Putin's Rating Strong Despite the Turmoil

Ten years ago, the approval ratings of then-President Boris Yeltsin nose-dived from already meager levels following the ruinous financial crash.

Things are different these days: While Russians are becoming increasingly concerned about the country's trajectory in the unfolding global financial crisis, the approval ratings of their two leaders remain buoyant.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's approval rating is at a robust 74 percent, while President Dmitry Medvedev clocks in at 61 percent, according to a poll released Wednesday by the independent Levada Center.

At the same time, just 49 percent of Russians believe that the country is moving in the right direction, a 10 percent drop from May, when Medvedev took office and Putin took over the government, the poll said.

The Levada Center polls 1,600 respondents monthly on their opinions of prominent politicians, with a margin of error of less than 3 percent.

The Levada Center calculates approval ratings by taking the difference between the percentage of respondents who approve of a politician or government body and those who disapprove.

Yeltsin's approval ratings, according to the Levada Center, were at negative 70 percent in July 1998. Three months later, following the August 1998 financial crash, his approval rating was at negative 87 percent.

Unlike Yeltsin, Putin has shown a remarkable ability to distance himself from the country's problems, thanks in part to fawning coverage by state-controlled television.

He has also never been shy about assigning blame to others. As president, Putin would frequently dress down government officials in front of the television cameras.

"It appears Putin's old trick of blaming problems on the government while standing above the storm and keeping his rating strong is still at work," said Leonid Sedov, a political analyst with the Levada Center.

Putin's public reprimands of Cabinet officials have been scarce, however, since he took over the government, which appears to be absorbing his glowing ratings. The Cabinet had negative approval ratings during Putin's eight years in office but has been hovering between 20 percent and 30 percent since he became prime minister, according to Levada Center data.

Most of Putin's recent ire has been directed at the United States, which he has accused of causing the global financial crisis with irresponsible fiscal policies.

Both Putin and Medvedev have tiptoed around acknowledging any domestic factors that have contributed to the Russian stock market woes and the plummeting ruble. Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov has similarly framed the issue, complaining to Putin last week that the financial crunch abroad was to blame for the fact that Russian banks had tightened conditions for loans to defense enterprises. It is a position that appears to resonate in the defense industry.

"What do you mean, financial crisis?" a senior defense industry official said -- without irony -- in an interview earlier this week. "Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] has said that there is no such thing in Russia."