Vlad The Beloved

Putin’s actions in Ukraine are quite popular in Russia, as is the president himself:

Most Russians appear to support Putin’s moves: Polls by different organizations, from pro-Kremlin VTsIOM to the liberal-leaning Levada Center, suggest that the president’s popularity is at its highest since his re-election in 2012.

Joanna Szostek blames state TV:

The news on Channel 1, Rossiya 1 and Rossiya 24 is aimed, first and foremost, at viewers in Russia, where the power of these channels is indeed considerable. Television continues to be the primary news source for almost 90 per cent of the Russian population. Around 65% of Russians believe the main federal channels to be ‘completely’ or ‘for the most part’ objective. Their news programmes have enjoyed soaring viewing figures during the crisis in Ukraine – some 13 million Russian viewers tuned in for one ‘Vesti’ bulletin on 21 February. It is therefore unsurprising to see that Russian public opinion on the Ukrainian revolution is broadly in line with official rhetoric.

For David Harsanyi, Russia illustrates the point that democratic processes don’t guarantee liberal outcomes:

[T]he reversal of once promising liberal reforms in Russia is not the result of an undermining of democracy. It happened with the full consent of the electorate. In Russia’s first presidential election, in 2000, Vladimir Putin, who had previously been made prime minister, won 53 percent of the vote. In 2004, he won 71 percent of the vote. In 2008, his lackey Dmitry Medvedev also won in a landslide. In 2012, Putin returned to the presidency in a landslide election with a parliament dominated by members of his party, giving him virtually one party rule.

Sadder still, Putin may be a better choice. It’s not like there democrats with widespread support are waiting in the wings. Remember, it was the Communist Party leader, Gennady Zyuganov, who came in second place last election with 20 percent of the vote.  In a 2009 poll. nearly 60 percent of Russians said they ‘deeply regret’ the Soviet Union’s demise.

Masha Gessen examines how Putin has encouraged a “political culture … based on the assumption that the world is rotten to the core”:

This was first evident in the way Putin talked about corruption. In his official autobiography, published in 2000, Putin told a joke in which President Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev compare notes: Both are embezzling, but Brezhnev embezzles twice as much, blatantly. This is the line Putin’s officials have taken in response to all accusations of graft over the last 14 years: Corruption is endemic to all governments; Russian corruption is just less hypocritical.

The same goes for Russia’s treatment of minorities and political protesters, as well as violations of international law: Putin and his officials are always quick to point out that Western countries are also imperfect on these issues. More than a rhetorical device, this is an expression of the Putin world view: He believes that all governments would like to jail their opponents and invade their neighbors, but most political leaders, most of the time, lack the courage to act on these desires.