10 September 2019

Vladimir Putin- 20 years in power

Sergiu Medar

On 9th of August 2019, Vladimir Putin celebrated 20 years since he is running Russia. After a promising start, as he seemed he was going to improve the Russian living, Kremlin’s leader ambitions to put Russia back on top of the global values scale, have led the country, now affected by international sanctions and corruption, to unacceptable living standards. This is the reason why, lately, prioritizing the decent living conditions in the detriment of Russia and its leader’s ambitions, the support for the elected president and both his domestic and foreign policy has decreased.

Image source: Mediafax

This year, on 9th of August, there were celebrated 20 years since President Boris Yeltsin has appointed Vladimir Putin to be Russia’s government prime-minister. On 31th of December, the same year, 1999, with Yeltsin’s resignation, Putin became the interim president of the Russian Federation, and a year later, the elected president of the Russian nation.

In these two decades since Putin started to decide, in fact, Russia’s destiny, there have been, by all accounts, many ups and downs. Russian population’s reaction followed this tendency, being more reactive to the economic evolutions, rather than to those related to foreign policy.

Russia’s economic and political evolution in the Putin era was dominated by his decisions, who has run the country autocratically.

Between 2000 and 2008, during Putin’s first and second presidencies, Russia’s economy has increased with 72%, in only 8 years. This increase was the result of oil’s price and the moderated fiscal and economic policies. It was also the time Russia seemed to want to grow as a democratic state and enlarge its economic and political connections with the Western states. It was, as well, the time NATO and EU has extended towards East Europe.

In 2011, Putin announced that he wants to run for the 2012 presidential elections, which he actually won with 64% of the votes. Seeing NATO and EU’s enlargement in the states he thought he was having an influence on as a threat against Russia’s national security, Putin dramatically changed his foreign policy character, by increasing its aggressiveness. Oil’s price collapse and the Western sanctions he got, after illegally occupying Crimea and the military intervention in East Ukraine, have deteriorated Russia’s economy, getting to a 3,7% GDP decrease in 2015. Along with recession’s causes, there is also the fact that due to Russia’s foreign policy there are increasing the military costs for army’s modernization, as well as for new equipment. Such policy cannot reach performance without a trustable deterrence capacity, only offered by a high technical and operational robust army.

In 2016, when oil’s price came back to normal, Russia’s economy went out of recession, registering a light increase, 0,3%. It is also the time Kremlin starts a complex arm program.

In March 2018, Putin wins the fourth presidential mandate with 76% of the votes. He was elected for 6 years, in other words, he will be Russia’s president until 2024.

The opposition and OSCE’s observers has warned about the shortcomings registered in the electoral process, but these did not change vote’s result decisively. Then, people started to develop demonstrations, mainly in big cities, which were just the beginning of a long period of protests, proving Russian people’s civic spirit, something totally absent since Putin started to run the country. As these anti-Putin manifestations increased and intensified, violence and how authorities reacted to them also got more intense.

People’s attitude towards Putin was strongly influenced by Russia’s foreign policy evolutions and especially state’s economic situation. After he invaded and took Crimea over, it happened what the analysts call the “Crimea effect”. According to this phenomenon, 64% of the population were thinking that the country was going in the right direction after occupying Crimea, in August 2014, comparing to 40% in 2013. A year later, when the West has imposed sanctions to Russia, this enthusiasm has dramatically decreased from 64% to 44%.

A modest majority of the Russian population (54% in October 2018) agrees with Kremlin’s forceful foreign policy, the intervention in its close neighborhood, combating West’s policy anywhere around the globe and protecting the Russian speakers against possible discriminations.  

According to Levada Center, an independent sociological poll organization, which asked for answers to the question: if Russian ethnics’ rights in a neighbor country would be seriously violated, what should Russia do? 35, 8% of the respondents said that they should look for a negotiated, peaceful solution, 29, 8% have stated that the Russian state should not get involved in such a dispute and only 28, 1% that they should use any methods, including the military force, to protect the Russian speakers, who are not properly treated in the states they live in.

The different perspectives are highlighting Russian society’s breach in terms of using force. People’s attitude that live in the big cities are different from those living in the rural area. The second category is less concerned with consequences and supports the force intervention. 41, 2% of the Muscovite state that the intervention in a country close to Russia would mean interfering in other states’ domestic businesses. Two years ago, this percentage was only 19%.

Levada has interviewed a relevant group of Russian citizens and asked them if Russia should allow Ukraine to accept the invitation to enter in the Western security, economic and political institutions. 48% of the Muscovite and 37% of small cities’ or the rural area population have answered that Russia should give a positive answer. Only 18% of the respondents have stated that Russia should block Ukraine’s accession to NATO or EU. Only 3% of those who answered the poll are supporting the Russian military intervention in Ukraine and would send their own son to fight.

Only 8% of the respondents have firmly supported the restauration policies of the international prestige and Russia’s military capabilities, “even if these measures would decrease population’s living standards”. The rapport between those supporting these policies and those who are against is 38 to 62.

The rapport between those supporting “Putin’s activities as Russia’s president” and those who do not agree with them is 45 to 55. There is a big difference between the 76% of the votes, for Putin, from March 2018, and these polls’ percentages.

All of these are highlighting that the time Russia’s population was willing to give up anything for the glory of what was called Mother Russia, is long gone.

The popular support for Putin has decreased even more when Kremlin’s leader has increased, in the summer of 2018, the retirement age.

Given the big difference between the political education level and the international phenomena understanding, the urban and the rural population, Levada center made a poll among the Russian elites, composed of leaders of the political and administrative institutions, entrepreneurs, security services and military people, media, as well as academic and scientific research structures. 36, 7% of the people see “the inability to solve domestic issues” as the main threat against national security, and 22, 2% terrorism as the main threat. Only 7, 4% consider US’s military capabilities increase as a threat for Russia. The conflicts at Independent States’ Community’s member states’ borders (4, 5%), ethnical domestic tensions (3, 3%) and West’s informational war (2,5) have recorded minimum percentages, which shows that for the Russian elites the main security issue is related to Russia’s domestic policy.

These polls are underscoring that, after 20 years since Putin got the power, he is facing more and more obstacles in reaching his objectives. Putin’s foreign policy had three major objectives: making Russia a first class global power again, combating US’s actions anywhere in the world and making Russia an absolute leader among the former Soviet Union’s states. Russia’s president, in his 20 years, reached none of the objectives above. His ambitious, however, has created the opposite reaction among the population that is out on Moscow’s streets for a month. The Russian authorities have reacted violently, even arresting 1000 of the remonstrant.

James Nixey, program director for Russia and Eurasia at the Chatham House, was mentioning: “Life is getting harder and harder for Vladimir Putin after 20 years in power, where living standards are now dropping quite considerably as a result of the oil price not increasing, as it was for the first 15 years of his reign. And of course sanctions and corruption (are) hitting more”.

It is already obvious that the popular support for Putin is going down. Given the bad situation regarding the domestic economic and political situation, in an international environment that is not favoring Russia at all, in the time he has left as president, according to Russia’s current constitution, the Kremlin leader will experience a quite difficult time until 2024.

Translated by Andreea Soare