Why Putin is popular in Russia

From our Western point of view, it is somewhat incomprehensible why the Russian president (probably) continues to have great support in his country. Putin oppresses his people, but the majority doesn’t seem to mind. How can that be?

A single chart provides an explanation. It shows purchasing power per person over time in Russia. 

At the vertical line: gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Russia, measured in purchasing power parity (PPP), in US-dollars per capita; based on IMF data / source: Jirka.h23 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

After 70 years of communism, in 1991, under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, the country made a significant turn toward developing a market economy by implanting basic tenets such as market-determined prices. 

Yeltsin announced that Russia would proceed with radical, market-oriented reforms along the lines of “shock therapy”, as recommended by the United States and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Almost ten years of economic decline followed. 

You can read everywhere that these years shaped many Russians. 

In 2000, Putin came to power. Everything changed with him. Since that time, Russia’s economy has been on the up.

Putin was undoubtedly lucky. He became president when the worst sufferings of the transformation process were over. Since then, people have gotten better every year.

In any case, many people in Russia associate Putin with economic recovery. You don’t overthrow someone like him, you support him. 

This is also the common wisdom about toppling regimes: They are not overthrown because of oppression but because of empty shopping shelves. What does that mean for Putin?

During his tenure, Putin seized power more and more because the people let him. Because people appreciated him for his economic success. Now a new phase begins. People will start to suffer economically because of Putin. More than ever, Putin will have to use his apparatus of power to stay in power. The million-dollar question is whether he’ll succeed.



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