MOSCOW (TIP): From a Western perspective, Vladimir Putin’s days as president of Russia should be numbered: The ruble has lost more than half its value, the economy is in crisis and his aggression in Ukraine has turned the country into an international pariah.
And yet most Russians see Putin not as the cause, but as the solution.
The situation as seen from a Russian point of view is starkly different from that painted in the West, and it is driven largely by state television’s carefully constructed version of reality and the Kremlin’s methodical dismantling of every credible political alternative.
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released Thursday found that about 80 per cent of Russians still support him, hours before Putin vowed in a live news conference to fix Russia’s economic woes within two years, voiced confidence the plummeting ruble will recover soon and promised to diversify Russia’s economy.
But the poll also showed that confidence in the economy is slipping. This is particularly true in Moscow, where people have become accustomed to imported goods and foreign travel, now once again off-limits for many because of the fall of the ruble and Western sanctions over Ukraine.
The poll was conducted between November 22 and December 7, when the ruble was steadily declining. But this week’s catastrophic collapse is likely to have a much greater effect on consumer prices and the standard of living.
For Putin, the question is whether he will be able to convince Russians to tighten their belts, and not just for a few months but possibly for years to come.
“The Russian people have a sense that they are under sanctions, they are a fortress under siege,” said Maria Lipman, an independent analyst. “This kind of mentality is disseminated consistently and steadily by Russian television: Who else is there to rely on except Putin? Putin is seen as the savior of the nation, and I think he sees himself in this fashion.” Putin addressed his countrymen’s concerns over three hours at Thursday’s news conference, sending a message that he’s in charge and all will be fine.
An advertisement before the news conference showed Putin surrounded by Sochi Olympic athletes, petting a baby tiger and greeting cosmonauts. “We are absolutely capable of doing everything ourselves,” he promises the audience.
How Russians view Putin is associated with how they get their news, the poll showed. Those who identified state television as their main source of news are more likely to approve of Putin (84 per cent) than those who have other sources (73 per cent), while those who tune into the news often also have a more favorable opinion of him.
After becoming president in 2000, Putin benefited from high prices for oil, the mainstay of Russia’s economy. In the past decade, Russians saw their living standards rise faster than at any other point in modern history, transforming many average citizens into car owners and globe-trotters for the first time ever.
“I very much support Putin — who else is there to support?” said Valentina Roshupkina, a 79-year-old resident of Gryaz, a town several hours’ drive south of Moscow. “The country is moving in the right direction, I believe, because he lifted up the army, he made the government stronger. People started to be a little bit afraid of us.”
Poll respondents were asked whether they would be willing to speak with an AP reporter, and Roshupkina was among the many who agreed.