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Putin's Populist Image

Autor:   •  October 31, 2018  •  2,563 Words (11 Pages)  •  139 Views

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Based on these populist intentions, so-called "Putin's international" is getting formed in the West. It is a diversified group of populists, separatists and radicals, that are dissatisfied with the existing political order and see Moscow as an alternative center of influence. Many kinds of forums and meetings are organized for them in Russia. For example, the scandalously famous “The international Russian conservative forum” that took place in March 2015 (recent one was 8 April 2017) in St. Petersburg.[3] Famous because it attracted supporters of far-right, monarchist and neo-fascist views. In response to these policies, as well as a number of European regions (e.g. Northern Italy, where the separatist sentiment are traditionally strong), insisting on the lifting of sanctions against Russia and for recognition of Crimea as Russian territory. But I will come back to the question about Crimea a bit later.

The image of Putin’s populism significantly differs inside and out of Russian Federation: definition of the Putin regime as a populist one is almost trivial in the West, whereas in Russia it is quite rare not only among the less numerous apologists, but what is more important, among critics of the regime. An easy example: Google search gives more links on the combination “Putin + populism” in English language than the same combination in Russian. Taking into account that obviously there are much more links at the Cyrillic request “Путин” than Latin “Putin”, this huge asymmetry is visible. Finally, the most significant and comprehensive Russian-language texts containing opinions about the Putin’s populism are often translations of western media’s articles.

Probably, the first thought about the reason of this asymmetry is media censorship in Russia. But it’s not true. The world’s internet, including “” is much less censored and controlled than TV and newspapers. What’s more important, even explicitly critical Russian authors and journals rarely blame Putin in immeasurable using of populist tools, while for the Western media Putin’s populism is sustainable and convincing cliché.

This situation was pretty stable until 2014, when Crimea again became the part of Russian Federation. Only after this event Russian internet got flooded with angry speeches about Putin’s populist political course. But let’s at first have a look on the president’s image until 2014 and what has changed after these events.

In the Western press, the Putin’s populism was mostly related to his often aggressive anti-american rhetoric, that aimed to get attention of audience in Russia, with a clearly image of superhero and finally with all those pictures of Putin with a naked torso on the cover of western magazines. To a substantially lesser extent, this image was associated with the early Putin's rhetoric against the “oligarchs”. Finally, the key factor was the extremely high popularity and rating support above 70% which actually meant for the western everyman that it's the obvious result of rigid authoritarianism or manipulation and a “flirt” with people. No other options.

It is obvious that Putin and his team have much more diverse channels for conveying his messages to different target audiences in Russia in comparison with the channels of his impact on Western journalists and analysts. Similarly, internal critics of the regime have much more channels to obtain information about the actions of political elite. In other words, the image of the Putin regime, his intentions and peculiarity, are more complex and versatile for Russian observers than for external. Russian critics see a much more real political and economic processes, including hidden ones, and that is what is more important for highlighting the main characteristics of the regime.

Many Russian critics of the political regime see V.Putin, first of all, as the leader of the power and business oligarchy that is getting rid of, with support from a broad number of people, the Soviet Union’s past, rather than as the populist, who makes unrealistic social promises. Actually, the most amazing feature of Putin's governance was and still is his clear idea about political and social structure of Russia, its future. He knows what people need and what he is going to do. Stability – that’s what Russian people are looking for.

Since 2014 the situation dramatically changed. Admiring speeches by tv can make us to conclude that one of the main reasons, if not the main, of annexation (I don’t like this word though, I’d prefer to call it Joining or better Reunion) of Crimea is purely populist. Some people say that Putin just tries to earn political points, to raise the rating of the government and his own personally, to strengthen the regime in the eyes of ordinary people in the cheap and dubious way.

Populism is a set of positions, tools and methods that are based on appeals to the people. Populism focuses on those categories of people that are dissatisfied with their life situation in the real world. For populist politicians is characteristically to “flirt” with the bulk of the population; they simplify the reality in favor of the moods of the masses, they use demagoguery, offering easy and quick solutions to existing complex problems; they make promises that will never come true. Crimea is probably that case: it was needed that time, people expected it, it dramatically increased the popularity of Putin. But finally on a global scale it led to isolation of Russia and worsening of relations with other countries (especially with Ukraine for sure).

One of the signs indicating clearly populist Putin's intentions in Crimea is demonstrative during all the process. On the one hand, if it would be necessarily “to protect Russians from genocide in Crimea” then it could be made without the invasion, quietly, peacefully. On the other hand, Russian news were full of loud words that Ukraine is oppressing and harassing Russians. Obviously, the first intention was to protect our compatriots there. People were expecting that V. Putin will do that and he did. Is it all true or it is just propaganda and nobody threatened to Russians in Ukraine? So many people, so many opinions. We, probably, will never know the truth.

There is a quote of American economist J. B. Clark: “A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.” Putin's rating sharply jumped upwards after the annexation. The data is different, but some resources say that it was about 90%. That’s literally impressive!

Another situation that bothers ordinary Russians like me is military actions in Syria. Already more than two years, every day in every news release we


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