On the Reasons Behind Putin’s Continued Popularity in Russia
The previous 2-3 years have seen an interesting, but largely ignored, trend in the western media’s reporting about Russia. You might have noticed that almost every week, we keep seeing shoddily recycled “news” stories about socio-economic problems in Russia, musings about how Putin’s underlings are unhappy with him or how the Russian military intervention in Syria and Ukraine is “not working”. Such “news” stories are usually followed with jingoistic chest thumping by keyboard jockeys in the comment sections of said articles and wild speculation about how the USA would “win” against Russia.
Meanwhile in the real world- Putin’s popularity and approval rating in Russia remains extraordinarily high. Even more oddly for many in the west, he seems to be able to achieve all his stated objectives – whether it is destabilizing the west-backed leadership in Ukraine or helping the Alawites win the Syrian civil war with impunity. So what is going on? Why is Putin’s popularity so high? Why is his grasp on power so firm? And why is he able to achieve his objectives with far more success than his western counterparts?
Well.. it comes down to a few reasons.
Reason 1: Russians in 2016 have no illusions about life in the west, especially the USA.
In the pre-1991 era, very few Russians (as a percentage of the population) had ever interacted with people in the west (especially the USA) outside of settings that did not somehow involve diplomacy, trade or propaganda. Few in that country had personal experience with or insight into the worldview of people in the west. The repressive political climate, ugly architecture, sclerotic institutions and general lack of consumer culture that characterized day-to-day life in Russia in the 1970s and 1980s made them susceptible to western propaganda that life in the west was intrinsically better than in Russia. While it is certainly true that the mindset of sclerotic leader and institutions in Russia during those two decades made it an unpleasant place to live in, the appearance of general prosperity in the west during that period had more to do with prevailing socio-economic trends than anything fundamentally better about the western way.
Post-1991, many Russians were able to travel and live abroad for extended lengths of time. Consequently they were able to observe, first-hand, how things in the west (especially the USA) really worked. It is no secret that many were less than happy with what they saw and experienced. The mental image of the west as created by the minds of Russians in the pre-1991 era had little or no similarity to what they actually saw and experienced. The actual product was a shadow of what was promised in all those colorful advertisements. Living in the west also allowed them see and experience the less savory, and previously hidden, aspects of capitalist societies- such as poverty, economic insecurity, homelessness, high healthcare costs etc. In other words- the posed, lighted and photo-shopped images of the heavily madeup woman had little resemblance to what she looked like in real life.
Reason 2: Russians finally saw, for themselves, that the USA always wanted to marginalize them.
In the pre-1991 era, many Russians believed the hostility of USA towards them was based in ideology as opposed to a simple desire to marginalize, impoverish and destroy them as a people. However actions by the USA after 1991 such as the first Iraq war, expansion of NATO to include former eastern-bloc countries, support of Islamic terrorism in Russia and economic policies that caused the impoverishment of Russians in the 1990s have made most of them realize that the hostility of USA towards the USSR was based less in ideology that the simple desire to marginalize, impoverish and destroy Russians as a people. It is therefore not surprising that they would stand behind and support leaders who demonstrated their nationalistic credentials. A large part of Putin’s popularity is due to the fact that most Russians in 2016 know something that their counterparts in 1991 did not- namely that the USA will not stop until it has marginalized, impoverished and destroyed them.
Russians have also seen the USA has little or no interest in actually cooperating with Russia on solving any problems that affect both countries. For example- Russia had its own problems with Saudi-financed Islamic terrorism in Russia in the 1990s. After September 2001, many Russians thought that the USA might finally decide to work together with them against a common adversary. Well.. after what appeared to a promising start, the USA went back to its old ways and turned a blind eye to Saudi-funded Islamic terrorism in other countries- while simultaneously pursuing the doomed strategy of regime change and military invasions of countries in the middle-east. Perhaps more importantly, they kept trying to destabilize neighboring east-european countries and install puppet pro-USA regimes in them. In other words, most Russians have now come to the conclusion that the USA will always be a hostile country.
Reason 3: Russians can now see that the USA is not omnipotent or invincible.
As I have previously mentioned, many Russians in the pre-1991 era admired and envied the USA. They used to see the USA as a place where even the average person had an existence that was materially comfortable and relatively free from ideological conformity. While that was never more than partially true, the general belief that things in the USA were better created a halo of “competence” around all things from that country- from the military and institutions to its economy. Events in the first few years after 1991 such as the outcome of the first gulf war and rapid development of the internet appeared to support this generally favorable image of the abilities and capabilities of the USA. The inability of Russian leaders in the 1991-1999 era to stand up against economic abuse by the USA also helped prop up the idea that the USA was almost omnipotent and invincible.
Then reality intervened..
Sometime between 2000-2002, it slowly started becoming obvious to people in the rest of the world that the USA was not omnipotent nor invincible. The events of September 2001 and their aftermath- especially the reaction of american government and populace, was the beginning for the exposure of its actual abilities and capabilities. As it turned out- both were substantially inferior to what everyone, including people in the USA, had hitherto believed. The disastrous invasions and subsequent occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan did not make things any better- to put it mildly. By 2005 it became obvious that the USA was incapable of winning against diffuse groups of poorly organised insurgencies in countries they had occupied for a few years- even after it spend trillions of dollars trying to do so. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina also exposed the inability of USA to competently address large problems in inside its own territory.
The economic crisis which began in 2008-2009 also exposed the complex and hitherto hidden masquerades that had allowed the USA to prop up its economic system. It is possible to make the argument that by 2010 many of the younger educated people in the rest of the world (including Russia) had come to the realization that the primacy of the USA in technology and economics was largely a good smoke-and-mirror show. Developments in the subsequent years have provided even more evidence that a lot of the supposed competencies of the USA- from civic institutions, higher education, scientific research, health care etc are based in complex scams which use proxy markers of function, progress and competence to cover up the appalling reality. Furthermore, almost every product associated with a materially comfortable and modern existence is now manufactured in countries such as Mexico and China.
To make a long story short- Russians now see the USA as a serial scam artist who does not actually posses most of the abilities or capabilities it pretends to possess.
To summarize, the continued high levels of public support for Putin in Russia are the result of a combination of factors including a much wider understanding of the reality of life in the west and the long-term agenda of USA towards Russia in combination with a much more objective assessment of the actual capabilities of that country.
What do you think? Comments?