Why is Putin popular in Russia
If power is a currency, then Vladimir Putin is the richest person in the world. At least that's how the magazine sees it Forbes, who named the President of Russia the most powerful person on the planet for the second year in a row in 2017.
And Putin holds his political capital together. In Russia, the opposition can only be seen on the streets. It is hardly represented in the political system. In the presidential elections on March 18, 2018, there is no serious alternative to Putin among the candidates. After 6796 days in power, the president can be elected for a further six years.
Heavily criticized in the West, revered in their own country. How did the Russian President manage to be so popular after almost 19 years in power?
When he entered the political arena in 1999, Putin was politically a blank slate. The public hardly knows the former head of the secret service, whom the then President Boris Yeltsin appointed Prime Minister.
That changes quickly. Two months after Putin took office, there are bomb attacks on residential buildings in Russia. They are blamed on Chechen terrorists. The population is scared. Putin reacts quickly and sends the army to fight against Chechen rebels in the Caucasus. His approval ratings are increasing rapidly. Expensive advertising campaigns create the image of a sincere and energetic patriot. At the turn of the millennium he is sworn in as president.
Some domestic political measures are damaging Putin's reputation, such as the cut in social benefits. The fact that he is getting himself a third term as president is also causing some resentment. In fact, the Russian constitution only allows two consecutive presidencies. In 2008, Putin to a certain extent swapped office with his confidante Dmitry Medvedev as Prime Minister and, after this interruption, is running for the third time as President in 2011.
But Putin succeeds, especially in the later years of his term in office, in increasing his popularity primarily through muscle games in foreign policy. The interventions in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria are welcomed by large parts of the population. A strong hand foreign policy raises the self-esteem of many Russians, for which they are grateful to the president. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 literally triggered a Putin euphoria in Russia.
For many Russians, Vladimir Putin has become a symbolic figure who embodies self-confidence and strength. When people in Europe smile at Putin's topless rides through the Siberian wilderness, then many compatriots admire him for the staging of his masculinity.
Putin's foreign policy means that the majority have great confidence not only in him but also in the army. Even the security services are perceived as credible by 46 percent of Russians. Most people are dissatisfied with the rest of the institutions, from the rest of the government to the media to corporations and corporations: The politicians clang. The oligarchs are considered outrageously rich. The Russian bureaucracy appears to many to be a monster.
The 1990s in Russia were marked by privatization, sometimes criminal predatory capitalism, eroding state control and the rise of the oligarchs. Russia suffered from a severe recession.
Putin's first presidency coincides with a rapid economic boom. In the 2000s, the economy recovers with rising oil prices on the world market. By 2014 the gross domestic product will increase sixfold. Today Russia, which has 30 percent of all natural resources on the planet, is the eleventh largest economy in the world.
But not everyone benefits from economic growth. The gap between rich and poor is wide today. According to Global Wealth Report The richest ten percent of the Russian population own 77.4 percent of the country's total wealth. At the same time, more than every tenth Russian lives below the poverty line - and the trend is rising.
Falling oil prices have been burdening the Russian economy since 2014. And the ban on imports of western food imposed by Putin as a reaction to the EU and US sanctions in Crimea is causing problems for the country's supplies.
The government in Moscow is trying to divert attention from these problems by relying on patriotism and the image of a strong Russia. The military is part of everyday life in Russia. In some public squares and parks there are tanks on which children climb like on playground equipment, and in front of which school classes pose for pictures. The students of the highly respected military academies walk through the cities in uniform.
Every year on "Victory Day" on May 9, the Kremlin holds impressive, expensive military parades in Moscow's Red Square, which many Russians watch enthusiastically on television. Military spending rose steadily under Putin. With around 69 billion US dollars, the country had the third highest military budget in the world in 2016 - after the USA with 611 billion and China with 215 billion US dollars.
With the end of the Soviet Union as a superpower and the disappearance of state communism, a political ideology that many had oriented themselves to was lost for Russian society. Without this ideology, the world seemed chaotic to them. After religion was banned in the Soviet Union but never completely disappeared, many found refuge in the faith.
Today two out of three Russians profess the Christian Orthodox faith. Putin knows how to use this development for himself. He regularly has himself photographed as a devout Christian at church services. He maintains a public friendship with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kyrill I.
The country is home to many ethnicities and different beliefs. About seven percent of the population are Muslim. The state spends a lot of money for them just as it does for Christian believers. In 2015, Putin opened one of the largest mosques in Europe in Moscow.
While the believers are supported, other groups are discriminated against, such as homosexuals. The Russian word creation "Gayropa" shows that many people in Russia want to distance themselves from Europe. Many Russians see Europe's pluralism of values and openness to homosexuals as a decadent morass without morality.
