Posts Tagged ‘cathy young’

June 2012

The People Versus Vladimir Putin

The Weekly Standard

In one recent controversy, Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee and a Putin crony, was alleged to have physically threatened Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta (the newspaper where murdered reporter Anna Politkovskaya worked), in response to Sokolov’s harsh criticism of law enforcement in an organized crime case. At first, Bastrykin angrily denied the accusation; a short time later, he publicly apologized to the newspaper for his “emotional outburst” and behaving inappropriately. By Western standards, it’s shocking that the head of the Russian equivalent of the FBI can keep his job after a de facto admission that he threatened a journalist. By the standards of Putin-era Russia, the apology attests to public opinion’s newfound muscle.

The opposition and the independent Russian press take Putin’s loss of credibility and public support​—​especially among the educated urban middle class​—​as a given. Is this shift in opinion real, or inflated by wishful thinking? On the surface, Putin’s approval ratings remain impressive; even harsh critics of the vote-rigging in the March election concede that without fraud, Putin’s share of the vote would still have been over the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Yet a closer look at poll data suggests that Putin’s popularity is indeed waning.

A nationwide survey in April by the Levada Center, Russia’s premier independent polling firm, found that only 38 percent of Russians believed Putin would have won the election if the media had been free to report on abuses of power; about as many said he would have lost, with the rest undecided. When people were asked to name Putin’s positive qualities, the poll revealed that his “positives” had declined drastically in four years. In 2008, 62 percent praised Putin as “hardworking” and “energetic”; the figure was down to 38 percent this year. “Mature and experienced” dropped from 47 to 28 percent; “responsible,” from 41 to 17 percent; “likable” and “charismatic,” from an already-low 30 percent to an abysmal 7 percent.

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