Vladimir Putin’s recent approval rating was well over 80% according to a poll that contacted Russian households over the phone. A considerable doubt shadows this result as the average Russian citizen is well aware of possible implications involved in expressing criticism against Putin to a complete stranger over the phone, and the recent murder of opposition figure Boris Nemtsov hasn’t eased such fears. However, it is not too far fetched to claim around 60-70% of Russians support Putin and his aggression in neighboring Ukraine, which they wrongly perceive as a heroic standoff with the West.
The problem here is the Russian people need to realize Vladimir Putin is not their hero, but villain. They need to rise above primitive chest-beating macho nationalism that has led to the violent expansion of Russian territory in Georgia and now in Ukraine. This rallying behind the rhetoric of their nationalist and imperialist leader Vladimir Putin, is rooted in the inferiority complex that Russians have towards the West. Russia has always been a few steps behind western civilization while admiring the culture and sophistication of the West (German poets and culture in the 19th century, or when the Soviet Union fell they couldn’t wait to get their hands on American Levi’s and pop culture). So this latest nationalistic fervor is part of their desperate need to gain the respect and acknowledgment of the west and be seen as an equal. But they aren’t equal, and in denial.
Russian propaganda of late has successfully hypnotized it’s population in believing the West wants to weaken it and prevent it from becoming a serious competitor to the current Anglo-Sachsen trans-Atlantic world hegemony. This paranoia couldn’t be further from reality. While Russian ICBM’s are still aimed at major western cities, Russian innovation and technology are far behind the West and it’s single commodity economy poses no threat.
Although the comparative retardation of Russia goes back hundreds of years, and many leaders tried to bring Russia into the cultured European sphere, for example imposing beard tax by Tsar Peter was one way of trying to bring European modern hygiene and way of life to a comparatively backward Russia. Yet another perverted way to gain the respect of the west was to violently conquer smaller and weaker neighbors and constantly get closer to Europe. This primitive tribal mentality is what led to an expensive and disastrous military adventure in Afghanistan, which along with a falling oil price in the 1980’s caused the economic collapse and disintegration of the Soviet Union. This in turn led to more ego shattering of the Russian Volksgeist, which had to accept having lost the cold war to the superior West. The Russian self-esteem was at a low point, Russian women were selling themselves on bride websites to any man in America with a credit card. Although the situation improved as the oil price skyrocketed again and with it the Russian economy grew in double digits, but this had nothing to do with Putin being in power. Putin has no influence on the oil price and as it hits rock bottom again, all that new Russian prosperity will disappear again. Yet Putin had disillusioned the Russians he was responsible for this new petro-dollar wealth.
If he were a real patriot he would have diversified the Russian economy and end its dependence on oil and gas prices. Instead, he has allowed an opaque and bizarre situation where the military is one of the strongest in the region, while the economy can be compared to a third world ex-colonial periphery state solely dependent on raw material or commodity to keep its head above water. This vulnerability is what the US and it’s important ally Saudi Arabia have understood and that is exactly where they have taken the next battle in this new animosity between the West and Russia, and as his empire is crumbling, Putin will blame America and the sanctions. Just like his predecessor Yeltsin, he has stolen enough money from the Russian people and will retire in his estates in Switzerland and Netherlands and live luxuriously with the proceeds of his capital under clandestine offshore corporations in the names of his relatives and daughter.[hr]Dr. A. Mansouri is a Senior Political Analyst at Journalist Club Vienna