Vladimir Putin has been Russia’s dominant political leader since the turn of the millennia. Since his 2018 re-election secured him a fourth six-year term, he’s shown no signs of slowing down, most recently highlighted by Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. Despite most of the world not agreeing with his current and not-so-current military decisions, and the fact that his United Russia party lost a third of its seats in the 2019 Moscow legislative elections, Putin is still the country’s clear ruler. Having been referred to as either the or else one of the most powerful people in the world, Putin has certainly earned a reputation for himself – but is it a good one? While recent geopolitical events may suggest no, he still maintains majority support from Russians.
Below, we’ll explore three reasons that support the positive aspects of Putin’s leadership and three reasons claiming that his actions in office have been questionable.
Putin has been a positive influence
He established order in an unstable region
As Mikhail Gorbachev’s recent death highlights, after the fall of the Soviet Union, what Russia most needed was stability and security. Putin stepped in, raised a shaky country off its feet, and got it to stand on solid ground. During his first two terms as president, Russia’s GDP increased by 70%, and investments rose by 125%. His many domestic reforms – such as tax cuts and expansion of property rights – further provided Russia with the stability it was looking for. Aside from giving his people someone to believe in, he made active changes that resulted in a much stronger, secure country than it had been for decades.
He sticks to his guns
It’s clear that Putin refuses to be bullied. He has repeatedly stood up to Western hegemony, as evidenced by his decision to invade Ukraine in response to recent NATO expansion and, similarly, by his 2014 decision to annex Crimea, both against Western wishes. Even after being hit with economic sanctions, both back then and now, he won’t back down; international sanctions seem to fuel nationalistic pride. Putin tends to put Russian interest at the forefront of his decisions, regardless of whom he aggravates in the process. Although it may be infuriating for other world powers, this refusal to be intimidated is an important quality for a country of millions to see in their leader, and it has, in the past, elevated Russia’s status in the world order.
He has the trust and vote of his people
Putin, who comes from humble, ordinary family, worked hard to get where he is, which may explain his appeal among his constituents. He has been voted into office as President again and again. In the 2018 elections, he exceeded expectations by winning 73% of the vote, surpassing 65% voter turnout in his 2012 victory. Although the numbers have fluctuated throughout his presidency, 2017 approval ratings showed that 87% of Russians had confidence in Putin’s ability to do the right thing with regards to world affairs. This seems to hold true today, even in times of war; the majority of Russians have maintained their support of Putin throughout the current Ukraine conflict. He has managed to keep day-to-day life relatively unchanged for most of his countrymen even under the shadow of international sanctions. Similarly, 94% of Russians supported the 2014 annexation of Crimea. They also supported the war with Chechnya, which occurred when Putin was still establishing himself as president. His predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, once said that the public’s confidence in Putin is because “people believed that he, personally, could protect them.”
Putin is on a power trip
His character is shady
As a former member of the KGB, Putin still shrouds parts of himself in secrecy, and has done a number of questionable-bordering-illicit things. Putin has faced evidence-based accusations over meddling in both the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections. What’s more, he’s previously been voted “Person of the Year” by the Organized Crime and Corruption Project, due to his alleged engagement with the mafia to launder money and promote interests abroad. Additionally, suspicious deaths seem to happen to people who oppose Putin or try to expose political corruption. Such an incident occurred in 2018 that involved the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy and his daughter, while both were in England. More recently, those who have publicly criticized Putin for myriad of reasons, ranging from corruption to Ukraine to his coronavirus response, have died of mysterious illnesses or by “accidental” falls from windows. Though Putin denies any connection, such cases don’t make for a trustworthy resume. Nor do media reports that assert that he’s not only aware of but lauds acts of torture being carried out at the hands of his soldiers in Ukraine.
Russia needs help at home
While a powerful player in the world game, Putin is lacking when it comes to managing Russia’s current domestic affairs. For example, the current average life expectancy for men in Russia is around 72 years. While this is a record high, it fuels the need for more social protection for older adults. There is poor quality of air and water in many areas, hurting the overall health of the nation, with limited resources allocated to preventative healthcare. Also, the country’s economy is largely dependent on the price of oil – which is dangerous given the falling oil prices in non-war times and even more dangerous in war times, with Western embargoes over Russian oil imports. After all, Russia manufactures little outside of gas and guns. While support for Putin may be high at home, it doesn’t mean he’s giving his people what they need.
More a corrupt czar than a president
Thanks to economic sanctions and too much faith in oil, millions of Russians are living below the poverty line. Yet Putin may be the richest man in the world, with an estimated net worth of $200 billion to his name. What kind of leader is rolling in such dough when the people who follow him have trouble affording bread? Politically, Putin’s tactics to mitigate the opposition’s chances in municipal elections in Moscow in 2019 prompted allegations of him corrupting democracy. This is seemingly nothing new for the leader. As a way to retain a tight grip on power, Putin has long been accused of employing a campaign of intimidation against activists who oppose his politics and policies, such as Alexei Navalny, as one recent example. In addition, journalists have regularly been jailed to be silenced, and, under Putin, the press is anything but free.
The Bottom Line: Popular among many of his own people and frightening to almost everyone else, Putin is both respected and suspicious in his political and personal dealings. What do you think? Has Putin been a strong world leader, or is he a corrupt politician with war crimes to answer for?