Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his toughened stance toward Ukraine unleashed a flurry of international outrage. It even prompted some Westerners to question Mr. Putin’s awareness and sanity.
“It’s really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century,” United States Secretary of State John Kerry said. Putin is “in another world,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Putin has lost it,” the New Republic wrote.
These statements paint a picture of a lunatic czar stuck in a bygone era. A man who is rapidly losing his marbles on the streets of Moscow, and inadvertently kindling wars in the process.
But the facts on the ground in Russia tell a different story.
A stunning 83 percent of Russians now approve of Putin’s leadership, according to the latest survey published by the Moscow-based Levada Center. That’s up 18 percentage points since the beginning of the year, which shows that Mr. Putin’s stratospheric popularity is a direct result of his actions in Ukraine.
“I support him,” 27-year-old Olga Rogachova told theTrumpet.com on June 13. Rogachova has lived in Sevastopol, Crimea, for nearly her entire life. She has watched the Crimean Peninsula transition from being part of the Soviet Union to part of independent Ukraine, and then, just in March, to being grafted into Russia.
Like the majority of Russians, Rogachova welcomes Putin’s annexation of Crimea. “It’s where we belong,” she said. “And no, they didn’t force us to go to the referendum at gunpoint, as some ‘reliable’ mass media say.”
Rogachova, like the majority of Russians, also believes Putin’s leadership is precisely what Russia needed. “Russia was in need of a strong leader,” she said. “He made our people remember we were once a great nation. … He is truly the hope of the nation.”
Putin’s popularity was especially clear in Moscow last week when masses of Russians rushed to snap up new T-shirts featuring their president wearing a Hawaiian shirt, swilling a cocktail, and saying, “Greetings from Crimea.”
The shirts sold for $37, and inventories were exhausted in just two days.
Putin’s soaring popularity is no fluke. The only time his current popularity level was exceeded was in September of 2008 just after Russia crushed Georgia’s military and brought two of the nation’s pro-Moscow regions under de facto Russian control. A full 88 percent of Russian’s expressed approval of him at that time.
His popularity soars when he is leading Russia to expand its territory and power. This is because Mr. Putin taps into the national pride that is abundant among Russians. And he harnesses the deep-seated belief of many Russians that they are misunderstood by Westerners.
It may seem to many in the West that Putin’s behavior is fueled by his belief that Russia is not sufficiently respected, by inflated fears of Russophobia, and by rose-colored views of Russia’s Soviet empire days—but over 120 million Russians agree with their president.
This fact destroys Western attempts to portray Vladimir Putin as out-of-touch and on the brink of psychotic breakdown. The most rational and sane path for him to take, if he wishes to keep the people of Russia rallied behind him, is the one that leads to a restored Russian Empire. ▪