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The Danger of an Unpopular Putin

As the average Russian’s wellbeing has declined, proclamations of Russia’s greatness have begun to ring hollow for much of the population. But if Vladimir Putin’s 18 years in power has taught us anything, it is that the sharp decline in his approval rating is not good news for anyone.

MOSCOW – Just seven months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin won re-election, for the fourth time, with 77% of the vote. But according to a poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, if a presidential election were held now, Putin would probably receive only 47% of the vote, forcing him into a second-round run-off. This is a dangerous state of affairs for Russia and the world.

Of course, poll data in Russia do not necessarily reflect the real balance of power. Yet such a steep decline is a remarkable development, not least because Russians, who remember well the harsh punishments dissidents faced during Soviet times, often prefer to speak positively of their leaders when asked.

Putin first secured the presidency in 2000 on the promise to raise living standards and restore Russia’s status as a leading global power. Fortunately for him, oil prices began to skyrocket. Meanwhile, he set to work reviving the Soviet Union, under a different name but similarly based on opposition to American global leadership and Western-style democratization.