Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity is on an upswing largely in part to concentration of media messaging in the past year. As of recent legislation it is now a crime to even post anti-government news on internet sites while Rain TV, Echo Radio, Novaya Gazetta and Lenta News are battling new restrictions and forced staff changes.
There will most certainly be an uptick in approval ratings given the annexation of Crimea but only time will tell how long that euphoria will last. It won’t be forever. It is exactly by reclaiming Soviet lands that give Russians this temporary emotional orgasm but to sustain the momentum he’d need to continue.
Mr. Putin’s United Russia party came close to having a runoff in 2010 even after massive voter fraud with ballot stuffing and “caravan” voting which frankly saved his bacon. In that election UR took 49.32% of the vote and that gave him 238 seats or 52.88% of the Duma. Compare that with 2007 when his party won 64.30% of the vote and took 70% of the Duma.
The 2012 presidential election, held really with nobody as formidable competition, was also fraudulent. To counter the protests in Moscow the UR party had to bus in paid protestors from distant cities because so few in the Moscow region wanted to bother with protesting for him. His total vote count was 63.64%, widely viewed even by those who voted for him as a questionable number, even after campaigning on a recent increase of pensions and military salaries.
The government promised transparency and installed video cameras at most polling stations with live streaming only to be embarrassed at the shenanigans revealed by the cameras including police arriving at polling stations and escorting election officials and monitors off the premises before votes were counted, the old trick of caravan voting, and clear images of individual voters stuffing handfuls of ballots into the boxes. More than one precinct showed entertainers being paraded in to sing and dance for election officials while voters took ballots and matters into their own hands. Some Russian election monitors were denied access to the polling stations and some had their apartment doors nailed shut from the outside so that they couldn’t go to the polls. Most of the videos posted on places like YouTube have since been disabled.
The 2012 election has forced Mr. Putin to move more to the right as the two parties who showed up with voters in significant numbers were the Liberal Democrats (nationalists) and the Communist party. His further moves away from the centre reflect the need to re-capture some of that support.
To the more immediate subject, Mr. Putin is afraid of a democratic revolution on his doorstep, or even closer. Were he really that popular there would be no need to shut down opposition media, muzzle opposition leaders, and pass laws to crush dissent. The opposite is true.
Argue all you wish about the legitimacy of an illegitimate referendum but no one is insane enough to say that Mr. Putin is ready to return the Kiril Islands, he isn’t going to invite back the residents of Kaliningrad who were forcibly expelled and give that land back, nor is he going to call up Helsinki and offer return Karelia.
If you want to know what Mr. Putin really thinks in terms of referendums and International law, poll the Chechens.