The question, “Is Putin popular in Russia?” has been raging since 2000, when Russians voted for a strong leader who spelled out his principles. At one point in his tenure, Putin’s approval rating hit 88 percent. Those high numbers declined somewhat after he recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and annexed Crimea in 2014. Both actions were seen by many Russians as historic reunification, and Western sanctions were imposed on Russia for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity. In 2016, however, Russians’ approval ratings fell due to the pension reform and the rise of the retirement age.

While he began his career in the KGB (the Soviet era’s Committee for State Security), Putin’s political career began in St. Petersburg, where he studied law under Anatoly Sobchak, his former law professor. Ultimately, Sobchak’s campaign for mayor of St. Petersburg was unsuccessful, and Putin moved to Moscow to serve in the Yeltsin government. In addition to a stellar academic record and an impressive list of achievements, Putin is also an enthusiastic soccer player and has competed in Formula One.

In addition to the aforementioned problems, Russia’s popularity is also tied to its economic status. Many Russians think of themselves as slaves and barbarians, and their GDP and budget revenues are heavily dependent on oil exports. They support Putin because oil lifted Russia from the abysmal state that it is now in. But they also believe that Putin has failed to diversify their economy enough to make Russia an attractive place to live. The Soviet Union, despite having a high level of political and economic sophistication, was more prosperous and less dependent on oil.

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