Staunton, November 30 – The collapse in the approval ratings Vladimir Putin enjoys among Russians has attracted widespread attention, but one aspect of that has not – and now a Levada Center poll has highlighted what may be the most dangerous aspect of this for the Putin system: Russians no longer approve Putin more than they do their governors.
As long as Putin’s rating was higher than other federal officials or the heads of the federal subjects, its fall was of relatively little significance. Putin might be becoming less popular, but compared to all other officials and political leaders, he still had a large lead and thus could claim a kind of comparative advantage.
Now that has changed. Today the Levada Center reported and various news outlets noted that “the level of approval for Putin has fallen to the level of that of governors” (levada.ru/2018/11/29/odobrenie-institutov-vlasti-7/ and politsovet.ru/61105-uroven-odobreniya-putina-upal-do-gubernatorskogo.html).
That development is all the more fateful because while Putin’s rating has fallen, the support by the Russian population for their governors has increased, a shift that means many Russians may not be more inclined to look to the heads of the federal subjects rather than to the Kremlin leader as the most effective people in the political system.
That has at least two consequences, either of which could prove very serious to the future of the Putin system. On the one hand, at least some governors are likely to view this as providing the basis for a more aggressive stance toward the center, something that the Kremlin now has a smaller margin of error to counter.
And on the other hand, it is not beyond anyone’s imagination that some federal politician or a major regional one for that matter may decide to try to organize a regional fronde against Putin, something a few commentators have speculated about but that now has a far stronger basis than ever before.
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