Russia's long ruling Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, has enjoyed a wide degree of support during his time as the leader of Russia. The last two years, however, have seen Putin's approval ratings slowly decline as Russia's economy has weakened in the face of tough global conditions and opposition parties have grown increasingly forceful. Now, Putin is resorting to strong-armed tactics to silence his critics and quell dissent. Will this bolster Putin's power or ultimately be his undoing?
By 2012, Vladimir Putin's approval ratings appeared to have bottomed out at 62 percent. The 60 some percent of the population seemed to support Putin and his approval ratings held steady through the last half of 2012. Now, with the first month of 2013 having passed, Vladimir Putin's approval ratings are once again on the decline.
By and large, Putin has enjoyed overwhelming support at the helm of the Russian federation. While Putin is known in the West for his strong-armed tactics and support of rogue regimes, such as Syria and Iran, within Russia, he is widely admired for his efforts to modernize the economy. The former KBG agent is seen as having a good understanding of how Russia's economy and politics operates and also the overarching world economy. Putin was instrumental in ending the so-called 1990's crisis, which saw Russia go into a near free fall after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Putin saw 8 years of strong economic growth through his first eight years in office, and oversaw a 72% increase in GDP per capital (PPP). In 2008, Vladimir Putin was “termed out” of the office of President, but was infamously appointed as “Prime Minister” by the newly elected President, Medvedev. After changes in the law, Putin returned to the office of President in 2012, though his elections was tarnished by wide spread protests across the country.
Through 2012 Putin's approval ratings largely held steady at about 65%. His ratings peaked in 2008 at nearly 85%, but have steadily declined since. Now, Putin's ratings have dipped to a 12 year low of 62%. Arguably, his approval ratings through 2008 were heavily supported by a surging global economy and sky rocketing demand for Russian oil and natural gas.
Still, with the world economy and commodity prices stagnating, support for Putin appears to be steadily declining. Most worrisome is not the actual percentage of voters (62%) who support Putin, but instead the steady decline in approval ratings. Putin appears to be slowly bleeding away support and has so far proven to be incapable of cover loss ground. In 2012, Putin announced that he would consider a 4th term in office, in 2018, if he had the support. Unless Putin is able to turn the tide, however, a 4th term in office may prove impossible.
At the moment, however, support for Putin is on the decline. After suffering major set-backs in 2011 due to harsh reprisals against the opposition, Putin's government switched gears in 2012 and began to rely on more subtle and incremental methods to suppress the opposition. Instead of trying to accomplish everything at once with major push backs against opposition leaders, the government has relied on targeting only a few leaders and groups at a time and slowly strengthening its stranglehold over society.
As of late, Putin has been resorting to strong arm tactics once again to quell opposition leaders. In December of 2012, over 40 people, many of them opposition leaders, were arrested at a anti-Putin rally. Opposition leaders claim that they were targeted and plucked from the crowd. In January of 2013, Sergei Udaltsov, was placed under house arrest without access to either the Internet or telephone. This action follows an increasing trend of slowly ramping up actions against opposition leaders.
While the Kremlin may be trying to avoid a backlash to its policy of incrementally increasing pressure, the opposition has taken notice and are becoming more vocal. Will the remainder of Putin's term see increased upheaval or will Russia's most powerful man be able to maintain stability? The answer to this question remains unclear, but so far Russia's opposition has proven to be both effective and forceful in their efforts, so unless Putin can find a way to appease their concerns, Russia may see increased instability in the years to come.