Staunton, August 8 – One of the “paradoxes” of Russian patriotism, Sergei Chernyakhovsky says, is that Western sanctions on Moscow for its actions in Ukraine have driven up Vladimir Putin’s popularity to unprecedented heights. Russians see Putin as standing up to the West and thus performing as they think a leader should.
Chernyakhovsky, a professor at the Russian State Humanitarian University, told Svetlana Gomzikova of Svobodnaya Pressa that part of the reason for Putin’s surging popularity is ‘seasonable’ and part derives from “the ‘Crimean factor,’” but that most of it is the unintended consequence of Western sanctions
The Moscow scholar said that what is happening in Russia now is much like what happened in Cuba when the Soviet Union ceased to exist and to provide support to that island nation. In tough times, Fidel Castro’s popularity surged because he was “viewed as someone who did not surrender.”
Given that pattern, Chernyakhovsky continued, “if there will be some negative effect on the daily life [of Russians] from these sanctions, support for Putin will increase still more. One can consider this a paradox or not, but that is the way things are.”
When Russians feel they are living in a besieged fortress and that “everyone is against us,” they are willing to do whatever is necessary to survive and will support those who stand up against the outside world however difficult that may be. Indeed, he said, Russians are less likely to complain of shortages then than when the international situation is better.
Chernyakhovsky dismissed suggestions that support for Putin would wane if the crisis continued for a long time. Instead, he said, as long as Russians believe that their situation is the product of what others are trying to do to their country, they “will be ready to be satisfied with potatoes alone.”
With regard to housing, education and health, this process is more complicated, Chernyakovksy suggested. “Especially regarding education.” Dissatisfaction with the situation in those sectors will be “directed not at the president” but at the relevant ministers and officials who will have to bear the blame.
Gomzikova also spoke with Aleksey Panin, the deputy general director of the Moscow Center for Political Information. He said that the Russian media had created an image of the situation which works to Putin’s advantage. It presents the West as trying to draw Russia into a military clash and Putin working hard not to be drawn in.
Moreover, Panin said, Russians want stability and Putin has presented himself as the embodiment of that. He added that he doesn’t think that Crimea is continuing to play the role many think or that Russians are in any way concerned that Moscow’s actions there constitute a precedent for moves elsewhere.
Russians, Panin said, “feel sharply the presence of a foreign enemy, even of several enemies and aggressors, above all, the United States. The position of the European Union very strongly disappoints them. And in against this background, of course, many understand that any opposition activity now, is completely untimely.” That also helps boost Putin’s ratings.