Staunton, August 7 – Earlier in his presidency, Vladimir Putin won support from Russians because of his anti-Western actions designed to demonstrate that their country is a world power, Aleksey Levinson says. But today he is losing it for the same reason because the Russian people are tired of the Kremlin leader’s anti-Western rhetoric and actions.
Because of their earlier support for him on this basis, the Levada Center sociologist says, Putin assumed that adopting an increasingly anti-Western position would win him support. But unexpectedly, he turned out to be wrong because the Russian people have changed and want an end to tensions (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/08/06/zdes-krymskii-dukh-vse-bolshe-chakhnet).
Levinson draws that conclusion on the basis of the changing relationship of Russian answers to two questions the Levada Center has asked since Putin became president: “Who deserves the main credit for Russia’s economic success?” And “Who in Russia bears the main responsibility for problems in the country and the increase in the cost of living?”
In 2001, 56 percent said Putin was primarily responsible for the successes and only 22 percent said he bore the chief responsibility for the problems. That relationship remained more or less constant during his first two terms and on his return for his third. Putin’s standing in the polls rose to its highest point after the war in Georgia and the seizure of Crimea.
In the Georgian case, Russians were convinced that Putin had orchestrated a victory over the West because the West was assumed to have trained the Georgians and failed to respond in any serious way after he acted, demonstrating to them that Russia was again a world power that could act as it wanted.
And the experience with the Georgian war “showed Putin what Russia expected from him in foreign policy: it expected a return to that position of a great power of the kind the Soviet Union occupied.” The reaction to the seizure of Crimea reinforced that conclusion about the Kremlin leader, Levinson says.
Thus, “a poor attitude to the West and a good one to Putin were two sides of one coin.” But things began to change with the World Cup in Russia in 2018. Polls showed that the Russian people experienced at that time a significant warming in their attitudes toward the West, a change Putin did not take note of.
With the pension reform, Putin’s rating among Russians fell at the same time that the share of Russians saying he was responsible for the problems of the country rose rapidly, unconstrained by any foreign policy actions that might have kept his standing where it had been, the sociologist says.
“As a result,” Levinson says, “by July 2021, the share who considered Putin responsible for success fell to 42 percent and thus became significantly less than the share of those (54 percent) who held him responsible for the problems in the country. One of course can explain this by the continuing recession and covid. But the reason lies in foreign policy.”
Putin has responded to this situation in the same way he did with such success earlier, but this time around, because the Russian people have changed, things aren’t working for him as they did. How that will work out remains to be seen, but the old calculus is no longer effective. And that change leaves the Kremlin leader with fewer options.