Submitted by George Callaghan…
What explains the exceptional and enduring popularity of President Putin? I am a day one opponent and vociferous critic of Vladimir Putin. However, as a fair-minded person I am obliged to acknowledge that he commands the approval of a high majority of Russian people. How can this be accounted for? Having first visited Russia in 1994 the transformation over quarter of a century has been remarkable.
In the early 1990s the nation was on the skids. The people were without hope. Dejection was etched on every face. Once proud war veterans were reduced to selling their metals for bread. Society was in freefall. In 1991 the USSR dissolved. Within two years there was open fighting on the streets of Moscow and hundreds of people were killed in the constitutional crisis October 1993. The Russian Government could not even control its own capital. Gangsterism was rife and there seemed no way out of the impasse. Hyperinflation played havoc with the economy. There was mass unemployment. Even those who had a job were not paid for months. The police were wont to shake people down since they had no other way to keep body and soul together. The country was embroiled in a grueling Chechen conflict. Drug abuse and religious cults spread like wildfire. Many assets were bought by vulture capitalists. Moscow was infested with a flock of foreign speculators whose ignorance was matched only by their arrogance. Russia’s nose was rubbed in the dirt. Nothing was secure and everything was uncertain. Refugees from other former Soviet republics flooded into Russia and could not be provided for. The country was in turmoil. Confidence in public organs was at an all-time low. Many feared that the Russian Federation would become a failed state.
Now a mighty nation is back on its feet. Upheaval is over. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin provides continuity and stability. His vigorous and virile leadership is appreciated by the masses. His style is decisive and he has often achieved impressive results.
The economy has grown almost every years since 1997. Unemployment is low. Wages are paid on time and they are much higher than in the 1990s. The state executes its functions efficiently. People are no longer gulled by Chaucerian chancers. Inflation is low. People have faith in their institutions. The Armed Fores are paid on time and are very well equipped.
The Chechen Conflict is long over. Ramazan Kadyrov maintains very strict order in his homeland.
Russia has become such an alluring place to live that economic migrants are pouring in from across the globe. Tourism is also blossoming. The economy is diversifying. Staging the Winter Olympics and the World Cup were both coups.
Education is flourishing. Many people are now fluent in English. Others are mastering Chinese.
There are few beggars to be seen. Even the poorest live decently.
Infrastructure has improved dramatically. Things are in a good state of repair. The national projects promise to upgrade transport links. There will be renovation of buildings and other networks.
The population is growing slowly. In the 1990s people had no faith in the future and most chose not to have children.
The situation is imperfect. Economic growth should be higher. Confrontations with the West have led to sanctions. Corruption has not been completely rooted out. The government interprets ‘extremism’ too broadly. People grumble that state pensions are niggardly.
For good or ill Russia is making its presence felt on the world stage. The Russian mission Syria is greatly valued by the long suffering people there. They regard Russia as battling to defend the values of the enlightenment against barbarian obscurantism.
President Putin enjoys favourable press coverage wall to wall. This certainly boosts his ratings. However, despite the press corps deference there is no doubt that he is genuinely popular. He does not have a 100% approval rating. I have to be realistic. Even when people are disappointed with the prime minister or other ministers this does not mean that blame attaches to the head of state. He will be a hard act to follow.