Vladimir Putin has been Russia’s dominant political leader since the turn of the millennia, and since his 2018 re-election secured a fourth six-year term, he’s shown no signs of slowing down. Though his United Russia party lost a third of its seats in the 2019 Moscow legislative elections, it is still clearly the ruling party. Having been referred to as one of the world’s most powerful people, Putin has certainly earned a reputation for himself – but is it a good one?
Below, we’ll explore three reasons that support the image of Putin as a positive political leader, and three reasons claiming that his actions in office have been questionable thus far.
Putin has been a positive influence
He established order in an unstable region
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 had been for decades.
He is a beloved leader
Putin has been voted into office as President again and again. He exceeded expectations by winning 73% of the vote in the 2018 elections, surpassing 65% voter turnout in his 2012 victory. Although the numbers have fluctuated throughout his presidency, 2017 approval ratings showed that 87% of Russians have confidence in Putin’s ability to do the right thing with regards to world affairs. This has even proved true through times of war, with 94% of Russians having supported the 2014 annexation of Crimea. They similarly supported the war with Chechnya, which occurred when Putin was still establishing himself as president. According to his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, the public’s confidence in Putin was because “people believed that he, personally, could protect them.” A recent #superputin exhibition in Moscow, which portrayed Putin as a superhero, only further emphasizes the admiration the Russian people have maintained for their country and leader.
He sticks to his guns
It’s clear that Putin refuses to be bullied. He stands up to Western hegemony, as evidenced by his decision to annex Crimea against Western wishes. Even after being hit with economic sanctions, he didn’t back down. Such sanctions fueled nationalistic pride, and Putin seems to be putting Russian interest at the forefront of his decisions, regardless of whom he aggravates in the process. In fact, to emphasize his theme of putting Russia – and its security – first, no matter the consequences, the 2018 Election Day was moved to March 18, the anniversary of Russia’s seizure of Crimea. Although it may be infuriating for other world powers, this refusal to be intimidated is arguably an important quality for a country of millions to see in their leader, and it has elevated Russia’s status in the world order. Not to mention, former US President Donald Trump had a tendency to stand up for and cozy up to Putin, which made him and Russia look even stronger.
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. Though not from former President Trump, Putin faced accusations over meddling in the U.S. 2016 presidential election, and 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. Though Putin denies any connection, such cases don’t make for a trustworthy resume.
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 only 66.5 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 – and they manufacture 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? There’s no acceptable reason for Putin to have all this money while his nation is suffering, pointing to crime and corruption on his part. 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 good world leader, or is he just another corrupt politician?