the American and Russian cases. In the American, willingness to defer to a leader who makes claims is often related to the earlier decision of those doing to so vote for that individual. They are thus more invested into supporting what he or she does. That is less the case with Russians.

Kropivnitsky and Denisenko note that some have argued that Russian attitudes toward Putin’s decisions are a reflection of some “Russian cultural code” but findings about the role of “inferred justification” at a minimum require viewing this phenomenon in a more complex way and even lead to a rejection of such a “code” as an adequate explanation.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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