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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

Wednesday, Nov. 26


AmCham’s Public Relations Committee will meet this afternoon in their office in the New St. Isaac’s Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha at 4 p.m.


Zoosphere, an international exhibition focusing on the pet industry, opens today at the Lenexpo convention center on Vasilievsky Island. Not only will items such as toys, terrariums and accessories be available for purchase, but animal enthusiasts can also learn about the latest in veterinary medicine and behavioral training thanks to the conferences and presentations that are part of the event.



Thursday, Nov. 27


The Customs and Transportation Committee for AmCham meets this morning at 9 a.m. in their office on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.


Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg’s showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the team’s website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literature’s most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poet’s birthday. The tragic tenor’s work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russia’s greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Join table game aficionados at the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test one’s intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only man’s best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during today’s reenactment titled “Winter War: How it Was.” More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie “Black Cat, White Cat,” as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of “Takoy Festival,” a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonight’s festival finale is “Fathers and Sons,” a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenev’s classic about familial relations.



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