The Evolution of Opinion: A close look at 15 years of Putin presidency

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3/31/2015

Evolution of Opinion: A close look at 15 years of Putin presidency

Translated from Russian by J.Hawk

The proportion of Russians supporting Vladimir Putin’s
policies increased by 150% since 2000. The public opinion survey data was
discussed at a Moscow round table which was dedicated to the 15th
anniversary of the beginning of Putin’s first presidential term. Many experts
tried to explain the reasons for the evolution of public opinion.

There was never a discussion like that. Politicians,
political scientists, civic activists and journalists from the presidential
pool took a detailed look at the last 15 years. Because it was 15 years ago
that Vladimir Putin was elected to his first presidential term. The moderator
of the discussion was the head of state’s press secretary Dmitriy Peskov. “Understanding
what went well for Putin and what did not go well, what became of Russia and of
the world during that time is necessary if we are to look to the future with
assurance,” Peskov noted.

First they noted the present, namely Putin’s record approval
rating over the entire history of his presidency. According to the most recent
polls by the Obshchestvennoye Mneniye fund, it reached 75%.  Those aren’t election results, it’s the
actual level of support among the entire population of the country. Yet Putin
began in 1999, while still a Prime Minister Putin, with only 3%. And then the
first burst upward, almost to 50%. This was immediately linked to his forceful actions
against the terrorists in Chechnya. But there was another reason.

“In reality, when one speaks of mass opinion, that’s not so.
The main factor was that he succeeded. He succeeded, through his strength of
will, in having pensions paid,” reminded the president of the Obshchestvennoye
Mneniye fund, Aleksandr Oslon.

The economy that Putin inherited was not simply weak, it was
collapsing. A lot had to be done starting from zero. That’s when Putin took his
first steps. “What happened then, what the entire team shared was the desire to
carry out reforms. We were all in agreement. We followed a strict program which
was prepared at the time on Vladimir Putin’s initiative,” notes Aleksey Kudrin,
the former Minister of Finance.

One had to return the control of the country to one pair of
hands. That’s when all the oligarchs were made equidistant from the government.
That’s when they started to establish vertical authority, without which the
regions would have suffered from chaos.

“In 1999 it was forbidden to sell grain to the rest of
Russia, because you over there are democrats and free marketeers, while it’s
different here,” remembers Margarita Simonyan, the chief editor of the RT TV
channel. “The Krasnodar Region, in particular, was close to holding negotiations
on separating from the rest of Russia. I want to tell you that a year later
none of that was happening.”

Now one has to have another close look at the governors.
When the anti-corruption regulatory agency appeared, the All-Russian People’s
Front, suddenly government abuses were detected, in places like Sakhalin or the
Chelyabinsk Region.

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“Last year saw many dismissals, we all know that. And people
react to that. On the one hand the People’s Front is fighting corruption, and
on the other there are results,” adds Aleksandr Brechalov, the co-chair of the
People’s Front central HQ and the Secretary of the Civic Chamber of the Russian
Federation.

Sometimes it took Putin’s personal leadership to achieve
results in the economy. Decisions which he made alone, even when he was not the
president.

“It’s enough to remember 2009, when he accepted the full
responsibility as the anti-crisis manager,” Peskov continues. “At a time when
nobody knew what would happen, he said he would not allow a second 1998 in the
country!”

It is difficult to imagine the scale of transformations that
took place. Russia’s GDP increased by 75%, foreign debt decreased by 70%, death
rate dropped by 20%, birth rate increased by 40%.  None of that was happening 15 years ago.

On the one hand, a new Sochi, the site of the Olympics, and
the first Russian world-class resort town. On the other hand, the Vladivostok
summit on the Russkiy island which was entirely uninhabitable. To further
energy independence, the North Stream pipeline from Russia to Germany. At the
same time, the construction of huge LNG tankers which leave the shores of the
Sakhalin. And a whole gas town in the Arctic, with extraction, processing, and
its own port.

Civil aviation: the new Sukhoi Superjet airliner. Military
aviation: the T-50 fifth-generation fighter. Plus the Defense Command and Control
Center which impresses with its scale. And, finally, the genuine upsurge of
patriotism caused by the return of Crimea to its Russian home port. That will
remain in history books forever.

“Crimea, of course, that was improbable. Improbable. One had
to be a bold man to do that. He could have said, like everyone says, that we
had done that, we discussed. Putin did not do that. Putin said: I did that. I
am responsible. Only a real leader can talk like that,” explains Karen
Shakhnazarov, the Mosfilm General Director and a People’s Artist of Russia.

Everything that happened later, the anti-Russian sanctions,
the threats by Western leaders, the world-wide crisis that could not have avoided
us, these things not only did not hurt Putin’s rating but rather the opposite—it
grew. Russians to a large extent perceive attacks on Putin as attacks on
Russia. They expect their president to adopt new decisions and new reforms. It
may be that the head of state will announce something on a global scale already
in September, at the UN General Assembly, where he had not appeared for 10
years. The trip is already being prepared.

J.Hawk’s Comment: I remember the beginning of Putin’s first
term very well, and at the time there were few indications he would become a
historic figure, not only Russia’s history but in world’s history. It really
was a remarkable transformation—one that is still continuing.

On a separate one, I am left with a distinct impression that
Poroshenko is trying to be “someone like Putin.” Hence the war on the Donbass,
the pseudo-crackdown on Kolomoysky, the “reforms”, except that Putin was the
real deal, and his reforms were meant to help ordinary Russians. Poroshenko is
still an oligarch, not only in terms of wealth but also in terms of his
mentality and outlook on life, which is why Poroshenko is not going to be
remembered well 15 years hence.

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