Putin's next marquee moment: Russia's presidency
Vladimir Putin is almost certain to return as Russia's president next March. Is this Russian-style democracy or evidence of the country's reversion to authoritarian traditions?
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Putin's early success was based partly on the favorable comparison between him and the doddering Mr. Yeltsin, whom he replaced. He also benefited from soaring global oil prices – hydrocarbon exports account for about 60 percent of Russian state revenues – which enabled him to buy social peace and elite solidarity by spreading the wealth around.Skip to next paragraph
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"It's a bit of a paradox that Putin is returning at a moment when the system he built is going into decline," says Liliya Shevtsova, author of an in-depth analysis of Putin's political comeback in the October issue of the Washinton-based journal Foreign Affairs.
"The pinnacle of his system was before 2008, the years of the oil eldorado, when Putin was on top, with lots of resources to work with and massive public popularity," she says. "Now, the economy is stagnating, his popularity is sagging, and people are increasingly frustrated.... The Putin consensus is unraveling before our eyes. Today people don't compare Putin with Yeltsin, they compare him with the early Putin, and find him wanting. Now people don't hope for a better life, they just hope to survive.
"It's a totally different atmosphere," she says.
According to a recent survey carried out by Moscow State University's political science department, and reported by the independent Russian news agency RBK, Putin's stratospheric public approval ratings of 70 percent and more during his early years have fallen to just 44 percent in October.
"Our latest data suggests that people are getting tired of the authorities," says Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the independent Levada Center public opinion agency in Moscow.
Public opinion polling is a notoriously dodgy science, especially in Russia, experts point out. Ordinary Russians may vent their fury at mid-level bureaucrats to pollsters, but are usually loathe to criticize the top leader.
Catcalls for Putin
Yet in one tiny sign that things may be changing below the radar screen, Putin faced an unprecedented chorus of catcalls when he appeared last week at a Moscow martial arts match and attempted to give an improptu speech. Many videos of the event have been posted on YouTube, one of which has since garnered well over 2 million hits.
But that does not translate into any immediate threat to Putin, Mr. Grazhdankin adds.
"The system in Russia is embodied in the figure of Putin. TV depicts him as the hero who takes all into his hands, the one who cares for, protects, and aids the average Russian... Our youth know nothing but Putin as the one and only," he says.
"There is a general perception that if Putin were to leave, there would be chaos."
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