In Russian television programs, homosexuals are portrayed as sexually dissolute, vulgar or even pedophile. For the conservative majority population, same-sex relationships are a horror that children must be protected from.
In the summer of 2013, Putin signed the "Law against Homosexual Propaganda". It criminalizes positive statements about homosexuality in the media or in the presence of minors. Since then, the hatred of gays and lesbians has grown stronger. More and more often they are victims of violence or murder.
The attitude of Russian society towards the West is reflected in Putin's rhetoric. His statements oscillate between rapprochement and distancing: In 2001 he impressed the members of the German Bundestag with a vision of a Europe united with Russia. He speaks in German, and the MPs enthusiastically applaud the move away from phrases from the Cold War. Putin has been working on Western partnerships since the beginning of his presidency.
But Putin's attitude changed when an alliance of states - led by the US - intervened in Iraq in 2003 without consulting him. The Russian President then condemned the war. Western sympathy for the color revolutions in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia increase his distrust. At the 2007 Munich Security Conference, Putin shocked the West with his criticism of "monopolar world domination" by the USA and warned NATO against expansion to the east.
Putin regards the protests on the Maidan in Kiev in 2013 as a West-backed coup attempt against the Ukrainian government. He surprised Europeans and Americans with the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the West responded with sanctions. Putin thus triggers a deep crisis between Russia and the West, which even leads to the country being excluded from the "club" of G-8 countries.
Sanctions and open hostility continue to shape mutual perception. The USA is once again considered the greatest enemy, Ukraine is in second place, and Germany and Great Britain are now seen less as partners than as opponents.
While Putin is increasingly distancing himself from the West, he is relying on partnerships with several other former Soviet republics: Russia has formed the Eurasian Economic Union with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia since 2015, although this is based on the economic policy of the EU. Despite some conflicts, Russia is also trying to get China and Turkey as strategically important partners. In Europe, Putin is now supporting populist and right-wing parties and forces in order to increase his influence.
In order to secure his power domestically, Putin brought all previously private TV channels under state control at the beginning of his presidency. This is particularly important because Russia is a television nation - many people get their information primarily from the TV screen. Although the Russian constitution guarantees freedom of the press and freedom of expression, there is no longer an independent television channel in the Russian media landscape.
The reporting follows the Kremlin's agenda. The television does not report on members of the opposition. The USA and Europe are portrayed as decadent, discarded and chaotic, while democratic systems are defamed as unstable. In this way, the media tie in with age-old Soviet narrative strategies.
It is true that not all independent media have disappeared from Russia. However, life is made difficult for your employees every day. Again and again they find themselves exposed to state reprisals. Journalists are repeatedly attacked, some are murdered, and the crimes are only rarely solved.
When protests broke out in more than 80 cities in Russia in March 2017, the demonstrators were displeased with the corruption among politicians. Russia's best-known opposition politician Alexei Navalny previously voiced serious allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Medvedev in a video. Navalny calls for protests, and many young people organize themselves in social networks - platforms over which the state largely has no control. Then they take to the streets.
Since then, there have been repeated demonstrations across the country - most recently on January 28, 2018. This time, because Navalny was not allowed to run for the presidential election. The opposition cannot vote for its most famous representative.
Most people stay at home during political protests anyway. The Russian state media claim the demonstrations are attempts by the West to influence Russian society. Many Russians are also afraid of the security authorities and the arbitrariness of the state. The police repeatedly arrest demonstrators under the pretext of having attended unannounced gatherings. There are fines and prison sentences.
Since Putin came to power, Russia has continued to develop into an authoritarian regime. In the British magazine's Democracy Index The Economist the country is currently in 135th place (out of 167 countries recorded). Because the elections are partly manipulated, critical voices are suppressed. Only a "system opposition" is allowed to vote. Its purpose is to give the appearance of democracy and to get more people to the ballot boxes. Because the more votes, the more legitimacy the future elected president has.
Not only is the opposition prevented from doing its work, independent organizations have also faced increasing reprisals. Russian NGOs with funding from abroad have had to register as "foreign agents" since 2012 and are then monitored. The public prosecutor's office has been able to declare foreign organizations undesirable since 2015. Several NGOs from the USA are now banned.
It cannot be said whether Putin will be as popular as he is now in the years to come. The majority of the population is not doing really well. Poverty, price increases, unemployment, corruption, low pensions and a lack of public welfare are worries of many people. The Russian economy is underdeveloped and it depends heavily on raw material prices on the world market.
Despite his long tenure in office, Putin has failed to cope with these problems. And aggressive foreign policy and hostile rhetoric can perhaps lift Russian self-esteem for a while. But they don't fill anyone up. It is not certain whether the reform plans announced by Putin will work and the living conditions of the people will improve - just as there is no normalization in relation to the Western democracies. As certain as Putin's re-election is, Russia's future remains uncertain.
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