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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prime Minister's Popularity Rating Skyrockets




When President Boris Yeltsin named Vladimir Putin as his successor in August, few took him seriously. In fact, many laughed at the prospect of President Putin.


They aren't laughing anymore.


The prime minister's popularity - if the polls are to be believed - is soaring to levels unheard of for a Russian leader. If elections were held now, every poll shows that Putin would be the easy winner. Moreover, anywhere from 60 percent to 75 percent of Russia's population approves of the job Putin is doing as prime minister.


So what is it about this uncharismatic former KGB spy who is so clearly uncomfortable in the glare of the public limelight?


"Putin personifies the hopes people have that things can be changed for the better," Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research, or VTsIOM, said. "People don't want miracles, they just want order, and Putin has given the impression that he is providing order."


And while much of Putin's support is based on the perceived success of the war in Chechnya, the prime minister has also tapped into deeply held emotions in Russian society.


He is perceived as being strong and decisive in standing up for Russian interests after a decade of perceived capitulation. Putin has also turned his weaknesses to his advantage. A lackluster public speaker, he speaks in simple, clipped phrases. But the public has taken to this and sees it as a refreshing no-nonsense style - which is appealing to many who are weary of lofty rhetoric and promises.


Moreover, Putin actually does - or at least appears to - do what he says he is going to do.


"Putin's popularity goes beyond the war," Vladimir Pribylovsky of the Panorama research center said. "He represents a nostalgic stereotype of a decisive leader with a strong hand who will defend Russia's independent interests without bowing to the West."


Moreover, Putin has managed to garner support from across the elite. The military and security services support him because he has increased the defense budget and is giving them a free hand in Chechnya. Nationalists support him because he talks tough with the West. The oligarchs support him because he has promised not to redistribute their privatized government property.


But at the same time, Putin is seen by the public as being independent and not beholden to any of these special interests.


Add to all this, rising oil prices that are adding billions of dollars to Russia's federal coffers, giving the prime minister room to maneuver with the economy.


And then there is the media. State-controlled television stations like ORT and RTR have fallen over themselves to praise Putin during their nightly news broadcasts. At the same time, they have relentlessly attacked Putin's rivals for the presidency - former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.


"This is the first time since perestroika that just about the entire mass media is supporting a prime minister without criticism," Grazhdankin said. "The media is a very powerful weapon and the attacks on Luzhkov and Primakov have eliminated Putin's main competitors. People are left without a choice."


Nongovernmental NTV television has, so far, shied away from criticizing Putin, although recently it has become more daring. Yevgeny Kiselyev, host of NTV's influential weekly current affairs program Itogi, has been suggesting lately that Putin is a tool of President Boris Yeltsin's inner circle, known darkly as "the family."


The timid attacks, however, have done little to dent Putin's popularity.


Grazhdankin said that Putin's background as a KGB spy, and later director of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, is an asset with much of the public.


"Among the masses there has always been a measure of respect for the KGB," he said. "The antipathy toward them only came from the intelligentsia."


Putin, according to Grazhdankin, evokes in many the image of late Soviet leader Yury Andropov, who ran the KGB before ascending to the pinnacle of power in the Soviet Union.


Andropov, who came to power in November 1981 after the stagnation of Leonid Brezhnev's rule, initiated an authoritarian discipline campaign. To fight absenteeism, police combed cafes and movie theaters checking peoples' documents and sending them back to their jobs.


Some view Andropov's brief reign - he died in February 1984 after just 15 months in office - as a missed opportunity for national revival.