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Putin's Popularity Masks an Uncomfortable Reality

By Pyotr Romanov

Published: August 29, 2014 (Issue # 1826)




  • Photo: Viktor Bogorad

It has become increasingly common to hear people — even opposition politicians — say that it is in Russia's best interests for President Vladimir Putin to remain in power as long as possible. Otherwise, they say, things could get even worse.

I agree with that argument, but with one caveat: If Putin loses power, things could get even worse for the West as well. That might sound like heresy to some, but just hear me out on this.

According to a recent Levada Center poll, Putin's approval rating has dropped slightly since the beginning of the month, probably due to the recent food imports ban. Despite this, his current approval rating of 85.5 percent is impressive by any standards.

Observers typically ascribe the astronomically high approval rating to recent events in Ukraine and the Western sanctions that act on most Russians the way a red flag acts on a bull.

That explains the surge in Putin's popularity, but it does not explain why his ratings have remained consistently high ever since he served as prime minister in the late 1990s under former President Boris Yeltsin. It is rare for any politician in any country to enjoy such support for so long.

One of the reasons for the initial rise in Putin's popularity lies in the traditional mentality of the Russian people, who tend to believe less in their own strength and more in a national hero or savior.

After a litany of disappointing Soviet leaders — such as Leonid Brezhnev, who was senile; Yury Andropov, who was only half-living; Konstantin Chernenko, who was already half-dead; Mikhail Gorbachev, who spoke well but led poorly; and power-hungry but drunken Boris Yeltsin — the Russian people hoped to finally "win the lottery" and land a leader in whom they could place their full confidence.

Most Russians were sincerely convinced that Putin was the only man capable of implementing "national projects," getting fifth- and sixth-generation combat aircraft off the drawing board and into the air, raising pensions to European levels, resolving the demographic problem, eliminating corruption, commencing the drilling of Arctic oil and so on.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Monday, Oct. 20


Amateur pictures from World War I are on display for only one more day at Rosphoto’s exhibition “On Both Sides,” chronicling the conflict through the eyes of observers on both sides of the trenches. The price of entrance to the exhibition is 100 rubles ($2.50).



Tuesday, Oct. 21


The Environment, Health and Safety Committee of AmCham convenes this morning at 9 a.m. in the organization’s office.


Take the chance to pick the brains of Dmitry V. Krivenok, the deputy director of the Economic Development Agency of the Leningrad region, and Mikhail D. Sergeev, the head of the Investment Projects Department, during the meeting with them this morning hosted by SPIBA. RSVP for the event by emailing office@spiba.ru before Oct. 17 if you wish to attend.


Improve your English at Interactive English, the British Book Center’s series of lessons on vocabulary and grammar in an informal atmosphere. Starting at 6 p.m., each month draws attention to different topics in English, with the topic for this month’s lessons being “visual arts.”



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